Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Ima nanji des ka

Years and years ago, there was this Japanese lesson on TV and from that single episode, I learned a little bit of Japanese that I still remember today. It was the question, "Ima nanji des ka." It means "What time is it now?" This question perhaps exemplify what I think language lessons should do to be effective. I think language lessons should offer the learner a way to associate some action or event to what is being thought. This way we can practice by doing the action to recall the associated words.

Imagine this. You wake up in the morning and you ask yourself, "Ima nanji des ka." You look at your watch and then, you answer yourself "Rokuji des." (It's six o'clock.) And then, you say, "Mai asa rokuji ni okimas." (Every morning, I wake up at 6 o'clock.) "Soshte. Mai ban juji ni nemas." (And every night, I sleep at 10 o'clock.) From one question, you can associate (or link) several sentences and practice them all at the same time.

You can even expand this further to include the act of eating (tabemasu) and drinking (nomimasu) as well as breakfast (asagohan), lunch (hirugohan) and dinner (bangohan). Isn't it easier to learn this way? Of course, this is a rhetorical question, but I think this deserves further exploration.

So, why are language lessons not doing this? I don't know. (Wakarimasen.)

Monday, September 1, 2014

In the Beginning

I have repurposed my blog, I Bloggeroo, to make it more universal and Facebook-friendly. I have to do it because it's connected to Facebook and a bunch of web services. Well, it's complicated. Let's just say it's a blog-internet-website thing so from now on, I'm blogging about Japanese language stuff.

Anyway, I'll be starting with this Japanese phrase hajime ni. In 2008, I bought several Japanese books when I was in Osaka, Japan. In one of those books, this phrase was at the top of a page. I looked it up in the dictionary and it turned out that hajime ni means "at the start." Ah, it's the preface, I thought to myself. Personally, I think "in the beginning" would be a better or more appropriate translation, but of course, that's irrelevant to us because we won't be using that in a book since we can use the word preface.

So, why is this word interesting? Well, this word hajime ni is related to hajimemashite (roughly equivalent to "How do you do?") which is said when being introduced to another person for the very first time. It is also related to hajimeru (the verb, to start) and hajimemashou (Let us start.) And by changing one syllable, to hajimaru (the verb, to start/open an event) which is the root word for hajimarimasu in the question, Itsu hajimarimasu ka (When is it going to start?). Naku po. Nakakalito naman. Actually, there are more words with roughly the same first syllables that are related to it so it can get confusing. But as a foreign language student, we can use words like hajime ni as some kind of anchor to remember the other Japanese words.

I'm rather familiar with this quirk in the Japanese language because since 2008, I've been studying Japanese intermittently starting with Paul Pimsleur's audio lessons. And I have to admit that listening to spoken Japanese can be confusing. Sure, you can train your ears to pick up Japanese words when spoken. But with several words differing only by a syllable or even length of the syllable, you find yourself hesitating for a split second thinking which is which. This is because in our system, we are accustomed to pronouncing a word with either short or long syllables and it will still have the same meaning. Not so in Japanese. You need to pick words with the proper syllables.

Of course, I wasn't confined to Pimsleur's method only. I also participated in a Japanese language class courtesy of PhilNITS. In that class, we had a genuine or native-speaking Japanese instructor who came to Cebu directly from Japan. He was assisted by a Filipino translator who also spoke fluent Japanese. For a week or two, we studied Japanese using materials provided by Japan and our instructors helped us to learn as much as possible in a short period of time. It was good, but I think something's missing. May kulang. It's easy to learn Japanese in Japan, but learning Japanese in the Philippines is not the same thing.

This is the reason for this blog. It's a research project to develop a Japanese language learning system for the Philippine context. I am going to develop the idea I had in 2008 when I was in my room in Japan watching Tom Cruise in the movie, The Last Samurai. I want to speak fluent Japanese and I will design a system on how to do it ... in the Philippines.

Hopefully, I won't be like this Japanese teacher teaching English in Japan. (YouTube)