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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Excellent Kanji Compounds: 警察官

Most kanji are made up of smaller elements which are often times kanji themselves. When these elements are combined together into a single kanji they often lose the meaning they had as a kanji. For instance, means rice field. This kanji is also an element in (cat), which we discussed earlier. What do rice fields have to do with cats? I don't know, probably not much.

This however is NOT the case for kanji combinations. A kanji combination is when several kanji are strung together to make a word and there's almost always a logical pattern to why certain kanji are grouped together to make word. Kushner points out that this can give us some insight into ancient Japan when many of these patterns were established, but more importantly, they can be downright amusing.

And so, I present to you 警察官 (keisatsukan) the Japanese word for “police officer”.

What is a police officer you ask? Why it's simple, a police officer is a person who:

- “admonish”es you

- “judge”es you and is a

- “bureaucrat”

It's the admonishing bit that really gets me.

There you have it, the Japanese have nicely summed up the function police officers.

(Our own etymology is somewhat similar. Police comes from Middle French “police”, essentially meaning government. No admonishment though... sad).

Monday, December 21, 2009

New Book, New Vigor?

So I picked up another book to help me with my study of Japanese, specifically, Kanji. This one is called “Crazy for Kanji” written by Eve Kushner (who contributes to this great blog here: Where Heisig works to teach you Kanji, Kusher works rather to teach you how to study kanji.

I've already discussed how Heisig's method is very effective, but I had trouble focusing on it. Even though it is based on some whimsical, often amusing tales, I still had trouble keeping to the task. Kushner aims to alleviate this by trying to show the many ways kanji can be fascination. In the end, Heisig is essentially a means to an end, a method of getting the kaji into your head and that's it. Kusher offers a much deeper knowledge of the kaji, discussing their history, patterns, evolution and so much more.

I said I wanted to continue to use Heisig and I am, but I'm going to try to do it at a higher speed, not necessarily going over each kanji to the degree Heisig envisioned. What I hoping is to see them, and then as they pop up in Rosetta Stone, I can deepen my knowledge and make the connections I need. This could backfire horribly though, we shall see.

I think Kusher's book is interesting but I won't truly know how I feel about it for a long while. I feel it is the type of book you need to read at least twice. Once, when you are starting your study of the kanji to give you a sense of what to look for. Then a second time after you've become more proficient with kanji, to truly discover everything she's talked about. At any rate, I plan to deal much more directly with the kanji while I'm doing the Rosetta Stone, making sure I at least get a good look at them, and break down kanji combinations when I come across them. Well, here's to hoping it all works out.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Back in the Saddle Again

Well, it's been a while. I'm not surprised that I let this blog sit here unattended for three months, perhaps more surprising is that I came back to it this soon at all. It's unfortunate, because part of the goal was to use this blog to help me stay focused on learning Japanese and just as I had let this go, my focus on Japanese slid as well. But I'm back, and back to the Japanese as well.

I've decided to change my approach, originally I was going to focus on Kanji via Heisig, but I've decided I need to be grappling with the language itself, so back to the Rosetta Stone. I still want to use Heisig's book, but I'm going to adjust the way I've been using it. As I've come back to Rosetta Stone one thing has been made abundantly clear, Heisig works. When I first started Rosetta Stone, back in June, I had it set to romanji, and shortly thereafter switched over to kana, but I avoided kanji like the plague. That's past now, I have Rosetta Stone set to kanji and it's staying there.

The thing with kanji is, you have to do it at some point if you actually want to be able to read the language and like so many things in life, it's that first step that's the hardest. Kanji are intimidating. They're complex, numerous, and used very differently from how we use our phonetic alphabet. When you first approach the language and you see all these crazy symbols it's very easy to switch over to romanji and stick with something familiar. But after doing the first few hundred kanji in Heisig you can more easily tell the kanji apart and memorizing kanji you've never seen before becomes easier, even when not using his method.

Whether using Heisig's method or not, the most important thing is to continue to work with the language and the kanji. Even the Japanese start to forget kanji if they don't use them regularly, so you can imagine as a student of the language there can be no let up.

As far as Rosetta Stone is concerned the verdict is still out, but I'm thinking it is going to work. My anti-virus owned my Rosetta Stone unfortunately and I had to reinstall and start over from scratch, but I am kind of glad that that happened. It is a forced review and I am finding out how effective what I've been doing up to now has been. I definitely feel like this time through I have a much stronger grasp of what's going on, so hopefully that's a sign that I can actually pull this off.