Saturday, April 15, 2006

Semi-Literacy

Over the past few days, it has occurred to me that I am now pretty good at reading stuff in Japanese. When I first realized this, I started to test myself to make sure that I wasn't reading things and comprehending based on memory alone. I started to look for items I have never used or looked at in the grocery stores to make sure I was actually reading and comprehending and low and behold, I was.

My newly acquired skills only go so far though toward my goal of being about 70-80% literate by the time I leave Japan. To be more precise, they get me about 25% of the way. The character set I can read with very little difficulty is katakana, the set used for words foreign to the Japanese language. Once you have the characters down, reading katakana is a lot like reading license plates on cars; sometimes you have to use a little imagination. The other kicker to katakana is that it is based on how the writer hears the foreign word being pronounced, therefore, each person could possibly hear the word a little differently and write it slightly differently. Foreign names can get tricky because of this. For example, my first name in katakana is pretty straight forward and phonetic, which makes it easy to write. My last name I have seen written a couple of different ways. Essentially, any name that has a lot of "l" sounds is going to give them problems. Japanese people have a horrible time distinguishing between "r" and "l" sounds. If you have seen the movie "A Christmas Story", the scene where the family goes to the Chinese restaurant for Christmas dinner and get Christmas caroles sung to them by the Chinese guys, thats pretty similar to the way it is here. I have been doing experiments on different ages of kids to see how well they can distinguish the words "right" and "light". I will write a big L on the whiteboard next to a big R and have them point to the letter when they hear the word I am saying. I have even done this with some of the parents too, and 90% of the people, parents and kids, I have played this game with, cannot hear "l" sounds. In their brains that sound is automatically interpretted as being an "r" sound. Its not their fault or anything but I find it extremely interesting from an educator's standpoint. I like seeing how peoples' minds work.

Anywho, katakana comes pretty easy to me now. I know most of the hiragana character set but I have a hard time with it because it is intermingled with kanji and its pathetic how little kanji I know that is useful. The thing that sucks about kanji is that memorization is the only way to learn them. There is not a lot of teaching methods for the learning of kanji because you are just supposed to know them. Its a pain. I am happy though, I have been here less than six months and have a bit more than half of the characters down that are not kanji. My Japanese lessons start next month and I am excited to be able to practice more. That and I want to show off....accursed competitive mindset.....I will be the best. Yeah, I am going to stop typing now. :)

Oh, by the way, in theory I will have internet on either Monday or Tuesday. I am not going to get my hopes up but if that guy comes on Monday and says he can't get a signal in my apartment, he won't be leaving my apartment until there is one there. Pirating wireless is novel when you have internet and are just doing it for fun but pirating wireless as a survival technique sucks. Its like eating grubs and tubers when there is a Wendy's across the street.

2 Comments:

At 2:00 AM, Anonymous dustin said...

I wonder if that l/r thing would have any physical aspects, or if it's a completely psychological thing. It'd be really hard to test that though, unless you found the physical part.

 
At 12:57 PM, Anonymous Phyrry said...

The imperception of difference is extremely interesting; sure, they're both coronal consonants, but if you grow up with the difference it's utterly obvious.

Huh.

 

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