Pera-Pera Japanese

Sat 21st Sep 2019

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What is Pera-Pera Japanese?

This website is designed to help the student of Japanese to learn and memorise Japanese hiragana, katakana and kanji symbols as well as an extensive vocabulary of kanji words. It is modularized and will have modules including the kanji and words up to level one (the highest level) of the Japanese proficiency exam, equivalent to fluency in Japanese.

Pera-Pera Japanese is similar to flashcard software, yet is based entirely online, giving the student access to his or her lessons wherever they may be. It is built entirely for learning to read, pronounce and understand written Japanese. To understand exactly why this system works and why people find learning Japanese so difficult we should first understand how memory works and then the particularly troublesome features of Japanese.

We can think of our memory of consisting of short-term and long-term memory (it is much more complicated than this in fact, but for our purposes this approximation is good enough). When we learn things they get stored temporarily in short term memory, but the capacity of short term memory is small and the memories stored there soon fade. Our goal is to transfer these memories to long term memory where they will last indefinitely.

Making memories become long term is a challenge and there are a number of strategies to help. One is to use a mnemonic, that is, to associate the thing we want to memorise with a memorable image, song, sound etc. Many people have used a song beginning “30 days in September…” to help remember the number of days in each month. Another method is repetition: If, the first time we were taught that the circumference of a circle was pi times the diameter or how to count to ten in French, our teachers had never repeated it the next lesson, we would soon have forgotten but by repeating lesson, after lesson, the facts got stored in our long-term memory. Pera-Pera  Japanese uses a special form or repetition to ensure that you are able to transfer the kanji to your long term memory as efficiently as possible and also uses mnemonic techniques to make memorizing easier.

Our system is superior to other memorizing programs because it automatically tracks your memorized items, intelligently challenging you with them before you have had a chance to forget them. This helps to firmly entrench learned items in your long term memory so that the all-too common problem of quickly forgetting new words will be drastically reduced.

Please note that no single software and textbook can make you fluent in Japanese. This system helps address one of the most common and serious problems encountered by Japanese learners, particularly European speakers; the lack of retention of kanji. This results in a hobbling of reading ability and vocabulary tends to slow learning down to a snail's pace. Proper us of this system should obliterate that problem and allow much faster progress in learning Japanese. However, for learning to properly write Japanese and for natural conversation, a class lesson with a teacher is still the best option.

Why it is it so difficult to learn Japanese and how this system helps

The reasons for the difficulty in learning Japanese are:

  1. Japanese is alien. For European speakers there is no easy way to remember the words as they seem to have no connection to words in European languages
  2. Kanji are complex and difficult and there are many of them.
  3. Because of point 2, after learning a small amount of kanji learning knew kanji and new words becomes extremely time consuming.
  4. In other teaching systems common words are often given to students to learn before they have learned the separate kanji from which the words are constructed, this is one of the major bugbears for Japanese learners and leads to much frustration.
  5. Students often make a big effort to learn many kanji and appear to do so successfully only to forget them shortly after. This hampers progress significantly.

How this system helps you to learn

  1. For hiragana, katakana and individual kanji, the system provides a mnemonic to help to recognise the symbol and its meaning.
  2. The system helps to simplify the learning process by presenting the symbols in modules with the easiest first.
  3. New words are introduced gradually.
  4. When new words are introduced they are only constructed from kanji that the student has already learned.
  5. The most powerful point of the system is that it uses an automatic test and repeat system to ensure that you are reminded of words before you forget them. The student grades his or her recall for each symbol. The system automatically records this and decides how probable it will be for the symbol to reappear again. This means that you will constantly be reminded before you have a chance to forget what you have learned and gradually the words will move into your long term memory. It also means that you will not have to waste time repeating words that you already know well.

