Does it make any sense to focus on written Japanese first?

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Does it make any sense to focus on written Japanese first?

Postby tdpl » Fri Jul 10, 2020 10:43 am

It's been my dream for a while to be able to read novels in Japanese. However, this seems to be the last skill that non-native learners of Japanese acquire so at a relaxed pace I'm probably looking at a 10-20 year timeline. I'm very much an absolute beginner at the moment, I now hiragana, katakana, and a few common kanji and I can read some simple sentences. I find it much easier to retain the meaning of words based on kanji than their pronunciation so I'm wondering if it makes any sense to ignore the spoken language for a while and just to try to get as quickly as possible to the point where I can read things that I find interesting. For example, I could work through the lessons in the "Remember the Kanji" book and then just learn vocabulary based on meaning, ignoring kanji readings. If at some point I can read books and enjoy them, I could in principle listen to an audiobook at the same time and try to get used to spoken Japanese as well.

The thing is, I don't even know if that's possible. My native language has a relatively direct, phonetic orthography and when reading books in English or French I try to at least remain conscious of pronunciation so that I don't "mispronounce" words in my head. I know that it's possible to read without subvocalizing and I'm sure there are Japanese people who are completely deaf but can read and write just fine, perhaps largely unaware of pronunciation or hiragana spelling of words that are always written using ideograms.

I couldn't find any info on the Internet about anyone attempting to learn Japanese that way, it's usually the other way around (people want to speak withouth having to learn kanji). Does anyone have any experience with a similar approach?
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Re: Does it make any sense to focus on written Japanese first?

Postby ryanheise » Fri Jul 10, 2020 11:55 am

Hi tdpl and welcome to the forum! I'm pretty sure that text books outweigh audio courses by several orders of magnitude so I don't think you are going to run into any shortage of material if you take that approach.

So fortunately, I think you can leverage your motivation in reading, and take advantage of all of the learning material that is already designed for this kind of learner.

Despite Kanji scaring people away from learning to read early (myself included!), I don't think the audio-focused approach is all that common, actually. Aside from Voytek and myself, I'm not aware of any others on this forum trying learn Japanese purely by listening and not by reading. I would think it is more common to see reading as a massively valuable skill in language learning and to want to learn to read as soon as possible.

If you haven't already, you might want to check out LWT (Learning With Texts), LingQ, and the rikaikun or rikaichamp browser extensions.
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Re: Does it make any sense to focus on written Japanese first?

Postby Kamlari » Fri Jul 10, 2020 12:20 pm

If you really want to do it, begin at the end.

It's possible to read real Japanese right from the beginning.
My first Japanese text was ... 15260.html
羅生門 by 芥川龍之介.
All you have to do is to find a good recording in Japanese, a translation, and use a pop-up dictionary. And you'll manage. I'm sure,because I've done it. So you can do it too.
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Re: Does it make any sense to focus on written Japanese first?

Postby golyplot » Fri Jul 10, 2020 12:37 pm

ryanheise wrote:Aside from Voytek and myself, I'm not aware of any others on this forum trying learn Japanese purely by listening and not by reading.

I've also focused on listening skills as well. Not that I've been very successful either way so far. Japanese is hard.
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Re: Does it make any sense to focus on written Japanese first?

Postby tarvos » Fri Jul 10, 2020 1:03 pm

Is it possible? Sure. Is it desirable? If reading is your goal, perhaps. Would I do it? Not in a million years, but I'm not you.
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Re: Does it make any sense to focus on written Japanese first?

Postby devilyoudont » Fri Jul 10, 2020 2:34 pm

It's not an uncommon approach to attempt to memorize the entire joyo kanji list before really getting in to Japanese grammar.

In terms of starting reading without paying attention to pronunciation, there is no need to do this. Any material which will be appropriate for a beginner will be heavy on hiragana, and contain reading aids (ruby/furigana). So, since the reading aids will be there, why not notice the pronunciation as well.

Perhaps this would have negative implications for your pronunciation with regards to pitch accent, but it's not like a standard course does any good with pitch accent anyway.
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Re: Does it make any sense to focus on written Japanese first?

Postby seito » Fri Jul 10, 2020 3:11 pm

The Bowring and Laurie textbook has always had a good reputation. You might try working through that.
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Re: Does it make any sense to focus on written Japanese first?

Postby Dragon27 » Fri Jul 10, 2020 4:02 pm

I'm a little bit confused by the implicit dichotomy imposed by the first post. You don't have to wait 10-20 years (to do what? Master spoken Japanese to native-like level and then start reading?) before you get into novels, but you don't have to give up the spoken component as well. A balanced approach involves both worlds to help and reinforce each other. Whatever justification you're making up for yourself to put aside the aural aspect of the language for later, you should start working with it from the very beginning (after all, speech is the essence of the language). It's not going to delay the development of your ability to read novels as much as you think it would, and it would save you the later trouble of readjusting your ear for Japanese after so much reading without a good idea of its pronunciation.

Audiobooks combine both the written and the spoken word, use that to your advantage.
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Re: Does it make any sense to focus on written Japanese first?

Postby 白田龍 » Fri Jul 10, 2020 4:19 pm

It is totally possible, however, you will surely end up with an appalling pronunctiation if you go throught that path.

Even if your just want to read, you will want your mind voice to sound as nice and authentic as possible, as it will surely make your reading experience more pleasant.
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Re: Does it make any sense to focus on written Japanese first?

Postby Gordafarin2 » Fri Jul 10, 2020 4:31 pm

If your main goal is reading, it certainly makes sense to prioritize reading skills in your learning. But to ignore the readings of the kanji altogether seems foolhardy to me - simply because, if you're following any sort of course, the pronunciation is going to be a part of it, and it makes sense to learn it while you're at it. It's just an awful shame, to me, the avoid learning such a key part of the language.

So sure, you can ignore slang, and don't use anime to practice Japanese. Ignore the advice of the 'gurus', MIA and the like, who put a heavy emphasis on listening. You will progress quicker in reading when you focus on that, and not developing your other 3 skills as much - but I would say you don't have to leave them completely by the wayside. It would feel strange to be able to read novels in Japanese and not be able to hold a conversation, because you can read kanji but can't speak those same words.

That's my advice :) You can spend most of your time reading, and only spend a small amount of time practicing listening/writing/speaking, and you will reach your goal quicker than perfecting all 4 skills, while still having a bit of a foundation in them.

If you do go forward with this method (and if you do, more power to you, and keep a log of your progress so we can see how it goes!), you might be interested in investigating Victor Mair's teaching style, where he teaches Classical Chinese without requiring Mandarin or a background in Chinese characters. I don't know how he does that, precisely (do students learn pronunciations? or just English glosses?), but he has done it for years.
By the way, after one year of hard work in my introduction to LS/CC course, students — no matter what their background — can make their way through practically any literary or classical Chinese text they encounter (naturally, some will be harder than others, but at least they can get a good idea of what is going on in a wide variety of premodern texts, from the latter part of the first millennium BC to the May 4th Movement (1919), when LS/CC ceased to be the official written medium of the Republic of China. The same cannot always be said of students who view LS/CC through the lens of Mandarin.
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