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April 24, 2006


Paul D

That's darn impressive, learning the language that well before even going to Japan.

Tae, if you're reading this, by "don't waste time flipping through a paper dictionary if possible," do you mean one should invest in an electronic dictionary? I haven't convinced myself yet to spring for the cash that the good ones cost.


To follow up Paul's comment, I agree with Tae about getting an electronic dictionary.

The arguments against electronic dictionaries boil down to 1) longevity and 2) becoming a crutch. The 2 biggest benefits (for me) are A) compactness and B) cross-referencing power. Longevity could be an issue if you're forgetful or looking for a lifetime investment - I doubt my dictionary will last more than 10 years physically, and I'm sure I'll upgrade it sooner than that - so price might become an issue if you have to (or, if you're gadget-prone, want to) buy a new one in the not too distant future.

But as far as the second argument goes, I haven't personally found any truth to it - nor do I know anyone who has. Being able to carry dozens (and you will use them) of different dictionaries in your jacket pocket simply gives you more chances to study, and especially when you're in Japan, there are opportunities on every sign, in every restaurant, every shop.

I passed 1級 of the JLPT in December, which I'm really happy about after having only started studying two years ago, and my dictionary was indispensable. I still use it every day - especially, as I become more and more able to read it, the Japanese 広辞苑 dictionary. And there's lots of other interesting stuff on there that is useful for reading practice - Kanji etymologies, synonyms, sample business letters, greetings, 敬語, etc. As an English teacher, I've found the English thesaurus and learners English dictionaries useful as well. Sure there is stuff I don't use, but I find that I've gotten immense value out of the things I do.

For about 20,000 yen - no small investment, but tiny if you compare it to getting the equivalent amount of information on paper - you can find a reasonable dictionary. My personal favourite is the Papyrus by Sharp, but Ex-Word and Canon seem to be the industry leaders. And now, with some dictionaries offering Kenkyuusha's 和英 dictionary (aka "The Green Goddess" among translators), I really don't think they can get much better than they already are! (Sharp also has - or had, when I was researching what to buy - French, German and Italian-Japanese dictionaries that could be added with an SD card).

In summary, if you're serious about studying, get one ASAP. You'll use it.

Stephen in Nagano-ken

Tae Kim

I meant any sort of electronic tool. Online dictionaries are fine for when you are online but electronic dictionaries are great for when you are "on the go" so to speak. You can also download JWPce and drop in the latest edict dictionary for your laptop when you can't get online.


I wrote about why instant lookup is so important here:


I personally love my paper dictionaries and my electronic one.

I find using a paper dictionary helps when looking up words that don't have any kana assitance. I also find using a paper dictionary helps words stick better if their words of low frequency.

The problem with wordtanks for me is that you still can't write kanji in the majority of them (if any at all except the chinese japanese ones). The nintendo DS has solved the problem with dictionary software recently though, so you might want to check that out. I picked it up and it's been great.

- I use the electronic one on the go
- the paper ones when I'm at home with the time to enjoy flipping through them
- and no dictionary at all when I'm out with friends.

In the friend situation, I just continuously ask "what does XXX mean" when I don't understand a word used. People are usually great about explaining terms and expressions to me, and they do it in Japanese, so I learn even more! Any friends not interested in helping me understand what something means probably don't have anything important to say to me anyway. Of course, this requires you know Japanese speakers. Preferrably native.


Chompsky is not wrong and Tae's English skills could use improvement, or perhaps he just needs a proof reader? I have also found mistakes in his Japanese posts, but they are likely typos - not helpful for begninners thoug. What Tae fails to acknowledge however, is why he failed in Spanish but did so well in Japanese...He was BORN in Asia, to Asian parents one can presume by his photo - although he grew up in the states - his brain had early ASIAN "programming" and therefore he has a propensity towards Asian language that NO ONE born into and ENGLISH speaking family/culture would have, which is why the latter would probably do better at Spanish than Japanese - I myself am a prime example, I was born of Japanese parents, however I am yon-sei, so no one in my family speaks Japanese, only English and I have been surrounded by European languages my entire life - I have failed miserably at my attempts to learn the language of my ancestors - but have done very well in Spanish & French - you will find similar stories from any of the South American born Japanese who can only speak Portuguese, and have a harder time learning Japanese than Americans it seems...
My other point is that while I think Tae has done well for himself and is probably well meaning, he does not at any point share any teaching credentials. While he has obviously been a student, and worked hard on developing his technical resources, he is not, I believe, a "teacher" and therefore should not represent himself as such with his "Skype Nihongo Lessons" http://nihongo.3yen.com/category/skype-lessons/

