Something completely different

Hiragana chart

After reading everything I can find about tsukemono (漬物), I’ve become fascinated by the Japanese language. Since I don’t have enough else to do, I’m going to finally take the plunge and commit to learning it.

It’s a fascinating language because the written form is a hodge-podge of three different orthographic systems. It seems that most people start with the hirangana (ひらがな) which is a syllabary with each symbol representing a complete syllable. This is the writing system used for most native Japanese words. The next system to learn are the katakana (カタカナ) which is also a syllabary system. Whereas the hiragana are used for native words that have no kanji equivalent, the katakana are used to spell non-native, loaned words, scientific words and so forth.

Finally there are the kanji (漢字) which are Chinese characters that have been adopted into the Japanese language. Several thousand of these are in common use. There are about one thousand such characters that kids learn in elementary school. These are called the kyōiku kanji (教育漢字) which means “education kanji”. I’ve started playing around with a web-based resource called TextFugu that uses a different system for teaching the kanji, relying on logical groupings, mnemonics and so forth.

I’ve discovered serveral resources early in my learning:

  • TextFugu is a web-based textbook of Japanese. It is wordy; but enjoyable. The first chapter, an introduction and beginning the hiragana (ひらがな) is free. After that, the site works on a subscription basis with monthly and lifetime options.

  • Hiragana chart is the grid of all of the hiragana.

  • Hiragana stroke chart. This is a printable chart showing the order of the strokes that comprise the hiragana.

  • Katakana chart is a printable pdf of the katakana laid out in the grid that TextFugu uses.

  • Learn Japanese is another internet-based textbook of Japanese. Like TextFugu, it has many videos and audio embedded in the text.

  • Anki is a flashcard program that works on the basis of spaced repetition[1]. I’ve used it for many years to memorize other material. But since the word for memorization in Japanese is “anki” (暗記 or あんき) I decided it would be perfect for this task.

  1. Spaced repetition is an interesting technique for memorizing material. Cognitive scientists first noted that manipulating the timing of repetitions improved recall back in the 1930’s. In the 1970’s Leitner devised a method of using flashcards distributed into sequential piles to implement spaced repetition. But practical use of spaced repetition did not become more widespread until the advent and general availability of the personal computer.