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The Bare Minimum Required to Read Visual Novels in Japanese


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Grammar and syntax.  Vocab can be filled in along the way, as can Kanji.  You'd go slowly, but if you are using a decent furigana parser with a text hooker it is possible to play untranslated (albeit difficult) with just a solid understanding of how Japanese grammar and syntax work along with a limited vocab.

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To be a bit clearer, I should say that without grammar and syntax, knowing vocab or kanji is pretty useless.  I don't recommend you even attempt to play an untranslated VN or watch raw anime without a complete knowledge of grammar and at least a working knowledge of syntax.  When I say the 'rest can be picked up along the way', I don't mean to be cavalier about it.  Vocab takes time and is a task of memorization combined with an understanding of usage.  The reason Japanese has so much pun humor is because so many phonetically-similar words in Japanese have drastically different meanings, even compared to English.  Every one of the elements you gain, whether kana, kanji, or new words will add to your understanding.  In addition, while I say that 'vocab takes second place', I mean that you will inevitably learn a large number of verbs and basic nouns in the process of mastering grammar.  

Kanji is also useful in mastering syntax.  I say this because kanji is integral to telling the difference between phonetically-similar words if you don't have enough understanding to grasp the difference from context.  If grammar and syntax are the bones and organs, kanji is the skin and vocab is the veins, muscles and nerves.  

 

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On 5/22/2021 at 4:28 AM, Clephas said:

Grammar and syntax.  Vocab can be filled in along the way, as can Kanji.  You'd go slowly, but if you are using a decent furigana parser with a text hooker it is possible to play untranslated (albeit difficult) with just a solid understanding of how Japanese grammar and syntax work along with a limited vocab.

Doesn't JP parser destroy your Japanese or it is definitely not recommended to use it. I think once you read more and more native stuff and get used to it, the less you need like a parser or dictionary.

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26 minutes ago, chasekilleen said:

Doesn't JP parser destroy your Japanese or it is definitely not recommended to use it. I think once you read more and more native stuff and get used to it, the less you need like a parser or dictionary.

Parsers are overly maligned; it doesn't actually matter unless you consciously decide to never even try to parse from game window yourself and only look at hooker output. If you are afraid you will become a true hookcuck, they may be slightly suboptimal.

source: I used only JParser for years

of course the way clephas speaks about them as providing "furigana" is overly imprecise and dumb, they provide a list of dictionary definitions. The furigana is generally the least accurate and most useless part

furthermore, there is no need to """master""" (did u know words mean things???) grammar; just get ok tier at basic grammar and refer back to your reference / an actual grammar reference

you caught me in a very shitposty mood enjoy

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I've spent enough time learning Japanese, befriending lots of other people who were learning Japanese, and hanging out on otaku forums to know that at least half of what you hear is... misleading at the very least. Anyone genuinely interested in jumping the gun and learning Japanese should read this: A Friend of Mine Learned Japanese in 1 Year

From what I've witnessed in my own irl observation (and I've met safe to 100 people that have studied Japanese), unless they grew up speaking Chinese or Korean it took them a minimum of 4 - 5 years to get good at the language. I'm talking JLPT N2  - N1 level. And pretty often, it took more than that. Because people learn at different paces.

Now if your only concern is reading, and you genuinely have no interest to ever communicate (speak or write) in Japanese, then you can probably get to an N2 - N1 reading level in 3 years if you study grammar and vocab diligently, and after getting a solid foundation in those read Japanese nonstop. I have known a handful of people like this, but most normal people can't and shouldn't do this. Most people burn out if they go too intensive for too long. Language learning for most people is like the Tortoise and the Hare, slow and steady wins the race. Please don't feel ashamed if you aren't N1 fluent in 3 years, or even 5 years. Because I feel in their push to encourage people to learn Japanese, sometimes Otaku communities unintentionally instill a sense of shame in people who don't learn super fast. Again, if you aren't Chinese or Korean, taking 5 - 10 years to get to JLPT N1 level is entirely normal.

To specify, Koreans have an advantage because their grammatical system is relatively close to Japanese. And many words sound similar as well. If you know Chinese you already know the meanings of most Kanji, which is a huge advantage because this easily knocks out the hardest part of the language for many people. I should also add, anyone that is already multilingual, even if its not in Korean and/or Chinese also has an advantage because their brains are already more flexible when it comes to languages. 

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Posted (edited)

Also, it's worth noting that it's possible to read (and enjoy) VNs with the help of text-hooking and dictionary even while being quite below N2 level. I'm somewhere on the way to the N3 right now, and yet it somehow works - although I have to admit that it slows me down considerably.

So N2 or N1 might be the level necessary to read comfortably, at a decent pace, without too much external help, but it's way above "The bare minimum" mentioned in the OP ;)

BTW I fully agree on the learning speed - don't hurry.

Also, @Clephas is right about grammar's importance. It's relatively easy to look up unknown word, but it gets tricky with unknown grammar.

Edited by adamstan
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Back when I was studying at uni in Japan, one of my professors recommended a series of grammar dictionaries that came in handy. When it comes to grammar learning in these types of communities, I rarely see people mention anything other than Tae Kim's guide, which I'm personally not a huge fan of. Figured these could be helpful for people specifically only learning the bare minimum for reading, so they can look up grammar just as easily as vocab when reading. You can just keep it next to you while you read, and quickly flip through the pages for whatever piece of grammar you encounter and want to look up. (They are fantastic for people actually learning the language for more normal use too, of course!)

