Beginner in Japanese; Habits and Information
Hello, I am Makayla I will be teaching Japanese to beginners, or known as JPN 1. I myself is still studying Japanese, however I am intermediate-advanced. I will teach students how to read, say, and write in Japanese. Not only learning the language, but learn a little bit of Japan's history as well, including where the writing system came from.
Bad Habits; However, when studying the language, young English writers have a really bad habit of writing Japanese words in Romaji ローマ 字. Romaji ローマ 字 is the Romanized spelling that is used to transliterate Japanese into English or what ever your Native language is. It is most commonly used when learning how to say Japanese characters but in your Native language. Therefore, beginners get too comfortable with this translation system and start writing it, instead of the actually Japanese characters. Therefore, this make learning the language writing hard because you got used to Romaji ローマ 字.
I have mixed feelings regarding romaji.
I think it is important to move beyond using romaji as quickly as you can so you can start reading and practicing hiragana/katakana and kanji. You have to use Japanese characters if you want to remember them. And it takes a lot of practice to be able to read them quickly and easily, so the sooner you move away from using romaji, the better your reading comprehension will be.
However, I also think that romaji serves a valuable function for the beginner Japanese student. It makes a difficult language more accessible and allows people who have not yet fully grasped the character sets understand and learn new things. If you are still struggling with hiragana, having a romaji translation for reference can help you catch yourself making mistakes and correct your pronunciation.
Sometimes I hear people demonizing romaji as a terrible thing that you should avoid or else it will "hurt" your Japanese learning. This is just not true. It is a tool for early learners, like using training wheels when you first learn to ride a bike. There's nothing wrong with getting a little help so you can learn without falling over a lot. The problem is if you are still using those training wheels a few months (or years) later.
At some point, you need to move beoynd the need for romaji. Faster is better, of course, but everyone's pace is different. As long as you keep moving forward, you'll reach your goal in your own time.
In my opinion, anyone with at least a bit of motivation can learn both kanas in 3-4 weeks. I make it clear to my students that we won't be using romaji for longer periods of time after that.
Because if you do not move beyond quickly, it will hurt your understanding of the language. You will be stuck thinking about Japanese in terms of alphabet, not syllables. I've seen that happen, people ignoring hiragana/katakana and ending up writing げんいん like げにん when they finally got to hira. Such a bad habit is then very hard to correct retroactively because the person has wired this understanding into his/her brain.
Did you not yourself use romaji in the process of typing those very Japanese characters you wrote in your post though? :P
R O - M A J I [spacebar]
But anyway, I agree. ^^
Obviously any serious Japanese student already has a JIS keyboard with kana input so they can leave romaji behind them forever.
Nothing less will do. ;-)
JIS Romaji Input
ろ O key
｜ hyphen key
ま A key
J key / Z key
じ I key
[spacebar / 変換 key]
JIS Kana Input
ろ grave accent key
shift key (hold)
｜ hyphen key (+ release shift key)
ま J key
し D key
゛ opening square bracket key
[spacebar / 変換 key]
NICOLA 親指シフト Kana Input
ろ C key + 左 thumb key
｜ X key + 左 thumb key
ま O key + 右 thumb key
じ S key + 右 thumb key
[spacebar / 変換 key]
"Nothing less". However, something more? Can't just stop halfway down the rabbit hole. :P
Romaji is useful in the beginning stages of learning the sounds, and also I found it helpful to read hiragana and transcribe what I read into romaji, or transcibing romaji into kana.
BUT!! Otherwise I absolutely and totally agree with you. My last language tutor said that other students were able to speak but hardly spent any time on reading and writing. They would use romaji, and even text/email in romaji. It is such a waste. The first time my tutor texted me I insisted that if they were going to use Japanese with me then just use kana! Before I learned ANYTHING I learned how to read and write. Only learning to speak and use romaji is a cop-out and lazy (again, the exception IMO being just as exercises).
When teaching English to Japanese. Japanese using kana to try to "Sound out" English. Which is the system of teaching English in Japan. Can lead to the weird phenomenon that many Japanese cannot say ”See” they say シー。with a sh sound. Although we know that they should be able to make an S sound as in サ。
So yes it goes both ways. It is best to immerse yourself in a language as much as possible from the beginning. In the days when only books were available, you had to use some kind of phonetic symbol to relay the sound of the letters, but now in the modern audio link enabled world, it is possible to learn kana as a properly pronounced sound only, like when we learned ou ABC's as children, or あいうえお。
The problem with romaji is not that it makes learning kana or kanji difficult, but that it puts a stumbling block in front of the student's progress in pronunciation. Romaji is an approximation of the pronunciation. It does not represent the true pronunciation. Japanese does not have an "r" sound. Romaji does not distinguish between single vowels and double vowels. Look at the word "romaji" itself. It's missing a vowel. It should be roomaji. Tokyo should be Tookyoo. My issue with romaji is that it is fundamentally defective, not only in execution, but in its very intention. It was not intended for people who want to come to know Japan, but to tame Japanese and bring the "East" to the "West." Good things do not come forth from such arrogant intentions.
