#1 Posted by Gladiator_Games (535 posts) -

I've been considering learning to read (not so much speak) Japanese, mostly so I can enjoy awesome old NES/SNES games that were never given proper releases over here.

Is there a certain type that I need to learn? (i.e proper vs kanji?), can anyone suggest a good way to start and go about it?

I was thinking about going the Rosetta Stone way!

#2 Posted by insane_shadowblade85 (1646 posts) -

I have Rosetta Stone. Hell, I spent around $600 on the complete Japanese set; I should really get back to it. Anyway, what I did was search around the internet for basic lessons for free which helped me learn more words and taught me how to read and write Hiragana and Katakana. I then moved on to Rosetta Stone but at that point I already knew more than what it was teaching me for the first volume that I eventually lost interest and stopped.

That's always a way you can go but you might want to look for classes around your area. Once you do that and you feel you have a decent grasp on the language you can join some international friend sites and communicate with people who speak Japanese which will help you sharpen your skills with the language. An easy answer would be to find a way to move there, but that's not always the easiest answer for a lot of us. But yeah, the internet will help a lot.

#3 Posted by Killerfridge (324 posts) -

I've not used any of these (yet) but here is the thread I found on here.

#4 Posted by ReCkLeSs_X (475 posts) -

You'll probably need a steady mix of katakana and kanji to really grasp the basics of the language. It's a very character-based language though, so I'd definitely find some sort of program to learn.

#5 Posted by Video_Game_King (36566 posts) -

I've not used any of these (yet) but here is the thread I found on here.

Damn it. I'm usually the one to recommend that.

Is there a certain type that I need to learn? (i.e proper vs kanji?)

As for this comment, that's actually a very interesting question. Japanese is actually written with all three main alphabet systems (hiragana, katakana, and kanji), so it's actually a misnomer to insist on a "proper" Japanese, at least in this context.

HOWEVER, because of early memory/space limitations, most NES games used exclusively katakana. (I imagine it was katakana over hiragana because the angular shapes are easier to read when rendered for NES font.) SNES games eventually used kanji (and it looked weird), but there are still a lot that exclusively used kana.

#6 Edited by wemibelec90 (2144 posts) -

NOTE: This advice comes from a relative novice to Japanese. This is just what I've found worked best for me.

You should probably start by learning hiragana and katakana (basic Japanese alphabets) before anything else, as they help you learn to sound out words and piece things together. It would also be useful to learn the kanji radicals--the shapes that make up kanji--before moving on to actual kanji. It's easy to just find charts of all three of these to study on your own. I liked using this site for studying hiragana and katakana.

I really enjoyed using a site called Textfugu to reach the point I'm at now, but it sadly doesn't seem to be updated anymore, leaving me to figure out my next step on my own. It still may be worth a look, as I feel it does a great job of helping you self-learn (again, up to the point I have reached). There's tons of free resources everywhere on the Internet that can help.

#7 Edited by flasaltine (1863 posts) -

Just immerse yourself in as much Anime and mangu as you can. Make your life 24/7 anime.

#8 Posted by clumsyninja1 (848 posts) -

Go to Japan!

#9 Edited by Vasta_Narada (530 posts) -

I concur with @wemibelec90, memorize hiragana and katakana, don't even bother with kanji until you do (as you can always write something in kana if you don't know/remember the kanji) and a lot of old Japanese games are likely written (entirely) in kana anyway. After that, it's just a matter of learning grammar while slowly building a vocabulary. I remember the Genki textbook from my university introductory Japanese class being pretty decent.

#10 Posted by SteveVacation (372 posts) -

If you're learning it mainly for NES/SNES games, you probably don't need to worry about kanji a lot since most of the text in those games are spelled out in hiragana and katakana, probably because kanji gets so intricate it would have been nigh impossible to read.

Whatever way you learn it, you'll be learning Tokyo dialect which is sort of the norm.

