Vas' reviews and other stuff2019-03-06

The first 1000 words

While you incels have been spending your time browsing Neocities cause you’re bored, whining about nostalgiamining, and recreating the premium reading experience of Cuckernoon, true Chads like myself have been taking the Neocities experience to the logical endgame: buttsex learning Japanese. That’s right boyos. If you thought static websites were only useful for edgelords to fuck around and post their hot takes, it’s time to have your minds blown and your eggplants inflated. This is the guide to the first 6-9 months. Strap yourselves in.

Every great journey starts with a quick visit to Wikipedia, so naturally if you’re going to try to learn Japanese, the first things you’ll have to do is learn the Japanese syllabic scripts, because otherwise you’ll have trouble getting anywhere. This is going to be very repetitive, dry, and boring, and it’s going to take you at least a week or two. Even after you’re done, your reading speed will be comically slow, but that’s something that will improve later on as you read real text. Anyway, after that, you’ll know nothing about the language, but at least you’ll be able to make some sounds if the dictionary writes them out for you.

Did I mention Japanese has a very high barrier to entry? If your first language is English, it’s at the very top difficulty rating out of all the languages the Foreign Service Institute has data for. I hope you’re a very patient man. However, this generation has been raised on Fartnite, Legal Legends, and Sargon videos, so context-free repetition should be second nature to you.

Now that you’re done, it’s time to read at least the first section of Sakubi, hosted right here on Neocities. This will also take you some time, but don’t limit yourself to just one article a day. Sakubi isn’t a tutorial, but guidelines on grammar and syntax so that sentence structure is intelligible. It includes some academic asides, which will help you contextualise what you’re learning and will constitute a foundation for further research on Wikipedia or Google Bing-chan should that cater to your tastes.

I guess this is a good time to say that regardless of whether you’ll be attending classes or not, 99% of the effort required to learn a language will be your own. Teachers and classrooms can at best provide the 1% extra required as guidance, mnemonic shortcuts, correcting your particular mistakes and so on, but overall academic language learning in isolation is both overrated and a money sink.

There is only one way to learn a new language, and that’s via contact; no matter how much grammar and inflection tables you memorise, ultimately your ability to understand it and produce it is determined by how much you’ve listened to it and read it. If English is your second language—I use Arch am Greek BTW—you probably know several people with all sorts of ESL degrees who nonetheless couldn’t comprehend English if their lives depended on it. Still, if you want to throw money at the problem, consider moving to Japan for a few months and socialise 8 hours a day. That’ll fix you right up.

Now that you can read sounds and deconstruct sentences, your biggest obstacle for the next few years is going to be vocabulary. If you’re reading this you’re older than 5, therefore your brain has lost most of its plasticity and you’re going to be 30 by the time you can understand as much as a preteen boy does. Fortunately for you, the human brain evolved to learn language, so short of suffering a lobotomy, you’ll manage.

There’s hundreds of thousands of words, but only a tiny fraction are useful. The best metric for usefulness is whether you’ve encountered the word, therefore the most effective way to learn language is through mining: picking up vocabulary on the fly as you read new things. You will probably want to use written text or at least subtitles at the start, because you’ll understand so few words, the sentences might as well be unintelligible garbage.

Record the words on notebooks, flashcards, or spaced repetition apps and revisit them at regular intervals. There’s a limit to how much you can learn in a day, and I strongly suggest you maintain a healthy limit, otherwise it’ll quickly grow out of hand and you’ll burn out. I average 5 words a day. Studying a little every single day is far more effective than studying lots but irregularly, even if your sessions outdo mine by an order of magnitude. However, you will slack, and you will need breaks, and this is where spaced repetition is useful, as you can get back on track within a week as if you’d never stopped because of intelligent scheduling.

There are faster ways to learn vocabulary than mining, like studying from a frequency list, a book, or from some other person’s study deck, but mining is personalised and it involves reading real Japanese written by real people with a target audience of real people, thereby constituting a more natural exposure to the language. Parsing sentences requires exercising multiple skills and this isn’t reproducible with any of the methods listed above. That said, if you’re short on time on a particular day and haven’t met your new word goal, it won’t kill you to pick a few up from a frequency list.

The tools you’ll find useful are Google Translate, Jisho, and Wiktionary. By pressing on the bottom right of the input field on Google Translate, you’ll be able to write kanji you’ve encountered to look them up. The others are dictionaries. To write Japanese on your PC, you’ll need an IME. For Windows, install the Japanese language pack. For Linux, use ibus or uim with anthy, kkc, or mozc. For mobile devices, you’ll need a sensible keyboard app; if the default sucks, use SwiftKey.

Kanji is a pain point and you’ll have to get used to it. Don’t try learning Japanese without kanji, as the language has a ridiculous amount of homonyms and the phonemes do not carry as much semantic weight as they do in Indo-European languages. You will only confuse yourself. On the other end, don’t grind through the Jōyō kanji and their readings unless you must for examination; you will pick up kanji and readings as you mine more effectively.

It is possible all kanji will look the same to you and thus completely unintelligible. This is because your eyes haven’t got used to deconstructing them based on patterns. Skim through a list of radicals to get a vague idea of what to look for and look for specific writing animations for the kanji you’re studying at the time. You’ll know you’re doing well if you can read and understand it at a glance, subconsciously, unthinkingly, the same way you’re reading these words.

Writing is significantly harder than reading, even for native speakers, and you’ll only be able to remember how to write a fraction of the words you can read. You should prioritise the things you’ll be actually using the language for at first. If you won’t be handwriting Japanese any time soon, there’s not reason to worry about it.

Avoid books aimed at little children or “dummies.” You are an adult and you can afford learning abstractions, irregularities, and ghetto linguistics to better comprehend the subject matter. Avoid stupid initiation rituals, i.e. Reddit. The best way to start mining is with the stuff you want to read, but some minority of authors are very literary and thesaurus-happy, so you’ll be better served by something more prosaic. Social media has lots of memes and slang and can be hard to parse.

There is angst in the language learning community about the complexities of the passive voice and formal speech. Rest assured complex, formal English is no more simple and intelligible; the way the Queen of England speaks might as well be Greek for your average MAGA hatter. Every language has complexities and you will figure them out as you read and listen rather than agonise and pour through grammar guides. Language is a muscle, not mathematics.

I started studying last summer and I recently hit a thousand words in my study deck. That’s only a tenth of what a 10-year-old knows, and as you might imagine I still have trouble understanding real speech. However, it is significantly easier than when I started, and I can feel the language slowly unlocking itself for me. I have made some mistakes in my studying but they have only improved my methodology, and I can verify it works.

You really can learn a new language doing nothing more than reading real text in that language and looking up unknown terms in a dictionary over and over again, without any guidance, tutor, handbook, or formal training. If you’ve always wanted to learn to do something, the only thing that’s stopping you is your infinite ability to procrastinate, so stop watching incel cucktubers ranting about transgenderism and miscegenation for the millionth time and go do it like a real Chad.