January 9, 2011 | Japanese

Japanese Words Seem Long

Observations on writing lessons and word length.

This morning I was still lying in bed when I noticed that I was repeatedly drawing the hiragana symbol for fu in my head. (I would like to unrhyme the preceding sentence, but I can’t think of how to do it right now.) I decided that was a sign I was awake enough to get up.

If You Keep Writing This in Your Head, It Is Time to Get Out of Bed

If You Keep Writing This in Your Head, It Is Time to Get Out of Bed

Today much Rosetta Stone was accomplished, and I moved on to Level 2! There are three Rosetta Stone levels available for Japanese. I hate being in Level 1 of things, so I am happy.

An observation: simple words can be so loooooooooooong in Japanese. “I” is watashi. “We” is watashtachi. “Boy” is otokonoko. I don’t usually think of English as easy, but I can’t help appreciating the relative shortness, at least for certain words—although there is something entertaining, pleasantly percussive even, about some of the Japanese equivalents.

A recommendation: when you are learning to write a new alphabet or writing system, use a book that shows you how people actually handwrite symbols. While I think the Kana de Manga book I have been using is cute, the symbols are machine-generated. In other words, tidy and perfect.

Learning to write by copying them is a little like learning to write letters in English by copying the typeface in the New York Times. In the Easy Kana Workbook by Rita L. Lampkin and Osamu Hoshino, on the other hand, the writing models are actually images of handwritten Japanese.

So they look like what you might reasonably produce with your own hand—which is a more realistic model, and much easier to emulate, and therefore much more encouraging to the neophyte writer of Japanese.

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