2009年1月13日火曜日

Grammar points? Don't make me laugh.

Today for shits and giggles I went online and found the Unicom JLPT 2 grammar points (海賊版) to look through. It definitely looked like a lot of effort. One hundred and ninety one different grammar points. Man, that's a whole 191 different things the learner is going to have to force into their heads. For each grammar point, it has long and complicated example sentences, the meaning in Japanese (if you can understand it), the meaning in English, notes, and usage (conjugations, grammar type stuff). I have to wonder just how long it would take the learner to get through this mess.

For me, if I wanted to do it (which I don't), it would take about an hour.

This is simply because there is not a whole lot of new information. I'm reading through this document most of the information is either completely stupidly obvious from reading the example sentences (限り:学生である限り、勉強を第一にしなければならない。かけだ:作文は、今日中に書かなければならないのに、まだ書きかけだ。ことだ:上手になるためには、繰り返して練習をすることだ。), impossible not to figure out if you've read any Japanese AT ALL (~ように, ~おかげで), or already known. There's very little there which is completely unknown to me.

All I've done for the past four months of Japanese is sit around and do fun Japanese stuff. Manga, books, websites, movies, shows, etc. and stick the interesting sentences in Anki. That's it. As a result when I look at this it's very easy. The example sentences are simple to me, the Japanese explanations are easy to understand, and I already know a good deal of what's in there anyway. I'm not studying grammar points to understand Japanese, I'm understanding Japanese by exposing myself to massive amounts of the language on a daily basis.

But this seems to be a foreign concept to other language learners. They seem to be trapped in the limited thinking that you need to be at a certain level before you can understand things. "Oh I'm not at the level where I can read manga" or "What reading material would you recommend for me? I'm at JLPT3 level grammar". Saying things like this bothers me. It makes me want to tell them to screw the level they're at, do it anyway and you'll get good. Screw the grammar points and the study, you don't need them.

7 件のコメント:

  1. Having just left the 'I don't know enough to read manga' level, I still remember what it's like.

    For someone who can't even read a childrens' manga, telling them to 'just do it' is torture. They have to spend 95% of their time looking up words in a dictionary they don't fully understand. (Or in an electronic one that costs a lot of money... But few people at this level have invested that much money in 1 item. You'd still spend 50-75% of your time on it.)

    I know because I tried it. And I was very, very disheartened by the experience. I went away, did hundreds of vocab and learned a bit more grammar, and came back... And Voila! I can now read 2/3-3/4 of the manga without a dictionary (usually enough to understand what's going on) and now it's fun.

    I'm happy that you managed to get where you're at with no studying, but not everyone has a mindset capable of that. I expect other ISTJ people like me will be a lot more comfortable with learning the basics first, and then enjoying the reading.

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  2. Beginners are constantly trapped in a terrible circle. They sit down with their chosen reading material and look up every word and grammar piece they see, and after a couple hours they've gotten through only a couple pages with a lot of frustration. It is torture.

    But the problem is not that they're not at the level to read manga, the problem is that they think they need to know what every single word means immediately. I remember specifically when I started reading manga I was as frustrated as you describe. Frustrated from spending 95% of the time looking up words in a dictionary. But that was exactly the problem, I was spending 95% of my time looking up words. The breaking point came when I stopped. When I stopped looking up every single word and just tried to enjoy what I could, even if I didn't understand it all.

    To us language learners, the most important learning experience is the time spent with the language, not the dictionary/learning time.

    I recommend you stop limiting yourself based on what personality type you've been told you are. Learn to step outside the bubble of the comfortable familiar and it will make you a better person. The only unique "mindset" I have is confidence in myself with what I do.

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  3. In my humble oppinion. Vocabulary is the 1 great obstacle in language acquisition. I agree 100% with you, Alyks. You'll see grammar everywhere and there is only one way to do it wrong: early output.

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  4. Same thing happened to me when I was reading at a 1 page per 1 day rate. It wasn't until I'd finished RTK1 that I could read through mangas with ease. I think one thing that beginners don't realize that as you read, you'll start to notice repeating elements. This happens a lot in mangas, but even more so in novels. When you see a repeating element (phrase/word) 4 - 10 times and still don't understand it, it will nag at you, and then you go and look it up. Then you may throw it into your anki deck, if it's worthy. But the end result is that you remember it and get a nice "ah-ha" moment. These little bursts of joy are what can keep you hungry for more, in addition to keeping studying fun.

    I think you're right on with this post Alyks, but you do have a leg up on others who do not know the meanings of the kanji.

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  5. You seem to think that grammar is a dirty word. That it's somehow something artificial, rules to be followed from an old book full of complicated term. Well, it has often been presented to the student that way which is very unfortunate but that's not what grammar is.

    Grammar is a pattern of meaning.

    Without grammar there is no sentence, no communication, no meaning at all.

    Some basic grammar can often be easily understood from context. If a caveman who has just discovered the joys of cooking would say "fire good, meat good!" I don't need to know the grammatical pattern used beforehand. In fact he could have put those words in any order, added a verb and a few prepositions/particles and as long as we were able to isolate the words, the meaning should be obvious.

    Unfortunately, we're not interested in cavemen language here, but Japanese. A modern language full of grammatical patterns used to express subtle ideas. For example the two sentences:

    a) 雨が降りそうです。
    b) 雨が降るそうです。

    while very similar, have two slightly different meanings. How are you figure that one out?

    1) From reading Japanese only? It's certainly possible but how long is it going to take until you have seen used those patterns enough in sentences that you mostly understand so that you finally get it?

    2) From reading both Japanese and it's translation. Sure that's a lot easier than option #1 but it still will require a lot of sentences before you get it and where are you going to get all those nice sentences with translation.

    3) You read about these patterns in a grammar book. It takes you only a few minutes to understand the concept, you'll get a warning about exceptions to the pattern (よさそう, なさそう) and mistakes to avoid (かわいそう). Example sentences readily available, all that from reading a few pages.

    4) You can realize there is something going on and ask somebody. You'll get the same explanation that you would have found in the grammar book. In my opinion, if you waste someone's time from something you could have easily learned from a grammar book, you're just being lazy.

    So it seems to me, that option #3 is clearly the better choice here. Learning from a good grammar book is simply the most efficient choice.

    And that doesn't prevent you from then reading a lot of Japanese texts to see that pattern in action.

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  6. Codexus, your example is nice looking but flawed. Sure you can read the grammar for that pattern. Would you recommend doing it for ten different patterns? How about fifty? One hundred? At what point does the student blow his brains out from the nuisance of memorizing hundreds of dry patterns and the subtleties of their usage?

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  7. But you will need to know all those patterns anyway. Whether you learn them from a grammar book or from context, the end result is the same.

    Off course, it seems scary to have to learn hundreds of grammar points. Just like it seems scary to learn 3000 kanji or 20'000 words.

    You don't have to do it all at once. And off course reading a lot is good, it will make what you have learned stick.

    But trying to figure out everything by yourself that's just going to make the task more difficult.

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