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Over the past month as made my way through the phenomenal guide Remembering the Kanji, I’ve learned some interesting things. Not only am I writing all the Joyo kanji with an accuracy I could only have dreamt of before RTK, but I’m starting to recognize some of the systematic aspects behind the post WWII Kanji simplifications. Some are fairly mundane, but one is a more abstract sort of simplification than I had realized existed.

Simplifications of radicals and other components

The PRC simplified a large number of radicals and other character components components after the second world war. Very few Japanese radicals were simplified, though some of the less manageable ones such as “turtle” (龜) were. In complex components of radicals that are not radicals, the Japanese and Chinese simplifications were often the same.

TraditionalJapaneseChinese

Nothing in the above table was anything very new or interesting to me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very happy to be able to remember those kinds of systematic relationships between the different writing systems. But they’re not the kind of thing to make me say wow.

Simplification via the “tripler” component

This was, though:

TraditionalJapaneseChinese
or

I love that. Any time you see something tedious to write repeated three times, there’s a good chance that it can be written once with four sparkles under it, instead. It saves time, and unlike Chinese simplifications, it preserves all the original information. It’s like writing a function.

Notes: 渋 is a bit problematic.

Looking back, it kind of amazes me that I’ve just this month truly discovered James W. Heisig’s landmark work, Remembering the Kanji. Back in 2001 and 2002, I heard Heisig’s name pop up a couple of times while I was studying Japanese at UC Boulder. I think my very first Japanese teacher may have even used some RTK-inspired methods when she taught us hiragana.
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I spent most of the winter break at home with a cold. It was almost as if my body suddenly realized it had time to get sick! It wasn’t a waste in any sense, though.

My interest in Japanese somehow became renewed. I think somehow, getting into Anki was the reason. Knowing I worked so hard learning Japanese for two years in college and then forgetting pretty much all of it in the 7 years since is pains me almost viscerally. Learning that the cost of remembering things wasn’t as high as I had thought was gratifying to say the least. Buying the Wii and realizing that all my games would be in Japanese buoyed my spirits higher, still.

I’m sad to say my Japanese is pretty much terrible, but I just keep putting stuff I don’t understand into Anki and playing on. Something about going from galaxy to galaxy, having the チコ stars talk to me in keigo, dealing with the tough-guy penguin surfing coach and so on makes it feel like much less work than it is. I may not have a chance to play it much now that the break is over, but it was fun.

Getting the Firefox Pinyin Converter done was nice, too.

I went to several local video game shops right before Chinese New Year. It had been long time since I’d bought or really played any console games, but the Wii was different enough and interesting enough that I decided to get one to play over my two week vacation. For new systems, here were the prices:

  • Standard Wii + 1 left controller + 1 right controller + localized version of Wii Sports: 7400NT
  • Wii with mod chip installed + 1 left controller + 1 right controller + localized version of Wii Sports: 8500NT
  • Extra left controller: 850NT
  • Extra right controller: 580NT
  • Wii Fit and balance board: 3600NT

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Anki is a free software program designed to help people remember what they have learned.anki-logo It’s a flashcard program, with support for a variety of media, including text, sound files, mathematical equations (using Latex) and even images. My use of it so far has been restricted to foreign language learning. Anki runs on Windows, Mac OSX, and Linux.

The value of spaced repetitions

Anki is a spaced repetition learning system. Unlike traditional flash card systems in which the user decided what to practice and when, spaced repetition systems schedule practice for you. The first time someone learns something, it will be forgotten quickly. The next time, it might stay for a day or two. The time after that, a learner can usually remember an item for over a week. The length of time increases exponentially. If an item is forgotten, though, much of the progress is lost. By scheduling review for each item right before the learner is expected to forget it, Anki makes it possible to learn material well enough to remember it for months or even years in just ten to twenty repetitions.

My own learning experiences have made me a big fan of spaced repetition review. I have been a reasonably hard-working student ever since my last stint in college, but a depressing amount of the work was wasted. I have entire notebooks full of things I’ve painstakingly learned, probably reviewed more often in the early stages and then forgotten because failed to go over them months later. As much as I like the idea of deciding when and what to review, following the algorithm is more effective.

Differences from Supermemo

As far as the algorithm is concerned, Anki is very similar to SM2. When answering correctly, you still get three options (easy, good and hard), but there is only one option for wrong answers. Anything you answer wrong is put back into the stack, to be reviewed after you finish your other cards for the day. One very good change is that wrong answers don’t really affect the card’s “difficulty rating” before you’ve really learned a card well, i.e. to the point at which you have about a month between intervals. In other words, you won’t keep seeing a card too often a year from now just because you hadn’t really learned it before putting it into your deck.

The biggest way Anki is different from Supermemo is the clean interface. It’s a nice, simple program and it’s a joy to use. You can also copy decks to the Anki site for free (up to 10MB), and sync decks after you finish with them so that you can review from other computers. This isn’t a very important feature for me, but it would be if I had a decent cellphone.

