So I mentioned in my blog intro post that I’m interested in learning Japanese, followed by “again…” in parentheses, so I’d like to take a quick 5 minutes to expand on that.

I actually had two points so far where I’ve sorta started but ended up just stopping fairly quickly afterwards, hence the “again”. The first point was during the early weeks of 2015 semester 2 (maybe around August?), and the second point was early this year, when I impulse-bought Genki I during Kinokuniya’s Japanese textbook sale.

The first time, I spent my downtime travelling to/from uni doing various kana-memorization apps. I don’t quite remember how long, but it took me roughly a week to be capable of recognizing all the kana with a fair amount of accuracy, though I’d usually still take a while (particularly for similar-looking kana). But in theory, if anything was written purely in kana, I’d be able to read the syllables. However, I can’t quite recall why I stopped there, but I suppose I just got a bit lazy.

The second time, Kinokuniya Sydney had textbooks on sale for 20% off, so I impulse-bought a copy along with a beginner’s grammar dictionary. I then went and did the first chapter that night. It was interesting, but I ended up picking up a new programming project, so I decided that while I’m still out of the habit, I may as well hold until I find time, and instead focus on programming. If I went too deep, then if I’m finding myself too busy to dedicate to learning, I’d still need to maintain what little I learnt of Japanese, which would’ve been an inefficient pain. The idea then was that I’d time my start to when I’m committed to spending regular time not just maintaining, but actually learning Japanese.

So I suppose that’s a somewhat fair justification. Right now, with my priority is learning tech and becoming as competent a computer and software engineer as I possibly can be. But on the other hand, couldn’t I just try to manage my time a little bit better to squeeze a tiny bit of Japanese each week? It didn’t even take long to finish the first chapter of Genki (maybe 2 hours?), so perhaps I could just spent about 3-4 hours a week, adding up over a period of a year. I’d also have the added benefit of reinforcement over time. Not that I’m well-read in the relevant fields of psychology, neuroscience, or the likes, but I’m thinking it might be advantageous to learn something over a very long period of time, albeit sparsely, compared to smashing through the same amount of content in a short amount of time.

So I suppose I should come clean a bit with a problem I’m having with starting off: I’m scared to shit by the concept of having to learn Kanji.

Rote learning has always been a problem for me. Rote is still very necessary for all learning though, as memorizing allows one to not have to refer to a textbook every time a thing is brought up. When having to do basic arithmetic, no decently educated person would have to look up a textbook to figure out the purpose of this concept of adding two numbers and how to apply addition; you sorta just know it already to enough of an extent. Memorizing words and spelling is especially necessary in language as it’s precisely how ideas are encapsulated and communicated (or at least as I understand natural human language).

Kanji, however, is incredibly intimidating. At least with English, the letters can roughly correspond to syllables. Same of course can also be said with kana when it’s used in Japanese, and similarly with many languages that use a Latin-derivative alphabet, Cyrillic (I think? I actually have no idea how Cyrillic works), or hangul when used in Korean. Kanji, on the other hand, rote-learning hell. Or at least, nothing I’ve read has really convinced me otherwise.

To illustrate the problem as I see it from an ignorant outsider’s perspective, I’m imagining each Kanji to be a unique character with multiple ways to pronounce and understand it. Even with Kanji being conjoined in some way to form compound words and other such things to express more complex ideas, sources tend to indicate some 2000 kanji for a high enough degree of fluency (~2000 for JLPT N1 if that’s any indication), or hundreds for basic comprehension (~100 for JLPT N5, up to ~650 for N3). Even mere hundreds alone sounds like insanity to have to learn the multiple unique pronunciations and meanings of each of them.

Though, it seems that I can at least expect some degree of consistency, with concepts such as radicals to maybe make things easier.

But who knows, maybe it might end up being easier than I’m currently imagining it to be. I suppose I can’t really say until I just dive right into it and actually learn rather than speculating. Once the semester finishes, I think I’ll give it another shot and actually follow through.