Learning Japanese has been frought with challenges – I mean it’s been really, really difficult. I think one of the reasons is the scattershot nature of the resources I’ve been using to learn. They all seem to emphasize something different, and each advertises itself as the only resource I’ll ever need.
That is, of course, bull-pucky.
But the word that is the title of this post is an example of why I feel this way. 大丈夫. Pronounced “daijoubu”, this word seems to be one of the most commonly used words in colloquial and conversational Japanese, and is arguably one of the most useful. I’m not saying it’s the most, obviously, but it seems to be used quite frequently and in quite a few different contexts. I’ve seen it used multiple times in almost every single Japanese video I’ve watched since I’ve learned it. And not only that, but by its nature, it tends to be used in particularly pivotal moments.
It means “okay”. As in “I’m okay” or “are you okay?”.
And it took me months to find it.
And then you have resources similarly teaching Japanese words that are not used or are not used in the context that’s being taught (aishiteru, for example), people trying to learn Japanese from anime where that is probably the worst idea ever (don’t ever call someone “kisama” unless they’re literally a king) and basically all sorts of resources teaching you stuff that you find out very quickly is either useless or worse than useless. And you wonder why it’s so easy to give up.
If I were to give advice to someone just starting out (and I mean much more of a beginner than me), here’s what I’d say:
- Hiragana and Katakana are not alphabets, and don’t try to learn them as one. Memorize them, but remember what they are. They are a precise phonetic syllabary, no more, no less.
- Don’t skimp on katakana. Most resources don’t spend any time on it, but probably half the language are borrow words from different languages, and ten percent of the language is borrowed from English. But you’ll never recognize it if you don’t understand katakana. It’s not a skill you can afford to not have.
- Kanji radicals are closer to an alphabet, and use those to your advantage – breaking kanji into their component parts makes it much easier to memorize them.
- Kanji are not words. Don’t try to treat them as words. They’re concepts that can be turned into words.
- Don’t rely on any one resource, textbook, website, or anything else. Pick among a few and switch between them. You are guaranteed to learn something from one that you wouldn’t have learned much later from others, and it’s usually going to be something very helpful.
- Corollary: Just because someone is good at speaking Japanese, it doesn’t mean they’re good at teaching it.
- Corollary #2: Just because someone’s charging money for a lesson plan doesn’t mean it’s any good at all.
- Learning conversational Japanese only takes you so far. If you’re not trying to cram for a trip in two weeks, don’t fall into that trap. Learn it right. (If you are, of course, all bets are off)
- The first time you try to speak with a native speaker, you are going to fail. I had that experience today. I hope it gets better.
- Culture and language cannot be separated. If you try to learn Japanese with an English dialect, your efforts will collapse the moment you meet a real Japanese person.
- Anime is “real Japanese”, but you don’t know the difference between anime Japanese and actual Japanese that people use. Don’t risk it. Don’t try to learn from anime or manga. Do it right.
Maybe this advice will help.
Oh, and if you want to see something cool, write a post on Facebook with 大丈夫 and watch what happens. Not even kidding.