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One of My Favorite Kanji

In English the etymology for poetry is Greek. It comes from “poiesis” meaning maker (kind of boring). Or It comes from the Latin “poeta,” used as a general term for creative literature (amazingly boring).

詩 - shi - poetry
(し – shi) means poem or poetry. Of course I like poetry so automatically I’m a fan of the kanji, but my fondness isn’t as superficial as that. 詩 is 言 and 寺 stuck together. means “say” and means “temple.” It is a beautiful combination.

All things considered, 詩 wins first place in my Best Way to Express the Feeling and Idea of Poetry Prize (also known as the BWEFIPP).

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A Brief Explanation of Why People Use Kanji and Not Just Hiragana

Kanji were created long before Hiragana. Kanji come from China. When they were imported the Japanese added their own pronunciation to them, which is one reason why Chinese and Japanese sound different. Japanese Kanji have at least two pronunciations the On-yomi and Kun-yomi. The on-yomi is the Chinese reading and the kun-yomi is the Japanese reading.

Hiragana was used by women because most of them weren’t taught to read Kanji. This was the only way they could write and read. And some women wrote a lot (see Tale of Genji). But for a long while Hiragana was considered to be a sign of being uneducated. Eventually the fellas started using it too and more and more people started mixing it in with Kanji and Katakana.

You need Kanji because lots of words have the same pronunciation and it gets (even more) confusing without them.

あめがすきです。
Do I love rain or candy?

雨が好きです。(I love rain)
飴が好きです。(I love candy)

Or another example: あれはおおきいくもです。
Is there a big spider or a big cloud?

あれは大きい雲です。 (There is a big cloud)
あれは大きい蜘蛛です。 (There is a big spider)

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The Difference Between くれる and もらう

When you look in a dictionary くれる and もらう seem to be the same on the surface. This one had me completely perplexed, it was like a horrible riddle, wrapped in an enigma, swaddled in a punch to the kidney. After looking for a while I finally was able to hunt down an answer about the difference. Today I verified my understanding with my boss. Turns out it’s not so bad.

The main difference is where the emphasis is placed. One places emphasis on the giver, the other places it on the receiver. For example:

母にシャツをもらいました。
I got a shirt from my mother.

母がシャツをくれた。
My mother gave me a shirt.

Please note that we use が instead of に for くれる. Don’t ask me why. I’m not ready to learn that yet, for now it is enough for me to just know I have to do it that way.

The other big difference is that we can usually only use くれる when talking about things we received. For a more detailed explanation check out nihongojouzu.com

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iKnowing is Half the Battle: One of the Japanese Learning Websites

I’ve tried a long list of websites for learning Japanese. The tendency is usually either towards expensiveness or sparseness. And even those that I’ve seen which are expensive don’t seem to have all that much to offer. Even JapanesePod101.com, one of the sites I’ve heard recommended the most, doesn’t seem to offer much more than something that lightly compliments other language learning tools.

But thanks to Tofugu I’ve been able to hit a few gems. The biggest gem being iKnow.

iKnow is clearly a great resource and, better yet— it is free! Of course using iKnow alone won’t get you real fluency, but it is an excellent supplement to Japanese studies. iKnow is basically a vocabulary builder designed to hit most learning styles. There is a traditional flash card style system where you see and hear the word alone and used in a sentence. Then have to pick it out of a list and finally write it yourself. Then there is a dictation system which seems aimed more at listening skills and spelling than actual vocabulary building. And finally there is a game where you have to pick the meaning of a word out of a pair of options before a timer runs out. The content is massive and presented through an eye-pleasing design. From what I can tell each “course” is supposed take about a month. For Japanese there is enough content to keep a person very busy for a long while.

Since it is free you have nothing to lose by checking it out. So, if you are learning Japanese take a look. Now.

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Minna no Nihongo (みんなの日本語 – Japanese for Everyone)

After buying too many Japanese books I’ve finally settled on one. It’s called Minna no Nihongo (みんなの日本語 – Japanese for Everyone).

The publisher thinks their book is pretty great too:Minna no Nihongo is a great book for learning Japanese.

…Making the most of Kiso’s teaching method – short-term intensive study, easy-to-understand language presentation, cast of characters in practical conversational settings, etc. – these books guarantee that the learner is able to make conversation in everyday life in the shortest time possible.

While I generally agree Minna no Nihongo is however, not the cheapest option. To get the most from the book you need to get the main text and a separate book with the translations and grammar notes. The main textbook is entirely in Japanese with some furigana (a kind of cheat sheet for the simple kanji used in the book). My first thought was this was a way to milk Japanese learners, but then I realized that it is because not everyone learning Japanese speaks English. There are, in fact, Translation and Grammar Notes books in a variety of languages.

Of course there are additional materials as well. You can get the extra work book, a set of CD’s to practice listening, some reading exercises, and a few other books that seem less useful. While these extra materials will help they aren’t necessary.

The books are not really designed for self-study. Of course you can use them for that, but language study from any book will only get you so far. I take a weekly lesson using the book. If I stopped taking lessons I would still use the book and learn from it, but I’d have to look elsewhere for answers to the things I want to know that book doesn’t cover. For me that source of help would be a co-worker, but there are also website discussion boards with people ready to help for those not living in Japan or without a Japanese friend.

Japanese is an amazing language— it’s difficult, but interesting and fun. 日本語はとてもすごい言語です。にほんごは難しがおもしろいと楽しい言語です。

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