I started taking Japanese in college, and I used the Yookoso textbooks, which were pretty good. When I finished my classes and went on my own I used Japanese Verbs at a Glance and How to Tell the Difference Between Japanese Particles, both by Naoko Chino. For practice I read a lot of children's manga and played a lot of import games. It takes time! Don't get discouraged if you really wanna learn.

#11 Posted by Darji (5412 posts) -

First of all learn Hiragana and Katakana These are the absolute basics you need to know before you should go for Kanji or the language in general. After that I would suggest you to get some textbooks for grammar, kanji and maybe a workbook to actually practice ALOT. In my University we were using Minna no Nihongo which is a series of several books


The Kanji book is kind of bad so I would suggest some flashcards whcih can be also rather expensive if you do not make them yourself.

#12 Posted by Dudacles (1625 posts) -

I'm currently undertaking Japanese Studies at a university (now in my second year out of five, one of which will be spent studying abroad [i.e. in Japan]) so I've already come to have quite a good understanding of what makes Japanese tick, even though I'm still far from fluent. Now, these studies are obviously completely different in setup and intent from what you're going to be doing, seeing as we're supposed to basically become fluent in Japanese and attain a deep understanding of what constitutes "Japan" as quickly as possible. But I'll still offer any tips that I might be able to think up.

First off, as mentioned; forget kanji and katakana until you've become at least familiar with hiragana. Hiragana is the basis of everything in terms of written language. As the King has already explained, hiragana, katakana en kanji are used alongside one another in just about every Japanese sentence. However, theoretically, every Japanese sentence can be written in hiragana, though that'll make your eyes bleed once you've become familiar enough with kanji, for a couple or reasons. Still, it is futile to start with anything but hiragana; there will never be a moment when you won't have need of it.

At my university, they taught us the entirety of hiragana the first day, then had us spend about three weeks mastering it and learning some of the most basic kanji (the numbers etc.) before telling us to learn katakana. There are handy "games" for doing this ("Kana Invaders" and "Kana Attack" come to mind) though you should make sure that you know exactly how to write each character before doing so. They will make it all a bit more fun.

Now, as for the kanji; I imagine most those old NES/SNES games you want to play actually don't have any. This might seem like a stroke of good fortune, but in actuality it makes it all rather more difficult. You see, Japanese has an extremely limited amount of syllables available to it (it is a completely syllabic language) which makes it so that there are a lot of words which feature the same syllables and are differentiated in the written language by their kanji. かいじょう, for instance, can be written as 海上 or 会場 or in quite a few other ways, and they all have different meanings. Native speakers of the language can find this an annoyance, but they have plenty of context and experience, allowing them to decipher an all-hiragana text with relative ease compared to someone learning the language. This poses considerable problems; you might encounter かいじょう in a piece of dialogue, look up it and get multiple responses to your query. This barely helps you.

This all sounds pretty pessimistic, I know. Japanese isn't exactly an easy language in terms of grammar to learn for native speakers of Indo-European languages (English in your case, I assume, Dutch in mine) but the writing system in particular is a real bitch (though I adore it); it is one of the most complicated ones in existence. Given persistence, you can do this, but you'll cry blood many a time along the way without the help of a tutor, I think.

In practice, I would attempt to attain the following learning materials;

  1. A decent textbook. For our first year, we used the first two volumes of Nagoya Daigaku's "A Course in Modern Japanese", which were pretty excellent for attaining a basic level. It explains just about all the grammar you need to have for a foundation (all big grammatical concepts you need for Japanese are explained over the course of 20 lessons) though you'll need to work on your personal attainment of vocabulary by yourself; the series doesn't give you too much to work with there. On top of that, it is very much aimed at learning to deal with everyday life in Japan as an exchange student or something. In that sense, it is perhaps less useful to you in your quest to play SNES games.