Other features

Anki has some specific features for learners of Chinese and even more features for learners of Japanese. There are “deck models” for both languages. Each card has a field for the “question” (the word), the “answer” (the English translation) and a special third field for the reading. Upon entering a Chinese word, Anki fills in the pinyin for you! For example, if I enter the word 嫻靜, Anki fills in xián jìng for me. This is a great time saver. Unfortunately, it’s still necessary to choose the right pronunciation in the case of 破音字. The recognition for Japanese characters is far better. Anki has automatically selected the correct hiragana for the vast majority of the Japanese words and phrases I’ve entered so far. It’s a good thing, too. Otherwise, it would be necessary to choose from half a dozen readings on a regular basis. On other feature for Japanese study is that the program tracks how many of the Jouyou and Jinmeiyou Kanji have appeared in your deck so far. It also tells you what percentage of the kanji for each grade of elementary school you have learned.

Graphs and Statistics

Anki’s charts and statistics are outstanding.ankichart You can see charts of when cards will be up for review, of how much time you’ve studied each day, of how hard your cards are for you, and all kinds of other things. Deck statistics are similarly impressive. Have you ever what percentage of the time you answer correctly on cards you’ve been studying for a long time? Or what percentage you get right in your first review session? Anki can tell you. In fact, the charts and statistics might be a little bit too good. I’ve found myself checking them more than I really want to.

License

Anki is free software. As a proud free culture supporting geek, this makes me very happy. On the practical side, it also leads to cross-platform support and it’s easy to extend Anki. In fact, I’ve taken advantage of this by getting the Traditional Chinese localization of the program started. Damien, the original author and maintainer, was very helpful via email explaining to me how to edit the localization files. I’m sure others, with native Chinese skills, will build upon that work. If enough Chinese students get interested in Anki, I bet it will start keeping Hanzi statistics, too. By virtue of its license Anki is certain to keep improving for as long as it’s popular.

Summary

Anki is great. I’ve been using it daily for most of this month and I’ve even put in some time localizing it so that I could give it to one of my students. He’s been hard working, but continues to struggle to build his vocabulary. I’ve put all the vocabulary from my first semester CDs into Anki decks for him and have high hopes. I wouldn’t be using it myself and I certainly wouldn’t be recommending it to my students if I didn’t think Anki was the best of its breed.

Rating: 4.5/5

Since regaining my motivation to learn languages a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been trying out some of the methods from Barry Farber’s text, How to Learn any Language.

There are several components in Farber’s system, but the one that has helped me the most is the use of what he calls “hidden moments”. The idea is nothing new, but I’ve found it incredibly effective. The premise is simple. Forget all of those over hyped language programs claiming that you can learn a language in 20 minutes a day. It’s just not that simple. Learning a language is a gigantic undertaking and it takes time. The trick, is to free up time you didn’t know you had. continue reading…

The Romajinator is a simple tool that converts Japanese Katakana into romaji, i.e., roman characters. Most western students of Japanese will have little use for this tool, since katakana words are about the easiest Japanese there is to read for native English speakers. However, for students of Chinese, it’s the opposite. Kanji is pretty easy to understand, but katakana is pretty alien. Since the vast majority of katakana words are actually loan words from English, they’re often easy to guess… once they’re converted into romaji.

Examples

サラリーマン   ->   sararīman  -> "salary" man
コンピュータ   ->   konpyūta   ->  computer
サイエンス     ->   saiensu    ->  science
プロジェクト   ->   purojekuto ->  project
メソッド       ->   mesoddo    ->  method

Pronunciation

Most romaji vowels are pronounced fairly similarly to pinyin vowels. The big exception is the “e”. It’s pronounced fairly similarly to a “short e” in English. The “o” sounds somewhat like an English “long o”. Vowels with a macron bar over them are drawn out for a longer period of time. Doubled consonants represent a pause before the consonant. For example “setto” would sound like “se”, followed by a pause, and then “toe”.

The above is obviously a very rouge guide. For a more accurate idea of what words sound like, I recommend the Wikimedia Commons: Japanese pronunciation page.

Last night, Rika threw a dinner party over at my place. Since she and Martin already sold most of their things, including their refrigerator, to the Tealit vultures, she had to make the food over at my place. I’ve been really busy with work recently… but hey, they’re leaving and the party needed to be thrown. I wasn’t that thrilled with the idea initially, but in the end it turned out better than I possibly could have expected.
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Who could come up with something as whack as red bean flavored Kit Kats? Apparently, not the Taiwanese. No, no… the convenience stores have to import this stuff for us. Thank goodness for Japan.

Red Bean Kit KatRed Bean Kit Kat Hosted on Zooomr

I bought them out of morbid curiosity, but get this- they were good!


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