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How to Learn Japanese

Simon Reynolds
computer. Windows comes with Japanese on the original CDs. The Japanese language interface is called
IME.
Declan’s guide is quite helpful in explaining how to install Japanese.
With Japanese installed, you will now be able to write emails in hiragana and katakana, visit Japanese
language websites and use the various online translation/dictionary programs.
Another option for those who want to write Japanese is a web based IME program. This allows you to
convert input Japanese text via the web and then copy and paste it wherever you need. One can be found
here. Simply click the IME on/off button to switch between romaji and Japanese.
One final note about the kana, don't panic if you forget one or two sometimes. They will sink in with regular
practice. Use your mnemonics and flashcards and keep at it. A little effort to read and review them each day
will go a long way.
Learning Kanji
Kanji literally translates as kan – Chinese and ji – characters (remember romaji – roman letters). There are
1945 kanji designated for general use (Jouyou kanji) in Japan following reforms carried out in 1946 aimed at
simplifying kanji learning and making it easier to read literature and newspapers.
Despite these reforms, non-general use kanji are still in circulation although they may be given furigana
(small hiragana found above kanji denoting their pronunciation).
Learning kanji is probably the biggest hurdle in mastering Japanese and it is one that many fall at. Unlike
Chinese people, who grow up using kanji, English speakers must learn all 1945 kanji from scratch.
Kanji vary in complexity and can contain from one to twenty or more strokes (utsu, meaning depression, has
a mammoth 29). Some kanji have several pronunciations depending on where and how they are used. Many
books have been written on the subject of kanji learning, both for foreigners and for the Japanese
themselves.
How many kanji do I need?
Learn about 1000 of the most common kanji and you will start to be able to make sense of real Japanese.
Bear in mind that the kanji must not only be learnt individually but also together in compound words.
Learn all the everyday use kanji and develop a vocabulary of about 10,000 words and you should be able to
read newspaper articles and pass the highest level of the Japanese Language Proficiency test.
Approaches to learning kanji
We know that learning kanji can be a daunting task. Japanese people grow up surrounded by kanji as well
as studying them at school and even they will admit that kanji are difficult. The increasing use of computers
means that many struggle to write kanji by hand.
So if the Japanese themselves find kanji difficult, what chance does an English speaker have of learning
them? Well, you might be surprised. The key is adopting an efficient learning method. Traditionally, the
Japanese have always learned kanji by writing them out again and again on pieces of paper.
This, in my opinion, is an awful way to learn. One Japanese teacher recommended this to me once. I asked
him if it was a good way to learn. He thought about it and replied that he often forgets kanji! If sheer, crushing
boredom and poor results are your thing, this method will suit you down to the ground. Fortunately, as logical
adults, we have other options.
Component analysis AKA the fast track
Kanji are composed of building blocks called radicals. These radicals can have meanings of their own or we
can assign them arbitrary meanings to make them easier to remember. Highly complex kanji can be easily
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