Friday, November 2, 2012

It's Time for Me to Get Learned

I have a confession to make. I'm functionally illiterate.

8 years in Japan and I have what could be termed as a 1st grade reading level (Literally, I know all the first grade kanji, beyond that things go downhill).

Oh, sure, I have excuses. I wasn't supposed to stay in Japan. I've been busy with school, wife, kids, life and just don't have the hours needed per day to devote to learning the four difference scripts of Japanese (Yes, you read that right, the Japanese use four different systems... interchangeably). And of course the old standby, three of the scripts are easy, the fourth, kanji, the Chinese characters that were adopted in Japan for their main writing system is hell.

The list needed to be considered literate is over 2,000 separate character long. Normally Japanese are even literate until they get through junior high and even then, that list is just the start. It's not enough for understanding other more specialized kanji that one might use if he happens to normally be college educated. And it gets worse of course, not only are the kanji a mishmash of random lines, but they have multiple meanings and multiple readings depending on if they are read in Japanese or their original Chinese pronunciation that has been changed into Japanese.

It's enough to conclude that the best thing to do is forget the bloody kanji and just stick with English, problematic as that language is.

The thing is though... Japan is now my home. And yes, you can say all you want about immigrants needing to learn the language and I will be more than happy to come back with all sorts of facts for you, but honestly... where I have been, being able to hold a basic conversation about daily events is not enough. It's not enough that I am reliant on Beloved to this extent (And indeed it is not, in many ways, Beloved doesn't have two small children, she has three). It's not enough that very quickly both my sons will surpass my ability to read as they already have in speaking Japanese.

So, I swallowed my pride and for my birthday asked that I be given "Remembering the Kanji" which is a study guide that people either swear by or at. So far, I'm a swear by guy. The damn thing works. It breaks down the kanji into what the author calls primitives and then helps you assign keywords and a memory aid in terms of a story or image to help you recall and write. It also helped that I ended up finding a website with a community devoted to this model and when I can't come up with my own story or dislike the one in the book, I can borrow (Read steal) a host of others.

And yes, it is working in 11 days I've managed to memorize over 200 kanji. Not bad at all.

It helps to keep my eye on the prize, the idea of being able to read the printed material around me and using that to help improve my Japanese. To be able to converse with my in-laws without Beloved translating, and to be able to help my sons with their school work, beyond English.

The other thing that helps is, well, Beloved and the boys. Although probably not in ways that they really know about, or would like. Yes, they got me the books, but I admit that I have been making free use of them to make up stories. The kanji for 'Child' for example 子 becomes Makoto or Hikaru on Beloved's back. Another kanji that means "But of course" and is made up of the kanji for water and elder brother invokes me asking Hikaru "Did you need to pour water on your elder brother?!" "But of course, Daddy!".

Even one I just learned today, portent works with the story of "When big hairs grow on my wife's legs, it's a bad portent".

And if she ever reads this, it will be a self-fulfilling one. 

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