    I also hear good things about the Genki textbooks, though I've no firsthand experience with them.
  2. 暗記, or "Anki". The best flashcard program I've used, bar none. It's the best way to study vocabulary, and the open nature of the decks makes it so that you can already download thousands of them from other people for Japanese learning.
  3. A good dictionary, like jisho.org or romajidesu.com. Also, Tatoeba.org is a good site for example sentences.

頑張って。 :)

#13 Posted by AlKusanagi (1164 posts) -

Learn katakana first since it's primarily made up of foreign loan words, so you'll be able to understand a number of the words you're reading once you get used to the basic syllables. Then, once you've got the hand of that, move on to hiragana and work your way up to kanji.

#14 Posted by Video_Game_King (36566 posts) -

@dudacles said:

  1. 暗記, or "Anki". The best flashcard program I've used, bar none. It's the best way to study vocabulary, and the open nature of the decks makes it so that you can already download thousands of them from other people for Japanese learning.

I'd actually recommend against this, since the system it's based on requires that you know the material you're putting in beforehand. Otherwise, prepare to brute force the fuck out of all your cards.

#15 Posted by Darji (5412 posts) -

Learn katakana first since it's primarily made up of foreign loan words, so you'll be able to understand a number of the words you're reading once you get used to the basic syllables. Then, once you've got the hand of that, move on to hiragana and work your way up to kanji.

I would never advice people to learn katakana first because many people actually have more trouble with katakana then kanji me included. Your first priority should really be hiragana. That is also the first thing you need to learn at university in like 1 or 2 days.

#16 Posted by Commisar123 (1854 posts) -

Enroll at the University of Wisconsin, they have one of the best programs in the country for Japanese. Honestly the language is so difficult, it would be almost impossible (in my opinion) to learn without that kind of structure.

#17 Posted by AlKusanagi (1164 posts) -

@darji: He said he wants to learn so he can enjoy games, so he'd get the most out of learning katakana first since that will often be what gets you through menus, items, etc.

#18 Posted by Video_Game_King (36566 posts) -

@darji: He said he wants to learn so he can enjoy games, so he'd get the most out of learning katakana first since that will often be what gets you through menus, items, etc.

In terms of the games he's talking about, absolutely. For all games in general, that's far from the mark. Hell, even Fire Emblem (SNES, of course) uses kanji for its menus.

#19 Edited by Mocca_Bear (67 posts) -

I'll side with most of the above, katakana is like the bastard child of the Japanese language for most foreign speakers. You'll learn it aside with hiragana and because it's used way less than hiragana you tend to, not forget, but your reading speed will take a dive.

Now katakana is used a lot in games so I'd suggest paying closer attention to them.

#20 Edited by Addfwyn (1982 posts) -

I've studied Japanese for about 10 years, lived in Japan longer than any other country these days. I consider myself fairly fluent but it is still a learning process. The advice from people here is pretty good, but I will throw my two cents (yen?) in, as it were.

First, you should probably establish what your goal is going to be. You said you are mostly interested in playing games, so for you reading/writing is going to be way more important. Unfortunately, this is also probably the harder side of Japanese.

Be aware that anything you learn from a textbook is going to be different from what people actually use in conversation. Textbooks and classes tend to present information more formally, which isn't incorrect, but you will come across sounding excessively formal sometimes. When I first moved to Japan, people thought it was funny how polite I talked to everybody, even friends in social situations like bars. Games, and any written speech, is typically going to be closer to what you would get out of a textbook.

