One of the assignments given to us by sensei was to do a skit where we have to make up and memorize our lines. I’m finding this very difficult and am rather annoyed by the whole idea.
Okay, “rather annoyed” is something of an understatement. I’m closer to “royally pissed” on the scale, I think.
But it is what it is, and I have a partner I can’t let down, so here we go.
Anyway, as I’m studying, I have found that one of the biggest obstacles to my memorization of the words is the syllabic system. No, seriously. See, English letters are very different than Japanese syllables. English letters sometimes do not have their own identity, and several letters blend together to make a syllable. Even though there are 15,000 or so potential syllables, it’s really easy to see the words because the letters don’t really count for much by themselves.
With the syllabic systems – hiragana and katakana – that’s not really true. While some vowels are unvoiced, entire syllables are never, and they have the same importance mechanically when recited (I said mechanically, not grammatically). So if you can’t get out of the mindset of sets of hiragana/kanji/ofurigana being actual words and are stuck on the syllables, memorization and fluency becomes near impossible. This is because you’re memorizing sets of syllables rather than words for themselves.
So kanji, while a formidable challenge in their own right, takes ones mindset off of the individual syllables and puts it on the words where it belongs. There are some nasty rules when it comes to this as well – their pronunciation changes on a whim, depending on what the context is, but the pronunciation becomes secondary to the meaning of the word. It’s still vitally important, obviously, but it’s what pulls you out of the syllabic mindset and into the word mindset.
The textbook I’m using starts with romaji, graduates to hiragana and katakana, and only then introduces kanji. I absolutely understand why they do that – hitting students with kanji all at once would be incredibly intimidating – but I also think that level of intimidation might be the kick in the pants needed to understand that Japanese is fundamentally different from English. What I mean is this: if you exposed students to kanji from the very beginning and then had them start to swim out, maybe it would be easier to toss the conventions of English that we have a tendency to stick to for as long as possible, when they just don’t apply.
In fact, I think this is such an important concept that I created my own “study kanji”. I have kanji now for desu, deshita, masu, mashita, deshouri, and a couple of others. I’m also learning kanji for words like “iie” and “totemo”. They’re only for my own use, of course, but the purpose of these is to focus my mind on the “wordness” of the words and particles, rather than what they’re composed of. It seems to be bearing fruit. Memorization has become much easier, at least when I have whole sentences to memorize. Like I do for this kami-forsaken test.
Of course I will cuss myself out for that choice the minute I accidentally use them when I shouldn’t. But it is what it is, I suppose.