Saturday, September 12, 2009

How To Set Up A Trap For Your Japanese Friend

Are romaji and kana texts helpful? Or they're an evil invention aimed to deceive students and make their young lives hard?

I think students MUST NOT learn kana-ony version of japanese. This statement is easy to prove. You may like to conduct a following simple experiment:
  1. First, find a native Japanese friend,
  2. Set a trap for him or her: Go to coffee place together and chat;
  3. Ask your friend to explain any japanese phrase to you.
  4. Suddenly, while him or her is confident and relaxed, ask to write the phrase in kana only.
  5. Write something yourself in romaji or kana and ask your friend to read and understand it.
  6. Repeat 3 to 5.
In 8 cases of 10 you will see how hard it is for a native speaker to write and read without kanji!

I've got a strong feeling that reading Japanese texts in kana is more difficult than reading "normal" Japanese texts. I think this is true for foreign students as well. But at one condition: you must know the kanji that's in use it the text you read.

My current reading process can be debugged like this:
  • I look at the text;
  • I visually recognize kanji in the text;
  • If I know the kanji meaning it helps a lot allowing me to bypass "internal reading" stage, "internal hearing recognition" stage and "translation" stage". Of course it's for the kanji part only. But it saves a lot of brain power and it's fast!
  • Often, I know the phrase's meaning before I actually read it. In many cases I don't remember kanji phonetic reading but know what the kanji means;
  • After recognizing the kanji inclusions, I look at the surrounding kana to find endings and particles;
  • Japanese sentence grammar structure looks much more logical to me when I see words in their true kanji form.
I know, this may be a temporary state of my mind, but since it helps a lot, I'm going to adjust the way I learn.

My conclusion is following:
  • romaji is a useful invention, let it live.
  • kana-only student books must be destroyed!
What do you think?


  1. Kana is a bitch >_<

  2. Absolutely agree on both conclusions.

    You don't have to go that far, actually: Simply pick up and play any emulated console game from the Nintendo era (maybe even SuperNES, although they had better resolution), like the Final Fantasies.

    Back in those days, game consoles didn't have the resoulition required to post the complex kanji, and thus ALL the text is in hiragana or katakana.

    Not only does it take sooo much longer to read (to find word breaks, etc) and comprehend, it just induces a headache after more than a few sentences.