Will Jasprizza


Thanks for the comments, but I feel I should say a few things.

1. If you say that Chomsky isn't wrong, why? Do you have anything to back your point up? I posited the question because I believe that Chomsky's reliance on analysis of written language to the almost exclusion of spoken utterances negates the value of the bulk of his theorising. Take a look at: http://language.home.sprynet.com/chomdex/rea44.htm

2. Do you have a constructive point to make about Tae Kim's Japanese or English skills? I ask because you did acknowledge that typos are a fact of life on the web and you yourself finished the paragraph with this utterance "not helpful for begninners thoug. " I don't wish to sound ornery, but pot, kettle, black......:-)

3. I don't understand your point about upbringing. Tae Kim was brought up in an Asian family so he is good at Japanese but you were brought up in an Asian family and you are better at European languages....? The Asian connection seems to be a complete furphy - surely what is relevant is the languages you are exposed to. Caucasians like Alex Kerr and Thane Camus grew up in Japan and speak excellent Japanese not because their families are Asian (and who is Asian? Do you include Indians? Sri Lankans? Uighurs?) but because they GREW UP SPEAKING JAPANESE!
4. As the teaching point, I honestly don't know if Tae Kim is a good teacher or not. I do know that he has produced a great educational resource for learning Japanese and that as a person who has learnt Japanese as a second language to a high degree of proficiency he has a suitable launching pad for teaching it. Whilst qualifications are important, I don't think it is accurate to say that a person without formal teaching qualifications cannot teach. If this was the case then the majority of professors at western universities would be disqualified. How many university lecturers have a Bachelor of Education, or even a diploma? I myself have, beyond a few short courses, no formal teaching qualifications but because I have been teaching (English, Japanese, karate) for 8 years plus I can say that I have progressed from being fairly crap to being a decent if not highly competent teacher. There are crap teachers with and without degrees, and obversely brilliant teachers who have and do not have degrees. A better way to approach this issue would be to listen to Tae Kims's lessons and offer some helpful advice where you think it is necessary.

I hope this didn't come across too strong and I hope we can continue the exchange of views



Andy M

Hey everyone, first time commenting...

I'm in Australia, in year 12 atm, and did one year of Japanese in year 8. Long story short, I'm learning Japanese again this year onwards... hoping to get into a Japanese uni course next year.

I believe Tae's guide is very very good summary of all the grammar you should know. It is a very excellent first read, teaching you all the conjugations and all the "behind your back" stuff other textbooks, as Tae said once before.

I've basically been going through it this past 2 months, and it does really help you... you read other sources of Japanese and you understand exactly what they did to get certain sentences or structures.

Also, other textbooks have a more expanded approach that tell you all the conjugations, etc. as you go along. Now Tae's guide is good, but it shouldn't be used alone. It gives a very strong structure for future growth. To further implant all the grammar in your head you should be going through other textbooks, or other sources of Japanese. This really helps you expand your knowledge about everything you did so far, and it really really helps.

Before reading Tae's guide, I was confused about most structures, etc. but after reading it I have a strong base. The only thing is that my vocab holds me back, now. WHich is why I suggest going through as much other textbooks as possible and not just one or two.

Like Tae did, surround your life with everything Japanese, and make it fun somehow.

Now, that's over with... I am very suprised to find out Tae's Korean descent - ness, cause listerning to you on the skype lessons really makes me picture an American. Of course, you've grown up there for a long time, so no thought...