Romaji does not distinguish between single vowels and double vowels.
Most systems of romaji do distinguish between single and double vowels. This includes the main romaji systems: Modified Hepburn (the usual romaji system used by people learning Japanese in the west) and the Kunrei system (the romaji system taught in elementary schools in Japan — I think in fourth grade).
Long vowels are indicated in romaji with macron (¯) or circumflex (ˆ) diacritic marks above the vowel. ^^
- ローマ字 = rōmaji (Hepburn), rômazi (Kunrei), romaji (英語)
- 東京 = Tōkyō (Hepburn), Tôkyô (Kunrei), Tokyo (英語)
- 少女 = shōjo (Hepburn), syôzyo (Kunrei)
Look at the word "romaji" itself. It's missing a vowel. It should be roomaji. Tokyo should be Tookyoo.
That word "romaji" used within English sentences is the English word "romaji":
How do you put all that nice formatting in your reply?
I do understand what you're saying, but these are all adjustments that came later, but still aren't really better than just learning kana. On Internet fora, I've seen posts from students who were fed up with their lousy Japanese language instruction and made better improvements by just simple transcribing: 東京 = Toukyou. Why didn't they just do that in the first place? Why in the world would someone use something as clumsy and awkward as a macron? Simple is pure and elegant. Oh right -- Because those students were simply trying to learn a language and had no ulterior motive. Their grassroots system is far superior in my opinion to the obtuse systems invented by academicians.
The macron is used to accurately represent the long vowel sounds in Tōkyō so it is easier for non-native speakers to pronounce the word correctly. If you don't use the macron, it might lead to new learners assuming that Tokyo should be pronounced with U sounds. This is important, because sometimes you DO need to pronounce the U sound, but in other words, it marks a long vowel O sound. For example, in the word 子馬 (こうま) it would be written "kouma" in the Hepburn system. While the word 学校（がっこう) would be written "gakkō" to mark the long vowel. This provides unambiguous guidance regarding how these words should be pronounced in the spoken language. It's not intended to make things more obtuse or awkward for learners. Quite the opposite, in fact.
The Hepburn system was invented by an organization called the Roman Character Society (Romajikai) in 1885, and popularized by a Japanese-to-English dictionary edited by an American missionary called J.C. Hepburn. The Society's goal was to move away from kanji and kana completely, in favor of romaji. Obviously, that goal was never achieved, although they did manage to create a system of romanization that continues to be used extensively in the majority of countries, including Japan.
However, if you prefer a system that was made by and for the Japanese people, you don't need to abandon romaji entirely. Just switch from Hepburn to Kunrei-shiki romanization. Kunrei-shiki romaji is a Cabinet-ordered romanization system which is much younger than Hepburn, dating back to 1937. Despite being officially recognized, it didn't really catch on as much as Hepburn. The main users of Kunrei-shiki are native speakers of Japanese, especially within Japan, and linguists studying Japanese. One major issue with Kunrei-shiki is that it uses Japanese phonetics, instead of English phonetics, which make it more challenging for non-Japanese learners. Using this system can lead to mispronunciation of certain words or ambiguity.
As a comparison, in the Hepburn system, the kana た, ち, つ, て and と become ta, chi, tsu, te, to. While in the Kunrei-shiki system, these kana become ta, ti, tu, te, and to respectively. Since Japanese sees these sounds as being part of one cohesive group, this is more consistent, but "ti" and "tu" are not intuitive spellings for the correct pronunciations for English speakers.
Additionally, newer kana combinations can create some issues, such as ティーム versus チーム. In Hepburn, they would be distinguished as different sounds and represented as tīmu and chīmu respectively. That gives better indication of the correct English pronunciations. For some Japanese-speakers, however, the sounds ティ "ti" and チ "chi" are the same phoneme; both are represented in Kunrei-shiki as tîmu. Such complications may be confusing to those who do not know Japanese phonology well.
Many variations in romanization systems also exist. Sometimes "dzu" is used to romanize a づ (a tsu with a dakuten). This was used for the English name "adzuki" beans, but the Japanese pronunciation of the word is azuki and the "d" is not pronounced.
The "n" sound of the ん kana before a b or p sound is sometimes written as "m" because of the change in pronunciation. For example, しんぶん (shinbun) meaning "newspaper" is often written as shimbun. This is part of the original Hepburn romanization system, but not the modified Hepburn system.
Long story short, there are lots of ways to romanize Japanese. Each one has strengths and weaknesses. None of them are perfect, but they do the best they can to accurately represent the spoken language.
How do you put all that nice formatting in your reply?
Spacing: Use Japanese input full-width spaces rather than the regular English half-width spaces:
six seven eight
New line: Add two spaces at the very end of the previous line:
first line.(Press spacebar twice.)(Press enter.)