Things you need to know before you start

Japanese has 3 writing systems (plus they occasionally use the Roman alphabet). These are hiragana, katakana and kanji. Hiragana and katakana are phonetic alphabets similar to the Roman alphabet with each symbol representing a sound. Hiragana is for native words and katakana is for imported words. Hiragana and katakana can be learned relatively easily and are the starting point for all Japanese learning. Modules 1 and 2 of Pera-Pera Japanese teach you hiragana and katakana. You must know hiragana and katakana well before you continue with your studies.

Kanji are the Chinese symbols that are used in Japanese and are what makes the language so difficult to learn. For fluency in Japanese you need to know around 2000 kanji and around 10,000 words which are made from combinations of these 2000 kanji. In general, each kanji has more than one pronunciation (or “reading”). The “on-yomi” reading is related to the original pronunciation in Chinese. This reading is generally used when the kanji in question is combined with other kanji to make a word of 2 or more kanji. The second reading is the “kun-yomi”, this is the sound related to the original Japanese form of the word and generally used to form verbs, adjectives etc. When the kun-yomi form makes a complete word it is usually accompanied by extra hiragana to provide the extra sounds required (different verb endings for example). Just to make things even more difficult many kanji have more than one kun-yomi and more than one on-yomi.

In this system, when individual kanji are learned, the most common kun-yomi and on-yomi are given. The kun-yomi are written in black hiragana and the on-yomi are written in red katakana. On-yomi also have common hiragana endings in brackets. Mnemonics to help you remember the meaning and shape of the kanji are provided below the pronunciation.

After learning the hiragana and katakana the rest of the system is concerned with learning single kanji and kanji words. There are a number of modules containing single kanji. Each module includes around 100 kanji starting with the easiest. After learning a module of one hundred kanji, the next module contains a vocabulary consisting only of words made from the kanji you have already learned. After learning the vocabulary you can continue with the next one hundred individual kanji and so forth. You should always learn a module of single kanji before learning the subsequent kanji words vocabulary. By the time you have finished you will know almost 2000 kanji and close to 10,000 words!

The best way to use this system

Choose your starting module. Because later kanji modules use katakana and hiragana to give the pronunciation of kanji, you must know hiragana and katakana first. We deliberately chose not to use Roman letters to give kanji pronunciations as these are only an approximation and often result in a poor accent. Relying on alphabetical pronunciation guides is a bad habit and a crutch that you must rid yourself of as early as possible. When you begin learning kanji proper, you can start at any module. However, to get best use of the mnemonics you should start at the beginning as the mnemonics for some complex kanji build upon mnemonics given for earlier kanji. If you already know some kanji and do not want to start at the beginning, this is OK: the system will still work for you but you may not get maximum use from the mnemonics.

When you first start your module, go through as many of the entries as you can. Repeat every day for about ten or 15 minutes. After time you will notice the numbers of repetitions dwindling as more and more of the words are entering you longer term memory and so need to be practiced less often. When the system says that a module is complete (signified by a tick next to the module name and number on the right) you can start the next module. Over time, the system may decide that some entries in previously completed modules need reviewing in order to ensure they stay in your long term memory, this will be signified by a star next to the module name on the right. You can review the details of how well you did on each module either by glancing at the last fifteen modules that you have taken part in on the right of the screen, or by clicking 'Analysis' in the menu on the left for a more in-depth display of each module.

Finally, when learning the individual kanji, try not to get too obsessed with learning every single kun-yomi and on-yomi. While it is important to learn these and you should try hard to, the most important thing is to learn to recognise the kanji and its meaning. You will soon learn different readings as part of complete words in each vocabulary section.

Integrating Pera-Pera Japanese into your studies

Kanji are the main stumbling block to learning Japanese beyond a very elementary level. We feel that learning kanji is a must but is very difficult, hence the existence of Pera-Pera Japanese, but Japanese is more than just kanji; it is a spoken language too! As with all language learning aids, Pera-Pera Japanese alone will not make you fluent in all aspects of the language (although it will certainly help, especially with reading and building vocabulary). You should also practice speaking Japanese and consider taking up conversation lessons. Exposure to Japanese movies and radio also helps to develop you listening skills.

頑張って (Good luck!)

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