Monday, October 29, 2012

X は Y です

Today's lesson is the most basic of sentences in pretty much all languages. We will cover particles later, so for now we'll practice forming the sentences and sounding them out.

"X は Y です" means "X is Y." That's it, simple. The は (ha) that you see in the sentence is not pronounced "ha," but "wa." This is a particle, and it is pronounced that way. For now, just remember that because particles are a whole new lesson themselves (and some people will argue that it is the hardest thing about learning Japanese).

です (desu) is a copula. It's kind of equivalent to the English "to be." It's not a verb though, and it connects a subject and predicate. You will be using です a lot when you speak and write. To say it fast and fluently, it sounds more like "des."

With this sentence format, you can create seemingly complex sentences. For example:

The student who goes to school is a good person.

The sentence may sound complex because there are verbs and adjectives modifying the nouns (student who goes to school, good person) but it's really just in X is Y format. X is student, and Y is person.

Congratulations on learning how to say your first sentence in Japanese. I encourage you to practice and create sentences with nouns that you may know.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Reviewing Katakana

Hopefully you've memorized some Katakana by now. What next? Before we move on, it's time for a pop quiz. They're not fun, but it'll test you on how much you've been practicing.

Highlight with a mouse to see your answer.

オレンジ     オ(o) レ(re) ン(n) ジ(ji)                               orange
パーティー    パ(pa) ー(a) ティ(ti) ー(i)                            party
マクドナルド  (ma) ク(ku) ド(do) ナ(na) ル(ru) ド(do)   McDonalds
ハンバーガー  (ha) ン(n) バ(ba) ー(a) ガ(ga) ー(a)       hamburger
アメリカ      (a) メ(me) リ(ri) カ(ka)                           America
コーラ      (ko) ー(o) ラ(ra)                                    cola
シャツ       ャ(shya) ツ(tsu)                                      shirt
イヤリング    (i) ヤ(ya) リ(ri) ン(n) グ(gu)                   earring
カップル      (ka) ップ(ppu) (small tsu!) ル(ru)           couple
ホチキス      (ho) チ(chi) キ(ki) ス(su)                       stapler

So how did you do? Hopefully you did well. Keep practicing and keep in mind that you'll always have to sharpen and improve your Hiragana and Katakana no matter how skilled you become.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Stroke Order

In this lesson, we're covering the importance of stroke order. What is stroke order? Basically, it's the way you write a character or letter. Take for example a lowercase "t". How do you write this "t"? Do you write a horizontal line first, and then a vertical line? Do you draw from left to right? Up to down? When writing letters of the English alphabet, the order in which you write a character doesn't really matter. In Japanese though, each character has a certain way it is supposed to be written, thus each character has a "stroke order."

Photos source: Wikipedia

You may recall the strange markings on the Katakana chart in the last lesson. I've reposted it above. Notice how there are numbers and arrows. The numbers tell you which stroke to write first, and the arrows tell you in which direction.

You're probably thinking, can't I just cheat and write it however I want? Yes, you can. In fact, when it comes to Kanji, new learners of Japanese often write how they want. I've had a Japanese friend tell me that not writing with the correct stroke order makes the character wrong. I've also had another Japanese friend tell me that it doesn't really matter.

So what's the point of stroke order? Regardless of it being "more work" and "more memorization," there are benefits to running that extra mile. For one, you'll be able to write characters more easily and fluidly because that's how they are supposed to be written. Also, you won't forget the character as easily because writing it over and over develops muscle memory. There have been many instances when I've managed to write a Kanji that I've forgotten, all because my hands were familiar with the stroke order. It's saved my life many times over countless Kanji quizzes and lesson exams in school.

I can give you one more reason, and this one is a personal one I can relate to. Ever get called on in class to write something on the board? Or how about just writing while someone is watching you? Yeah. Too many times I've been embarrassed because I write with incorrect stroke orders in front of a whole class, or having my teacher look over my shoulder to see that I've wrote a Kanji wrong.

And so because I try to write with the correct stroke orders, I generally have less issues with writing a character incorrectly. Some of my friends on the other hand aren't so fortunate. Believe me, sometimes it's just not cool to get points off a problem just because you missed one little stroke on a character. But whether or not you'll be learning Japanese in a classroom setting or on your own, in the long run, committing to stroke orders will very likely do you a lot of good.

I suggest practicing stroke orders now with Hiragana and Katakana. From now on, I also suggest that when you learn a new Kanji, make sure that you learn its stroke order. (Don't be intimidated though, once you start practicing Kanji you'll find that you can get used to it and stroke orders will become second nature).