As far as writing goes, there are three systems of characters that people have mentioned here to you. Those are Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji. Hiragana and Katakana are often collectively referred to as kana. Kana represent every sound you can produce in Japanese. Hiragana are probably the most prominent set of characters, as well as the easiest, and should be what you learn first. In theory, you can write anything in Japanese with just Hiragana, though it sometimes will make the readers very confused trying to figure out exactly what you mean. Katakana represent the exact same sounds as Hiragana, but are generally used for foreign loan words. This is not always the case, sometimes katakana is used in a similar fashion as typing something in all-caps in English, but is a good general rule of thumb. Many foreigners have more difficulty learning katakana because some of the shapes can be more similar, such as ツ(tsu) and シ(shi). The same sounds in hiragana are written as つ(tsu) and し(shi). Notably easier for most people. The third character set are the infamous kanji, chinese characters. These are an entire other beast to study, and should be something that you continue to work on while you study all other aspects of Japanese. Trying to exclusively study only kanji and "master" it is nearly futile, nobody knows EVERY kanji. Essentially each kanji or kanji compound (sets of 2 or more kanji together) represent a word, which in turn could be written as several more kana. わたし(Wa-ta-shi or I) in hiragana could be written as 私(Watashi, I) in kanji. Kanji is useful as not only does it take up less space than writing it in hiragana, it also conveys meaning instead of only sound. The word hashi can mean chopsticks or bridge, you cannot tell just from writing it in hiragana. However, when somebody writes the kanji you instantly know which one they mean. Books or manga often come with small hiragana pronunciations over kanji (called furigana) that show you how to pronounce the kanji. If you are practicing kanji, try to find reading sources that include furigana, it will make looking up kanji FAR easier. Learning to use kanji dictionaries and radical searching is an entire art form in itself.

As far as methodology, the best thing you could ever do is live in Japan, but this is generally not an option for a lot of people. I learned more Japanese in my first year in Japan than I did 5 years studying it before that. I often recommend Skype lessons with native speakers for people who don't have classes in their immediate area, there are quite a few services for that, but that may not be the most useful if you just want to work on reading.

Your first step should be to learn hiragana. I recommend learning them in sets of 5, because there are 5 vowels in Japanese, a i u e o. Virtually every other sound in Japanese is composed of 1 consonant plus one of those 5 vowels. For example: ka, ki, ku, ke, ko, ra, ri, ru, re, ro. Learning them in sets like that makes it a bit smoother, kana actually makes a lot of sense once you learn them. The same basic principal follows for katakana, though since we often use it for loan words it takes people longer to master sometimes. Many people can read katakana, but have to sound the word out loud to figure out what it actually means.

There are plenty of online resources that others here have pointed out that can teach you kana, and those can be self-taught pretty easily. The chance of you teaching yourself bad habits is fairly low, as compared to if you are trying to teach yourself to SPEAK Japanese. Honestly, hiragana won't take you long at all to get down, I think I was fairly comfortable with it, if not very fast, after less than a week.

I would really recommend a tutor if you can find one, I have done freelance Japanese teaching before, but time zones would likely make it pretty hard for you unless you live in Asia. Though if you have specific questions, I would always be happy to answer.

#21 Posted by Darji (5412 posts) -

@darji: He said he wants to learn so he can enjoy games, so he'd get the most out of learning katakana first since that will often be what gets you through menus, items, etc.

Menus are the least of his problems. Nearly everywhere you can find a menu description for games. For that purpose you do not to learnJapanese except a few words at all.

#22 Edited by CaLe (4319 posts) -

I started off with the Genki books and I feel it gave me a good foundation to branch out into all the stuff you can find online. I then went through a pretty long Anki phase, which is great for learning kanji, before just diving into literature and reading everything I could. I was reading novels before I had any business doing so and I honestly feel that was the period when I made the most rapid progress. In the space of 2 years I went from barely being able follow a story to getting annoyed at having to look up an obscure word because it broke the flow of my reading.

Speaking and freely manipulating Japanese in a natural way is a completely different beast, but if you just want to understand what you read, then read, a lot. Luckily for you, most old NES/SNES games are extremely basic in terms of their content. I can't imagine it will take you long before you can understand 90% of the text in them.

(Of course, all this is assuming you study as much as I did, which is many hours every single day for years, no breaks--unless it's to play a new game)