Sunday, July 3, 2011

In the last class, my Japanese teacher reviewed my performance so far, and defined future goals. Her ‘strengths and weaknesses review’ was particularly entertaining. My weaknesses, according to her, are: (a) I am weak in kanji and (b) I have too many hobbies.

(b) of course is something neither she nor I can do anything about, but (a) can be remedied. So my targets, as set by my teacher, are to learn 300 kanji by November 2011, 500 by June 2012 and 1,000 by November 2012.

The Japanese writing system is a combination of three scripts; sometimes all three are used in the same sentence. Hiragana and katakana are phonetic systems with about 50 characters each; kanji is a logographic system with over 2,000 characters in common use. To make matters worse, a single kanji may, depending on context, mean different things; some common kanji have ten or more possible readings.

So far I have got by, knowing only hiragana and katakana. This enables me to read station names, signs written for children, my Japanese textbooks, foreign words written in Japanese, and most things on a restaurant menu.

Kanji is fiendishly difficult, and I am in Japan for only two more months after which I will probably never need to use Japanese. In view of this, a less harsh critic may have forgiven my kanji deficiencies. But my Japanese teacher is not a less harsh critic. Hence, the targets.

Kanji, to me, are like trees. I cherish their existence and I think the world would be a poorer place without them. I appreciate their beauty and their wealth of secret meaning. But apart from a few, very common ones, I cannot recognise them. When I see a kanji, I appreciatively say to myself, “Ah, a kanji,” and I leave it at that.

But last week, we started on a systematic programme of learning kanji. And pleasingly, the first one she taught me was 木, pronounced ki or moku, and meaning – perhaps you have guessed it already – ‘tree’ or ‘wood’.

3 comments:

The Reluctant Rebel said...

I look forward to learning some choice Japanese words once you are back.

Priyanka said...

^ Including, but not limited to, Japanese gaalagaal.

Sroyon said...

I shall happily oblige.