Tag: 日本語

Japanese words to understand the Japanese mind

We recently got back from a trip to Tokyo, and half of my heart is still there.

This was my third time in Japan and Theo’s sixth; between the two of us, we’ve explored most of the touristy metropolitans on Honshu, so we were content to just stay put in Tokyo, visiting museums and parks, eating soft serve, and making late-night trips to Family Mart.

Sunset over Setagaya Park.

People are always surprised when they find out that I keep going back to Japan though I only know the most basic of conversational Japanese, and yet I’ve only been to Korea once despite being fairly fluent in Korean (going on my ninth year of studying)!

The reality is, I’ve been your typical anime, manga, and (later) JRPG nerd for far longer than I’ve been studying Korean. I loved Pokémon in elementary school, watched English dubs of Rurouni Kenshin, and ate up the most ridiculous shoujo manga I could borrow from my friends. I taught myself kana when I was in high school and studied the language for a year in college — in a lot of ways, Korean was the interloper in my Japanese studies, heh.

That said, I’ve never been good at learning Japanese, even though I keep coming back to it. (I recently had an epiphany about this but that’s another blog post).

Learning Japanese through Korean (kinda)

As I got better at Korean, I wondered if things would stick better if I learned Japanese in Korean. To some extent, I was right; it did make learning grammar easier since there are a lot of grammar constructions that have a one-to-one equivalence between Japanese and Korean. But then I’d always feel like the two languages were competing for my time — and I would always choose Korean in the end.

When I told my Korean teacher about my upcoming trip to Japan, she asked if I wanted to spend a few minutes every class doing some basic Japanese, and I figured it wouldn’t hurt.

(As an aside, I’ve been taking private lessons in Korean for about a year now and my teacher is phenomenal. She’s done academic research in linguistics as well as technical translation work from Japanese into Korean, and she is trained to teach Japanese. She’s currently studying to get her TESOL certificate too. We have the nerdiest conversations about language and culture in Korean and it’s brilliant.)

In any case, I decided to show her some of my notes from a Japanese book I picked up on a whim when I was there in 2015.

My Japanese notes are in a mix of Korean and English.

Much like I’d started out learning Korean, I brute forced my way through the text, looking up every unfamiliar Kanji, unknown vocabulary word, and grammar point I didn’t know. I even made index cards to flip through on my commute to work.

But then my teacher suggested we try a more inductive approach to learning Japanese. So rather of meticulously going over grammar point by grammar point, this is what we do instead.

  • I read through the Japanese text on my own out loud (yes, stumbling over all the Kanji I couldn’t read)
  • My teacher then re-reads each sentence out loud, and then translates it into Korean.
  • We go over some key vocabulary and phrases in the text.
  • We discuss the text together in Korean.

Even though our discussion (and my comprehension) of the text is largely in Korean, I find my ear becoming more and more attuned to cadence of Japanese sentences; I’m even retaining more words and improving at reading. Most importantly, I feel myself getting better at Japanese, while also getting to practice Korean.

Two birds! One stone! I finally feel like I’ve found a sweet spot for learning both Japanese and Korean.

My teacher has been incredible; she basically lets me set my own curriculum and follows me patiently wherever my language whims take me. Obviously this wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for her. But! There’s something also to be said about this book I serendipitously picked up four years ago

日本人の心が分かる日本語: a mini review

I didn’t know anything about this book when I spotted it in the Japanese language section of Kinokuniya’s flagship store in Shinjuku, but the book’s subtitle caught my interest: “A book for foreigners wanting to read between the lines to see what the Japanese really think.”

The book is made up of short essays (3-4) pages on specific words related to Japanese culture and etiquette. Each essay is structured the same way:

  • A few introductory sentences defining the word and its origins
  • Several specific example scenarios, usually in the form of dialogue, illustrating different nuances of the word or the concept it represents
  • Each example scenario is followed by an explanation
  • Each essay has an additional section called もっと深くwhich goes deeper into the topic using more advanced Japanese
  • Finally, each essay ends with a list of key vocabulary words. These words tend to show up in subsequent essays.

I haven’t taken the JLPT exam, but the essays are probably at an intermediate to upper-intermediate level in terms of grammar. The vocabulary felt more advanced than the grammar, though the book does a great job of referring back to and reinforcing the key terms that were introduced in earlier sections of the book.

Here are just a few of the topics covered in this book:

  • しつけ
  • けじめ
  • 遠慮(えんりょ)
  • 気をつかう
  • がんばる
  • 無理
  • 空気を読む

So my teacher and I discuss these essays in a mix of Japanese and Korean, and the great thing is, I’m learning a lot of basic things about Japanese culture that I didn’t know before, while also using Korean to compare and contrast it with Korean and Indian culture. It’s stretching my brain in fun and exciting ways.

Speaking of brains, I think I’m feeling my mind sort of… unlock(?) itself to Japanese lately. It’s easier to learn and retain new things. I feel energized by studying Japanese — that’s something I used to only ever feel with Korean.

