2009年1月7日水曜日

An English explanation

Today I received a copy of Mangajin's Basic Japanese Through Comics as a gift. Amused, I flipped through the pages and landed on an explanation of "なん". I had been running into the word on occasion, and so far the meaning had eluded me. But when I read it, I felt disappointed that the answer to what it meant was given to me like that.

Why was I disappointed? Because it was too easy. I just had an explanation handed to me. I had been seeing it a while, and each time I tried to figure out what it meant on my own. I was pretty close, I think, to figuring it out. I read hours of Japanese everyday and there are a lot of things that I run into that I don't understand, but things that I run into multiple times I eventually piece together. These things have the strongest associations to me. Their meanings and usage are impossible to forget when I've figured it out on my own. Possibly because of the Zeigarnik effect, I don't know. But what I've learned on my own is mine, it's becoming my language. An explanation isn't, it's learning somebody else's language.

The process of learning like this was explained very well in this post on Keith's Voice on Extreme Language Learning:
"In a previous post, I illustrated a point about the learning process by using the example of a piece of fruit. First you may think a word means apple but then you find that the word is also applied to a banana and so you adjust your understanding of that word. This exact thing has already happened to me. In the 2nd drama series, I thought the name of a character was a certain 3 words. Then later, I noticed that the last 2 words were applied to another person and so I realized it was a title. Based on the rank of those two people, I thought the word meant 'princess.' Then in one of the other dramas, I saw the same title being applied to a man who was a son of the emperor so I realized that it was not just for females like the word 'princess.' I thought it could mean prince or princess. And then I see the title still being used to address this man even after he became emperor. So again I adjusted my understanding of this word."

This explanation to me was gold. It's exactly how I would have wanted to write it. Learning this way gives you the kind of understanding that native speakers have precisely because it is the same way native speakers learn. Translations give us bias as to what words really mean and hold us back from true understanding. To this day I still have some words I learned before I got serious about Japanese that nag me.

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