Travel, Teach, Live in Japan
For a speaker of English, or any other European language for that matter, Japanese is so far-removed, some consider it an impossible language to learn. It is not impossible; I can vouch for that, but it does require a certain amount of time and effort to learn it. In this article I am going to show you how to apply mnemonics or 'memory tricks' to accelerate your learning of the vocabulary of this great language.
Luckily, the contemporary learner of Japanese starts out with an advantage thanks to the Japanese obsession with English. Foreign words, mainly of English origin are sucked into Japanese and soon become common usage, even if they do become corrupted into forms that might not be instantly recognisable. These words are there in the language, however, and offer the beginner an in-road into this somewhat complicated language.
That just leaves the other few thousand words you need to learn in order to communicate effectively at a basic level!
What makes the Japanese vocabulary derived from English easy to learn is its familiarity. The word hoteru is simply a Japanization of hotel, and young people often take leave of each other with an easily-recognizable bai bai. The key to mnemonics lies in this principle: you remember better what you already know or recognize. It follows, therefore, that all we need to do to make unfamiliar Japanese words memorable is to make them, in some way, familiar. Let's take a look at how to put this into practice...
The Japanese for apple is ringo. If you are of a certain age (and even if you're not!) a certain famous drummer may have come to mind! So, all you need to do is associate Ringo Star with an apple. You could imagine him holding one. Or better still, you could work some action into the image, by imagining him biting into a fresh, cool, juicy apply. Or take it a stage further, imagine him smashing it up with his drum-sticks: anything to make it memorable.
That was an easy one, wasn't it? There are three categories of mnemonic for learning Japanese: (1) Words that can remain as they are and be associated without any changes, like the ringo example. (2) Words that have elements you can recognize, and work them into a memory 'hook' and (3) Words that are totally different and offer the learner no immediate 'hook' whatsoever.
Let's look at an example from the second category: black in Japanese is kuro. It is pronounced not too unlike crow...and what color is a crow?
The third category of vocabulary word in the hardest on to nail down, because you have to be creative. Your ability to apply a mnemonic to this kind of word is limited only by the boundaries of your own imagination! Let's take the word for shoe(s), which is kutsu. I could do a lot with this, but I am going to take the first part of the word that I recognise kut (taking it as cut) and the remainder su, as the name Sue. This is not the way the Japanese divide syllables, but it doesn't matter for mnemonics, because we are just trying to find a hook to remember the word.
But what does this have to do with shoes? I need to create a story that helps me to remember the sound of the word, kutsu, as closely as possible, but also the meaning: shoe (or shoes). Time to fire up that imagination...I imagine my fashion-conscious friend Sue, who has bought a new pair of shoes. The shoes are too tight, but she insists on wearing them, ending up with - guess what - cuts on her feet! The shoes 'cut Sue' = kutsu!
Mnemonics do work for learning languages, and they work well, but I cannot close an article on using mnemonics for learning Japanese without admitting that Japanese is the hardest language I have found so far for creating learning mnemonics. Try experimenting with mnemonics, though, because they can help you accelerate your learning of the Japanese language. It's all a question of imagination.
Anyone can learn Japanese. For more tips, tricks and resources for learning Japanese, visit http://www.youcanlearnjapanese.com now.