Blogging resolutions for 2016

I’m not a fan of New Year’s resolutions, mainly because I think people can and should resolve to improve themselves throughout the year. (Besides, most people end up giving up on their resolutions mere weeks into the year, so why set yourself up for failure?) Dividing up time into years and such is a human construct and celebrating a new year is actually meaningless.

But no need to get nihilistic about it, right?!

Joking aside, I get it. What with the holiday spirit in the air and days off from work/school and time spent with family, people get nostalgic at the end of the year. They reflect and realize things they could have done better. Things they will do better in the coming year.

On that note, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I can be a better language blogger in the coming year. So here we go. These are my blogging resolutions for 2016.

resolutions post

  1. Post more.  I’ve been fairly regular with my blog posts, averaging about 1 a month. What a sad number though. I’m not going to get too ambitious and say that in 2016 I’ll post once a week (though I’d really like to!), so let’s say – one post every 10 days.
  2. Engage more.  If I’m following you, chances are I’m checking out your blog and reading your posts on a regular basis. I creep. I very, very rarely leave comments; when/where I leave comments has nothing to do with the quality of the post either. For all the blogging and social media that I do, at the end of the day, I’m an online introvert so I rarely take the first step to engaging with others. I’ve only just gotten better at replying to comments (I’m not ignoring you – I’m just shy!) and in 2016, I want to initiate more. Honestly, seeing the proof (in the form of comments, likes, sweet emails, etc.) that people are actually reading and getting something out of my blog is one of the greatest feelings in the world and I want to return that to my fellow bloggers.
  3. Update travelogue. It’s been months and I haven’t even scratched the surface of all the stuff I saw and did in Korea (in 2014!) and Japan. I also have a bunch of posts on travel tips that I haven’t gotten out yet. The latter, I think, will at least be useful to people. I don’t profess to be a great travel blogger (let’s be honest – I’m a pretty bad one because I hate taking photos and I don’t post in a timely manner) but at least for the sake of my own memories, I really want to share my experiences in Korea and Japan.
  4. Book reviews. I HAVE SO MANY BOOKS, both Korean and Japanese, that I want to talk about. Some of them are textbooks, some of them are novels, a lot of them have a story behind why I bought them. Each and every one of them is a part of my language learning experience and I think they’re worth sharing with my fellow language learners.  The main reason I haven’t been more diligent about this?  I’m really lazy about taking photos (which you’ll see if you check out my sporadically updated Instagram).  Ugh. I need to get over that. No one likes to read huge blocks of text.
  5. TOPIK preparation. I swear I am cursed when it comes to TOPIK. I have tried for about 3 years to try to take this exam. Other life things have always gotten in the way (graduate school examinations, job search, grant submissions, trips, and – most inexcusable excuse of all – missing the  deadline to apply). It doesn’t help that there are only two TOPIK exam dates in the U.S. This year, I will hold myself accountable by blogging about my TOPIK preparation throughout the year and hopefully take it in the fall.
  6. Single space after a period. English class has apparently failed me all these years.

This blog means a lot to me.  I was scrolling through some of my old posts and came across a post titled “10 Favorite Korean Songs of 2012” and it just hit me like, wow, I have been keeping up with this blog for so long, through so many ups and downs, so many life changes. (And I probably hate all of those songs that I listed in that post. Haha). I don’t care about monetizing or getting thousands of views.  I care most about being a part of this community – making friends and nurturing relationships with people all over the world,  bonded through our mutual love of language. Here’s to 2016.

積ん読

I stumbled across the Japanese word tsundoku some time ago on Buzzfeed.  It was one among several Japanese words included in a list (listicle?) of “untranslatable” words from foreign languages.

First things first: This is a cool word.  I feel particularly attached to it because it describes an act that I commit with alarming frequency.  For various reasons,  have an issue with calling this and any word “untranslatable” – but that aside, it’s still interesting to consider its etymology.

tsundoku (Found in Translation by Anjana Iyer)

 

First off, 積ん読 [つんどく] is a compound of two words 積む + 読.  Breaking that down, we have:

  • 積む [つむ]: to pile up
  •  読 [どく – note the on’yomi reading]:  to read

Now the interesting thing is that the whole word is actually a pun on the word 積んどく[つんどく] which is a contraction of 積んでおく [つんでおく].  The latter verb ending – VERB STEM +ておく – indicates doing something and leaving it that way for a while.  (Think 아/어 두다 in Korean).  So,

  • 積んでおく = to leave piled up for a long time

The “books” part of the word comes in when you substitute the contraction of でおく (which becomesどく) with 読.  So clever!  And so very Japanese.  It sort of reminds me of the humor in 花より男子 with all the jokes around Domyouji’s misuse and misinterpretation of Kanji.  It’s so hard to get the humor or cleverness behind Japanese wordplay when you… uh… aren’t that good at Kanji or vocabulary in general.  Looking up the parts that make up this particular word was enlightening though.  And it sort of made me want to pick up one of those several unread books I have lying around!