Beyond Syntax and Semantics

An essay by Andrew L. Svancara Jr.,

Learning a new language is a wonderful thing, but learning how to enjoy learning it is even better. Enjoying the culture is a major part of understanding and appreciating the language. Integrating a language like Japanese into your daily life is paramount. Also, you must study but be sure to reward yourself for it afterwards. Over the years, I have found a few studying techniques that make it pleasurable for me to learn Japanese.

Enjoying the culture of Japan is an important part of learning it, as it is with any language. I enjoy all aspects of the Japanese language, including its cultural background. For me to enjoy learning Japanese, I must thoroughly research the history behind the language. I achieve this by reading Japanese folklore, reading about Shintoism, acknowledging their norms and values. Long before I began learning Japanese, I was already watching Anime since I was a child, even though I didn’t know that it was called anime. As I grew, I realized that the values of Japanese people, which can be traced back through history, tend to be found in animes. Some of these values include hard work, strength, honor, and versatility. Also, I have read many books about Shintoism (the primary religion that was developed in Japan) and am enthralled by their tales of old for entertainment and research. Furthermore, many of these tales include mythical creatures such as Okami, Kappa, Kitsune and Oni. Without doubt, many of these texts help me understand why specific phrases are offensive and why certain values have developed. The history of Japan is what makes Japanese so special; without it there wouldn’t be another language as wonderful in this world.

To help myself learn Japanese, I do my best to incorporate it into my daily life. I achieve this by doing things that have already brought me joy since I was a child: watching anime, reading manga, playing Japanese games, and listening to J-rock (Japanese Rock). First, watching anime helps me learn new words, practice words I already know, and helps me track a normal-paced conversation in Japanese. Second, reading manga helps me to engrain Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji into my mind so I can write in Japanese. Third, playing Japanese games, such as Onigiri, allows me to interact with Japanese people through text, while enjoying a marvelous game at the same time. Fourth, J-Rock is my favorite genre of music because of how unorthodox it is; J-rock allows me to learn new words, comprehend at a fast pace, and gives me something to rock out to while I clean the house. Finally, I label objects in my home with the Japanese equivalent, so I can memorize the characters of the word that represent that object. After implementing these tactics, I have become much more fluent in Japanese and plan to become even more so that I may speak to a Japanese native online, without the acknowledgment of a dubious circumstance.

You can’t escape studying by traditional means, but try to keep the process entertaining by utilizing positive reinforcement. I hate studying, but I love doing well based on my own merit. So, to encourage myself to study properly, I have begun using positive reinforcement, such as purchasing a new volume of a manga I want, buying a new J-rock CD, and even scheduling free time to play Onigiri after doing a designated amount of studying. I have three academic (peer-reviewed) books on the syntax and semantics of Japanese; they have helped me quite a bit. Moreover, I use these books so that I may accurately study Japanese on my own every week before I reward myself with gifts or free time. I enjoy reading Manga as a reward for doing well on Japanese quizzes from my academic books, which are useful for learning new vocabulary. Also, I lucked out, by accidentally meeting a Japanese friend through Onigiri (I did not originally know it was a Japanese MMORPG) and we have helped each other learn the other’s language on a near weekly basis. Because I met Akira through Onigiri, I use him and the game as a reward when I do my required studying for the week. Doing all of this helps keep me engaged, which is important because of the steep learning curve when learning a second language.

A second language is always difficult to learn, but if you wish to learn one, you can by making it work with your schedule and interests. The tips and tricks I’ve picked up along the journey of learning not only a new language but new values, norms, and some new ways of thinking are the reason why I love the Japanese language and its culture. Becoming enthralled by Japanese folklore, history, media and other things alike is what is fueling my drive to learn Japanese while working and attending school. To anyone who wishes to learn any language, make sure you make it fun because it’s supposed to be what you want to do, not what you have to do.


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