A trick for studying Japanese

I’ve been studying Japanese for two years now, and I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that there are a few letters of the katakana alphabet that I still can’t remember.

However, I don’t think I’ve alone. Almost every person I’ve met who studies Japanese in the west admits the same thing; In our textbooks, katakana is rarely used, whereas in Japan, you see it everywhere – on signs, advertisements, magazines. The problem is one of exposure.

Here’s the solution that struck me today and I’ve been doing for the past hour:

You will need:

  • Your first Japanese textbook (because you are already familiar with all of the grammar and vocabulary, even if you’ve forgotten some of it.)
  • Some paper and a pen.
  • A kana table of katakana. Either from your text, or write one by hand, looking up those characters you can’t remember.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Starting from the beginning of the book, find some running text; stories, dialogues, whatever. Look for something at least three sentences long.
  2. Copy it out longhand in hirigana.
    1. If you know the kanji for a word, use it instead of the kana.
    2. If you know there’s a kanji, but you can’t remember it, write the word in hirigana and circle it; you can come back to it later.
  3. Close the textbook.
  4. Get a second sheet of paper
  5. Now, from the text you just wrote by hand, copy it onto the other sheet, but completely in katakana.
    1. Everything. The kanji. Even the particles which would never be written in katakana.
    2. Resist the urge to look at your katakana table, until you’re sure you don’t know the character – Two seconds is a good rule.
  6. Now, read the text out load from the katakana version you just wrote.
  7. Rinse and repeat.

After you’re done, look up all the kanji for words you circled on your hirigana copy. Write each one ten times. Say the word out loud each time you write it.

An added bonus is that you will be implicitly reviewing grammar and vocabulary at the same time!

No applause, just throw money.

A somewhat lame example:

Original Text:

こんいちわ! やまだ です。 きょうは がっこに いきませんでした。 どうしてか? にちようび んです! はははははは! 
[Hello. My name is Yamada. Today I didn’t go to school. Why, you ask? Because it’s sunday! ha ha ha ha ha!]

And yes, I know I misspelled school. :)

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