From Round to Square (and back)

For The Emperor's Teacher, scroll down (↓) to "Topics." It's the management book that will rock the world (and break the vase, as you will see). Click or paste the following link for a recent profile of the project:

A new post appears every day at 12:05* (CDT). There's more, though. Take a look at the right-hand side of the page for over four years of material (2,000 posts and growing) from Seinfeld and country music to every single day of the Chinese lunar calendar...translated. Look here ↓ and explore a little. It will take you all the way down the page...from round to square (and back again).
*Occasionally I will leave a long post up for thirty-six hours, and post a shorter entry at noon the next day.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Kanji Steps to Mastery—Introduction (a)

One year ago on Round and Square (6 October 2011)—Spring and Autumn Roles: Rolling Rhythms
Click here for the introduction to the Round and Square series "Kanji Mastery"
[a] Varieties RF
Click here for the other half of the "Kanji Steps to Mastery" introduction:
Kanji Steps 1                    Kanji Steps 2

If you have read a few posts in the "Kanji Mastery" series, you have seen a number of ways of chipping away at the obdurate kanji challenges you face in your studies. You might be unconvinced, worrying that the 383 kanji you know with confidence (and another 200 or so that you sorta, kinda know) are hard enough to keep in order. You start forgetting the ones you thought you knew before you can thoroughly learn new ones. If you could just get to about 600 and really know them...that would be enough, wouldn't it?


That may sound like progress, but let's not kid ourselves, people. You are less than a third of the way through the list that the Ministry of Education claims to be sufficient for reading Japanese today. As I mentioned in the introduction, anyone with real experience reading Japanese will tell you that the basic list is not enough. You need to know at least a thousand more. Someone needs to tell you the truth, so I will. The joyo kanji list is only a checkpoint (a little beyond halfway) on your journey. It will take somewhere between 3,000 and 4,000 kanji to place you in the shadows of mastery. If you know 2,000, you are in Saitama, on the train to Tokyo. If you know 500, you might as well be standing in a rice field outside of Aomori. You have a long way to go.
[b] Shadows RF

I want my students to aim for 3,500. That's a mouthful, and even a mitt-full (in the sense of an inked writing brush in your "mitt," or hand)—手. There are many ways to approach the task of learning those kanji (this is my personal estimate of what you need to read a wide array of texts in Japan today; it is not even close to what you need to know if you wish to read, say, sixteenth century renga poetry, which we'll deal with later in this series). 

Let's stick with today's Japan—a world of limited kanji and structured challenges. Figuring out how to learn those 3,500 is tough enough, and I will cover that in a Round and Square topic called "Learning the Kanji." That means that you will have many ways to approach the problem. There is a series dealing with the 214 "radicals" of the language, another (soon to come) on learning the basic kanji, and a third (the one I am posting here) that tells you how to put it all together.

Just one question, I hear you mutter. Why would you place the "putting it all together" (Kanji Steps to Mastery) topic before the series on learning those 3,500 miserable little chicken scratches of logographic language in the first place? Why would we focus on reading mastery before learning the damned things, one from the other?

I am really glad that you asked that. You have no idea how long I have waited for that question.

If you read this post carefully, you will see that there is an assumption built into it right from the start. You already know 583 kanji (383 of them "perfectly," and another couple hundred in somewhat incomplete fashion; adjust the numbers upward or downward to suit your present situation). If you wait until you know 2,000...or (preferably) 3,500...kanji before you start on the path to mastery, you will fail. 
[c] Seioubo Rorschach RF

It will be too late.

All you will know then is 3,500 odd little Rorschach images that are only loosely connected to a language meant to persuade, explain, interpret, and implore. You will know nothing. Unless you start on the long path to mastery, and right now, you will fail. If that sounds a little more "mean" than some of you are used to hearing, well, I am just being honest...and direct. You need to learn to read right now....だよ. Now that you "know" 500-plus kanji (adjust as necessary), and know a little bit of grammar and usage (I assume a very solid understanding at the level of three years of college Japanese), you need to start doing the stuff the big kids do.

You need to grow up.

It is time, in short, to move beyond what Genki II or JSL III can tell you. You have your foundation (if you don't, keep working on it). Now it is time to graduate to the next level. 

And this reminds me of a little story. You see, I was driving down the highway on a long trip about fifteen years ago, and happened to catch a clear signal of an NFL game between the Green Bay Packers and the San Francisco 49ers. As I remember, it was the start of the fourth quarter, and the 49ers trailed by two touchdowns. One of the announcers said, "...things look bad for San Francisco." The other (it was Matt Millen, for those of you who care about such things) then used the words that I have repeated since then to students of Japanese who have finished the early years of language study:

It's time for (the 49ers) to put on the big boy pants. 
[d] Ready RF

Yup, that's what he said. I alter it only slightly, to acknowledge the fact that Japanese language studies aren't the National Football League, and are more gender diverse:

       It's time for you to put on the big kid pants.

One wonders exactly what Millen meant by it back in the day. What I wish to consider is this: what does it mean in the context of language study? Well, to begin, it means that the next steps in your studies should not include (or should only be supplemented by) review of your first, second, and third year textbooks. My assumption is that you have gained mastery over that material. If you haven't, perhaps you need to review and maybe even take an intensive summer course that solidifies your knowledge of basic grammar, usage, kanji, and so forth. Shore up your foundations first, and then put on the big kid pants. 

Keep 'em up with a belt

The road to mastery begins with a textbook, but you're only on the entrance ramp. Textbooks are incremental; lived language isn't. Language is all there at once, and mixes levels of politeness, grammatical styles, and kanji that may or may not appear in the Ministry of Education's 常用漢字 list. If you are going to move it to the next level, to barrel down the highway to mastery, you need to take off the training wheels and start doing real stuff—like using grammatical tools, Japanese dictionaries, and reading real books.

The purpose of this series is to show you how to do that. 

So hitch up your big kid pants (strap on your belt), and let's get started.

Click here for the other half of the "Kanji Steps to Mastery" introduction:
Kanji Steps 1                    Kanji Steps 2
[e] Fermented language RF

No comments:

Post a Comment