Saturday, July 24, 2004

Ok. I am sufficiently inspired. And I am in a internet cafe with a lot of time on my hands. so...

That's the text I am using these days. I decided to go for it - learn kanji. Kanji are the Chinese characters used in Japanese writing. I guess I should break that down a little more: reading Japanese is really hard. It consists of two alphabets (three if you count the roman one) plus kanji, which is not an alphabet, but pictographs, pictures that represent a word. So to read a newspaper, you have to be able to read both the alphabets, plus about 2000 of the kanji. The alphabets are no big deal, we did that in the first couple months here. But kanji! Well, many just assume they will never get it and leave it at that.

There was a time. about two months ago, when I thought i would be one of those guys who may never learn kanji. But a friend of mine stumbled across this system that he got all evangelical to me about. He was convinced that it is absolutely life-changing in regard to kanji learning. Always a sucker for evangelism, I checked out the system and now find myself spending about two hours a day at it.

I don't exactly know why I am able to do that. I am not known for my discipline, but for some reason I am feeling highly motivated to do this. And I guess it is basically because of the success. The way I used to try and learn kanji, I would just learn a bunch and then have them fall out of my brain in a week. But this guy has come up with a way that makes the kanji stick in my head like that last grain of rice in the rice bowl.

He does it with really strange stories. Remember in school using strange acronyms to make stuff stick in your memory, like roygbiv for the colors of the rainbow? Well, it's kind of like that. Here, I will demonstrate, sitting right here in the internet cafe. First, I've gotta find a kanji appropriate for explaining. Just a sec...

Ok. I couldn't find one, so I am drawing one on a napkin. Now I have to mail it to the phlog. Hold on...

Ok. So here it is:

So, this is how he breaks this one down. The top part there, the part that looks like a cross with one arm lopped off, that is a magician's wand. And the square, that is a mouth. So the mouth with the wand on top means fortune telling. Now add four little dots underneath, and that is that kanji for "spot". See, because this fortune teller looks into the fire and tells your fortune from the spots she sees in front of her eyes.

Now that just sounds like the dumbest things, doesn't it. But that is actually the point. the stories get a lot weirder than that, but it seems like the weirder the are, the less likely you are to forget the kanji.

I learned 200 in the last two weeks. Previous to that I was at about 40 in two years. I plan for another hundred next week.

2000 by Christmas???

Anyway, if your thinking of getting born again into the world of Japanese reading, the name of the book is Remembering the Kanji by a professor named James Heisig.

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