"The word 'to grieve' or 'lament' in Japanese is actually made up of two different Kanji characters - 'sadness' and 'resentment.'" -Takashi Hiraide
While reading the previously mentioned quote, did you stop and ask yourself, "what is a Kanji character?" Well, if you have, you aren't the first to do since many first-time Japanese learners are confused but the purpose of Kanji and think that the characters were called "Japanese characters."
So, what exactly is the Kanji? Well, to make a long story short, the Kanji is the adopted logographic Chinese characters that are used in the Japanese writing system. However, it's important to mention that Kanji characters are not the only ones used since they are accompanied by the Japanese syllabic scripts known as hiragana and katakana.
The Kanji symbols or writing system dates as far back as 5 AD in the Chinese empire.
Most of the words written in Japanese utilise the Kanji characters. Yet, they are adapted for a Japanese audience and pronounced differently from Chinese using the phonetics utterings of hiragana and katakana.
When learning Kanji, which is very difficult by the way, there are specific stroke orders that need to be respected by students who are acquiring Japanese as a second or third language. Also, learners must understand that writing in Kanji will take many years to master since there are over 2,000 characters used in modern Japanese.
After hearing the fact that there are over 2,000 characters in Japanese, I don't think English speakers should complain about the 26 letters featured in the Roman alphabet since we have it good!
Nonetheless, should the fact that there are three recognised written systems in Japanese with many characters discourage new learners? Not at all! Nothing worthwhile comes easy in this life, and we salute the diligent efforts of Japanese learners.
Now that we've finished with the history lesson of the Kanji and the overall Japanese writing system, in today's article we shall consider how Japanese language learners can improve their writing skills and gain fluency more rapidly.
Find a Japanese Native Penpal to Practice Writing Skills
Aren't penpals for 11-year-old schoolchildren who want to create lasting bonds with like-minded individuals in another country? Well, I have news for you, we're in 2020 and penpals can be between adults, and guess what? There is no judgement.
Although I do still associate penpals as an activity we had in grade four with a school in the United States; penpals are extremely useful for language learners who want to practice their writing with native speakers of the language they are acquiring. The following are three great reasons to utilise a penpal to improve Japanese skills:
- Feedback from a native that analyses overall tone, structure, and use of distinct expressions,
- Someone who acts as a friend that you can trust to correct your grammar mistakes without feeling hopeless,
- Writing a penpal is a great opportunity to practice your penmanship and hone the kanji and kana writing systems.
Since Japanese is notoriously hard to write with many characters and syllabaries to memorise, the expertise of a native Japanese native is a breath of fresh air. You'll be thankful to receive tips about how to correspond with the Kanji or kana effectively.
We highly recommend finding a penpal from Japan who wants to strengthen their English since you can offer practical advice and grammar tips when they write you back.
The perfect situation would be for you to write your penpal in Japanese and for them to respond to you in English. Why? So that you can see if they comprehend your writing and vice versa. All in all, having a partner to correct makes the language learning experience a two-way street instead of a lonely project.
Nonetheless, even though penpals are a great idea to learn more Japanese writing skills, it is necessary to exercise extreme caution when finding a writing partner and to only use recommended sites such as Snail Mail Penpals and Global Penfriends.
Have fun, and always be careful!
Write Every Day: Keep a Diary
Diaries and journals are a godsend when learning a new language and many different types and sizes should be bought so that Japanese learners who want to practice writing can do so on the go or at home.
While all easily understand typical uses of a journal such as keeping appointments, organising your life, writing down groceries and studying for big exams, some might question the use of a journal to practice a foreign language. How can keeping a diary improve Japanese writing?
The following are some irrefutable reasons to use a journal to learn more about Japanese writing systems:
- Track Writing Progress: since language learning is sometimes a strenuous process that has many highs and lows, it is necessary to have some confidence boosts that will provide needed encouragement to keep going. And, by writing in Japanese in a journal every day, after a few weeks or months, it is inspiring to look back at previous entries and see how much you've improved in your writing skills.
- Judgement Free Zone: do you want to write freely in Japanese without feeling the judgement of being examined by a peer or native Japanese speaker? Well, doing so can be done by keeping a diary with your thoughts you have written in Japanese. Expressing feelings is recommended since it will expand your vocabulary beyond superficial teachings such as introductions, etc.
- Language Improved: if you don't use it, you'll lose it, what can that be said about? Knowledge. Therefore, to avoid forgetting new vocabulary words, grammar rules, etc. it is exceptionally suggested to write them down in your journal as soon as you learn them.
What topics should be addressed in a diary entry? Well, if you lack inspiration and it seems quite awkward to write in a journal, we recommend mentioning things such as daily activities, goals, feelings and emotions, treasured memories, and describing family or friends.
Do you want to learn how to read Japanese characters? Find out more by clicking on this link!
Watch A Lot of Television
Are you telling me that to improve Japanese writing skills, a learner needs to spend time watching television? Count me in!
We're not joking around, to fully immerse yourself in the Japanese language to become a better writer, speaker, listener, and reader, a lot of Japanese TV shows need to be watched. Why? Well, the majority of learners do not have the budget to move abroad and experience complete immersion where language rules, eccentricities, and slang are more easily acquired.
Therefore, learners need to try their hardest and immerse themselves from a distance in their homeland by listening to songs, speaking with native Japanese people who have immigrated, and viewing TV and movies in Japanese.
Also, did you know that including subtitles while watching Japanese TV is an excellent idea since reading comprehension is heightened through the recognition of Kanji characters which also contributes to understanding how phrases are written? It's a fact good readers are better writers.
While TV show suggestions are not needed for the majority of Japanese learners since they've been engrossed by Japanese culture for years, some need help deciding which shows are worth watching. The following are the best TV shows to learn Japanese:
- 笑っていいとも! (Waratte ii tomo!): translated in English as "It's Ok To Laugh", this popular lunchtime show was on the air for over 30 years. "It's Ok To Laugh" is a great television programme for those who want to attune their ear to the nuances of the Japanese language. Recommend for intermediate or advanced learners; don't forget the subtitles!
- YOUは何しに日本へ? (You wa nani shi ni nihon e?): translated in English as "Why Did You Come to Japan?", this hit TV series asks foreigners who have just arrived in Japan what they are doing in the land of the rising sun. It is essential to state that spoken Japanese featured on this show is relatively easy to follow since it is done with a familiar accent, and some parts are translated from English to Japanese.
While the previously mentioned options are significant, we suggest browsing Netflix or Amazon Prime Video to choose between the insane amount, mostly anime, of Japanese TV shows available. Remember to pay attention to the subtitles and watch TV to acquire new words and to improve writing.
Hire a Professional and Native Japanese Tutor
As we have previously stated various times in today's article, writing in Japanese and mastering the basics of the Kanji is no easy task. While it can and has been done by self-taught learners, it is best to have the guidance of an accredited and experienced Japanese tutor to absorb the rules of Japanese writing effectively.
But aren't good Japanese tutors hard to find, especially for those living in another country such as the United Kingdom? Not anymore! As a result of the rapid developments in modern technology, online tutoring sessions have become the norm with instructors from all over the world. Therefore, finding a native Japanese tutor is as easy as one, two, three!
The Superprof site features fantastic Japanese tutors who would be more than happy to impart their knowledge with you and make you a better Japanese writer.
In conclusion, it is crucial to recognise that although learning to write in Japanese characters is a diabolical experience, it can be successfully done with hard-work, constant effort, and a helpful tutor by your side. Don't give up; you've got this!