Links:

Basic: Link

Intermediate: Link

Advanced: Link

I only use Japanese amazon, but I'm sure these books are available in other countries as well. Just google the title.

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There are like 3 different probably illegal (I feel very unable to care) websites that have all DOJG volumes integrated and can actually be searched, unlike a physical book.  would recommend finding those unless you have a severe case of bibliophilia

dojg is definitely a decent reference work but doesn't do what tae kim does because tae kim is a guide

of course, when you actually get better at japanese you should just google your grammar point in Japanese instead

a good time for grammar "study" is when you need it to comprehend a sentence you are trying to read in native material. You can google and try to find out what the grammar means in this case through that. If you do this, you probably will not need isolated grammar study after an introduction, unless you want very high precision on usage nuance (for production), or are trying to pass N1 grammar questions (in which case you should probably get N1 cram books tho but whatever)

disclaimer: I am pretty intelligent and probably have a good memory. If you're less smart, things will work less well for you

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Posted (edited)
On 5/23/2021 at 8:40 AM, Zakamutt said:

of course the way clephas speaks about them as providing "furigana" is overly imprecise and dumb, they provide a list of dictionary definitions. The furigana is generally the least accurate and most useless part

The accuracy rate for dictionary words appears to be >90% [1].

What aspects of text hooking are useful to you likely stems from your own language knowledge.  Clephas learned spoken Japanese first, so his main obstacle with reading VNs initially was linking written words to his extensive verbal vocabulary.  That would likely be the main challenge for natives as well.  For most of us, the dictionary aspect is far more useful than furigana because pronunciation is not necessary to extract meaning.

In addition, claiming that dictionary lookup is more "accurate" than furigana parsing is not necessarily meaningful (words having meaning, right?).  How would we assess accuracy?  We'd look up the word and see if the right definition is somewhere in the list.  Seems straightforward, but try this for 掛かる.  This has exactly one reading, but 14 different definitions in EDICT.  Just because the right definition is somewhere in there doesn't mean Beginning Language Learner A will be able to pick out the right one, or in any sort of expeditious manner.  I can throw an unindexed 2000-page dictionary at you and say it's "100% accurate" because it contains every known definition for every word--but is that meaningful if you can't find what you're looking for?  At least with furigana readings, the software attempts to pick out the right one rather than shove the entire burden on the language learner.

Edited by sanahtlig
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Posted (edited)

I am going through the "learning to read" Japanese journey myself and it is hilarious reading how many opinions people have about language acquisition (not on here per se, but on other areas). I think people want to understand content to their native level at the get-go, but that takes a LONG time to achieve. Reading a dictionary seems (to me) to be enough to get a general idea of what the word in context means, and once you hit the same word (such as 掛かる from your example enough) you can interpret which "flavor" is being used. Even if you don't understand 100% of the sentence, once you run into it in a ton of situations, you will eventually know which 掛かる is being used via context.  If you don't understand it 100% and its not critical to the story... move on. If you really started learning Japanese as a life-long hobby, its impossible to NOT understand a word eventually via context and exposure. 

I think people just need to understand that you will be looking in a dictionary a ton for a while (with reading). There's a lot of leg work required outside of "dictionary lookups" and there's lots of slang, grammar or usage of words that requires googling outside of standard Nx levels... and people want a "quick and dirty way" to understand the language... when the "quick and dirty" method does not exist. It requires a ton of work to get to any level of proficiency, as with many other things in life (sports, profession, etc.) which many people are unwilling to do.

I think there's also this "leap of faith" thing that people have trouble taking when it comes to language learning, and people seem to be more obsessed with the "optimal way to learn Japanese" when none exist, yet they bash established methods because they are "not great"... but they are established for a reason. I feel like if people put in the time they spend trying to pick and choose methods or discuss problems with one method prior to giving it a real go, they would reach some level of proficiency already. 

I love using Visual Novels to learn to read Japanese. To be honest, I never even knew about Visual Novels until 3 months ago, and I am already on my second one (I am reading ones recommended by Clephas, seriously man your guides are amazing). While I do not understand the content to the level of my native language, I have made some massive improvements just reading and throwing vocab into Anki cards. I have no idea what level I will be in 1, 3, 6... months, but 3 months ago I could barely read and now I am breezing through native content.

I don't think this is that hard. It just requires time and some commitment. I can only assume the former is what people have, the latter is what people lack.

Edited by KitBar
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The limit of dictionaries is in the lack of a connection to cultural knowledge.  One problem with becoming dictionary-reliant is that it becomes more difficult to learn common usages and more specific meanings of given words in given situations.  So much of the language is situational, especially idioms that are presented as simple verbs, adjectives, or nouns.  A great deal of it requires background knowledge of cultural minutiae and/or a lot of experience with the usage.  That's why you get a lot of seriously off-base results with even the best machine translations (which are essentially advanced dictionaries connected to a translating program).  

I don't even want to get into kobun and VNs/books that use archaic forms of Japanese... the effort it takes to read that stuff even with external aids is ridiculous for non-native speakers (and even some native speakers).  

Edit: Example of one such headache below.  

Spoiler

 

 

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