At-Risk Students And The Study Of Foreign Language In School Don’t Take the Romaji Short-Cut When Learning Japanese

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Don’t Take the Romaji Short-Cut When Learning Japanese

This is a problem that many Japanese students encounter, especially if they live outside of Japan. After all, If you are not in the country, it seems difficult to justify the huge amount of time that learning Japanese characters seems to require.

So what are the problems in using Romaji (Roman letters, like the characters you are reading now) to study Japanese:

1. Mother tongue conflict

The associations that your brain will create between Japanese words written in Romaji and English words (or those of your mother tongue) greatly increase the risk of mispronunciation. Japanese symbols have none of these associations for you. The very fact that they are completely foreign helps you start your language learning experience from a blank sheet of paper. Your chances of being able to get the pronunciation correct increase.

2. Show me The Romaji

Your textbook may be in Romaji, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find real examples in Japan. Of course, you can see a good amount of reasonably understandable English, but not Romaji. And look what happens when you write some Japanese in Romaji and show it to your native speaking friend: They have a very hard time deciphering it, because the Japanese don’t have it.

3. Today’s crutch becomes tomorrow’s burden

If you decide to continue your studies in Japanese, you will eventually need to start grappling with the characters themselves anyway. In my opinion, it is more difficult to leave the crutch of Romaji behind than to bite the bullet of character at the beginning of your studies.

As you can see, there are serious problems with using Romaji when you start learning Japanese. So what is my advice to students? Well, it really depends on your motivation and needs:

1. The Serious Student

This could be a person who lives in Japan for a period of time, either as a teacher or an entrepreneur, or someone who regularly travels to Japan for meetings.

If you are in this group, you should first master hiragana and katakana before even starting with any other aspect of the language. So when you start, you can dive right into a “proper” Japanese textbook.

Hiragana and katakana are not difficult to learn. I learned it part-time in a couple of weeks. Even kanji can be learned fairly quickly by a motivated and well-organized student with the right tools.

2. The Hobbyist

Maybe you don’t have a burning need to learn Japanese. Do it for fun, or because you’re thinking of visiting Japan.

If you are, then your options are more varied. However, even in your situation, I would not suggest starting with a Romaji textbook. Instead, I recommend starting with the spoken language. If you’re wondering how you can do this if you’re not in Japan, check out the Pimsleur method. Of course, it is a bit expensive even second hand. The point is that you will be able to speak and understand enough for a short trip. Once you’ve finished the course, you can then decide if you want to stop there, or continue studying in a more serious way – in which case follow the Serious Student method I mentioned earlier.

Learn to speak and listen keep your fun in learning the language, without undermining any future serious study by getting used to the Romaji crutch.

So, whatever your motivations, whatever your needs, if you can avoid the Romaji crutch, you’ll pick up the language better and be well placed to make rapid progress in the future.

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