Anyway, I believe anyone can learn any language, it just depends which ones you are interested in/have a passion for/have a liking for/etc.

In year 7 I experienced German, Indonesian, Japanese and French for a term each, and I instantly picked up on Japanese. Firstly because of the easy pronounciations unlike Germans crazy sounding sounds, secondly because it was completely different than any of the other languages, thirdly as I learnt more about the culture I learnt about all the stuff everything else likes about Japan - you know what I mean - and finally fourthly as I learnt more about the language, I discovered how logical it was... which is how I believe my brain works best.

Oh yeah, and I've spent more time searching the internet for anything Japanese, and man there is a lot out there... But it really really helps you learn a lot about the language and the culture - so I believe it is an important part of studying the language, but it depends on how you view it.

One, you learn a lot about the culture/background and waste time not doing language study OR two, you spend massive amounts of time on language study and get bored... It depends on your views, but as you should see my preference is on finding random info about Japan.... but now my motivation for actually learning the language in a formal environment is at an all time high, so it's all good.

Anyway, long comment, yes I know... So here it ends...



Chomsky never said language was cognitive; in fact he said that it wasn't. Chomsky said that language was separate from cognition. In that respect Tae seems to be agreeing with Chomsky in his answer to the last question.


If Tae has a propensity for Japanese, it wouldn't be because of some generic ethnicity, but more probably because Japanese is relatively similar to Korean. His parents speak Korean, and he says he speaks it badly, but I'm pretty sure his bad Korean gave him a lot of hints along the way.


I cant belive the stuff some people are writing on this board.Trying to explain language ability by ethnicity alone, totally dismisses the hard work involved.

Its quite easy to see that Tae Kim`s proficiency in Japanese is a result of dedication and a hell of alot of hard work.

Thats the main message I get from his post. If your serious about studying Japanese, then GET SERIOUS. Surround yourself with the language and enjoy learning it everyday.

Thanks Tae for a great grammar guide!


Congratulations, Tae!

My Japanese abilities haven't evolved much in the last years. I studied for a little while with a teacher, but most of time i studied on my own. To me, Japanese seems hard because of a combination of two factors: kanji and the absence of whitespace between words.

I like to learn kanji, but if you want to speak the language, spending so much time to learn every word really slows you down.

The absence of whitespace (together with the presence of unkown kanji, too) makes it harder to learn on your own, since you can't decipher those strings of hiragana, and you can't search for them in dictionaries.

By comparison, i started learning Esperanto alone around the same time. The grammar is more "western", but the most helpful feature of the language was that i could look for any word in a dictionary and, every time i did that, i could learn the logically derived compounds. Now i can speak it almost fluently.

Too bad i coulndn't apply the same technique to Japanese. I think i really need a teacher :-(



If you are still having trouble with strings of hiragana may I suggest that you work on your speaking/listening skills for a while. If you sharpen your oral/aural competency you will find it easier to distinguish words on the written page because you can "sound them out" in your head. If you encounter とりあえずのみものをちゅうもんする on the written page it will be easier to decipher if you have actually heard the word とりあえず spoken in real life - as you read the text your mind's ear will "click" when it recognizes a string of syllables which it has previously encountered as a word or phrase. Hope this helps.


Geez, that string of hiragana is so hard to read after training the kanji! Hahahaha. The creator of Mother 2 (Earthbound), Itoi Shigesaku once spoke about a similar mental phenomenon he encountered in videogames pre-kanji support.

I don't know if that has anything to do with anything, but I've been using Tae Kim's guide for years and it's the kind of survival guide you need to keep your feet on the ground after coming out of class with your head full of a combination of misgivings and structures your teacher has given you. (I sell them short; for my first three semesters I've had absolutely stellar teachers.)

I've never believed that as you get older, you get worse at learning anything, because like any other statement trying to define human potential, it's clouded 110% or more by how much of a big pansy you want to be. There's nothing that a combination of focus and effort won't give you back, when you give them time.

Pretentious debates about linguistics sound more like pleasuring your negative attitude than making any progress at anything :)

(I hope I've offended -everyone- with that remark and ended the fight :)

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