July 09, 2008

Japanese classes in Chinese

I started taking Japanese classes recently. Before taking the classes, I knew I would inevitably be the only native speaker of English in the class, but I figured that wouldn't cause any problems. If anything, I thought, it might be more efficient taking a class with people who already can read and write Chinese characters. Like them, I wouldn't need a lot of explanation to recognize and understand Chinese characters used in Japanese.

I overlooked a major drawback of taking the Japanese class in Chinese: romanization is not used. The first chapter of the book uses both Japanese alphabets, hiragana and katakana, without any romanization. This means that doing the exercises during class is a painfully slow and tedious act of decoding symbols. It's a pain for the teacher too, who wants us to hurry up and learn to read.

There are a few possible reasons for not using romanization. One valid reason is that Chinese speakers might not be familiar enough with the Latin alphabet for romanization to be an aid in learning Japanese. But actually I think it would be helpful to all of my classmates and the real reason romanization is not used is because of a bias against using "English" to represent an Asian language. (Chinese phonetic symbols have a few more disadvantages compared to romanization, but they could also be helpful.)

The result of not using romanization is that most of class time so far (four or five 2.5 hour classes) has been spent learning to read and write. Any beginning class taught in this style becomes a Japanese alphabet class rather than a Japanese conversation class. In the long term, it won't make any difference, but in the short term it's a drag.

By the way, the teacher of the class is Japanese. His Chinese is very good and 95% of the class is in Chinese.



  • I dunno.

    When I took my beginning level Japanese class at the UCBoulder, we were given worksheets to teach us all the katakana and hiragana a week before classes started. On the first day, we had a test. We used hiragana and katakana exclusively for the first 15 hours of class, which was one week, since it was an intensive summer course. Starting in the second week, the teacher gradually started introducing kanji and the text book started weaning us off of furigana.

    I don't remember if I ever wished we'd used romaji while I was taking the class, but I'm glad we didn't.

    By Blogger Mark, at July 10, 2008 9:31 PM  

  • That's interesting. I haven't looked at any Japanese textbooks before, so I don't even know if it's common to use romanization. I just thought it would be because it seems so convenient.

    I started studying Chinese in one of those intensive summer courses. It's a great way to start learning a language.

    By Blogger Taiwanonymous, at July 11, 2008 9:30 PM  

  • I taught myself katakana before my first trip to Japan in 1989, and learned hiragana once I had settled down in Tokyo. In both cases, it only took about a week to get a grasp of the syllabaries. And when I took Japanese lessons, romanization was never used, and I never missed its presence.

    Unlike in Taiwan, the phonetic alphabets are part and parcel of daily Japanese life, and a beginner-level student in Japan is constantly exposed to the kana, to the point where reading them becomes second nature. Of course, you don't have that opportunity in Taiwan, but a visit to a supermarket, and reading the labels on some of the products there, can be a good opportunity to reinforce what you have learned so far (watch out for Taiwanese-style Japanese, however, the equivalent of "Chinglish"!).

    Your Chinese-speaking classmates will have little trouble with the kanji, of course (though there are a number of significant differences in usage and meaning), but I found it amusing in my classes watching the Chinese students struggle to figure out the meaning of loan words written in katakana! My Taiwanese wife was always asking me what those words meant when she was taking Japanese lessons - she constantly complained about it.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at August 26, 2008 7:37 AM  

  • My Japanese teacher is also amused when he checks if the class can understand the origin of the katakana loan words. I like to know the difference between the Japanese usage and the English usage, but I think I am the only person in the class interested in that.
    Chinese-style Japanese, I wonder what you call that? Zhonghongo?

    By Blogger Taiwanonymous, at August 26, 2008 8:05 PM  

  • How about "Niwango" 日湾語? (or should that be "Nichiwango"? Or "Hiwango"?) Whatever you want to call it, it's out there, and it's bad! Japanese friends of mine just scratch their hands at some of things I've posted on my blog!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at August 27, 2008 8:48 AM  

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