Learning via brute force

Today I want to talk about learning Japanese (or any other language) by using brute force. This is going to be a long post so be warned.

I will start with a personal story from the time when I first came to the United States and didn’t speak a word of English. You see, I was an impressionable 16 year old child with a displaced sense of pride. In particular, I hated for people to question my intelligence. Thus, on my first day of High School, I went to see the school’s principal who gave me a note with all the classes I was to attend. The note had a list of teacher names and the instruction to ‘admit to your class’.

All went well. I came to each teacher on the list, showed them the note, and they pointed to a seat. No problem. No problem that is, until I came to Mr. Schmit’s class. Mr. Schmit was a bodybuilder type who taught American Civics. Mr. Schmit didn’t want to bother with some 16 year old who didn’t speak a word of English. By the way, now that I have been here for more than 30 years, I totally understand Mr. Schmit’s attitude! So, Mr. Schmit took my note, wrote something on it, gave it back to me and instead of pointing to a desk, pointed to the door of his classroom. I understood perfectly the situation so I returned to the principal’s office. Mrs. Mimms read the note, shook her head and she wrote something on the note and told me to go back to Mr. Schmit’s class. By now I need to tell you that the school’s counselor, Mrs. Velez, spoke Spanish fluently and that’s how the principal communicated with me. What Mrs. Mimms wrote was: ‘Mr. Schmit, you WILL admit’.

When I gave Mr. Schmit the note with Mrs. Mimms’ addendum, he shook his head and pointed to a desk. Then, he called one of the boys in his class to translate for me. Mr. Schmit, through my interpreter, said that there was a test next week on the first three chapters of the book that had been covered so far (I came to school mid November). The day was Friday and so that gave me the weekend to learn three chapters of American Civics, in English. Even at 16, I could see this was a setup. Mr. Schmit wanted me to fail to prove a point. Remember my displaced pride? After class, I went to see Mrs. Velez. I told her about the test. She looked at me and she said: ‘Are you up for this challenge or should I move you to another class?’ Before I could think about it, my displaced pride answered for me and I said “I will take the challenge”.

So I went home that day and somehow procured an English-Spanish dictionary. I spent the entire weekend — yes, and I don’t mean that figuratively; I mean I literally spent every waking moment that weekend translating, word for word, the entire three chapters of the Civics textbook.  By Monday, not only could I read 80% percent of any English text, but I also had practically memorized the three chapters of the book. I don’t need to tell you that I got an A on the test. Mr. Schmit proved to be an excellent teacher and I proved that I was no dummy. I earned the A on that class at the end of the semester. To this day, I thank God for Mr. Schmit, who didn’t give me a free pass; for Mrs. Mimms, who didn’t assign me to one of the bilingual Civics teachers, and for Mrs. Velez, who didn’t immediately ease my concerns by simply moving me to another class.

There’s the story. I had a challenge, I had the motivation, and I had the methodology. Success!

So now, I will tell you how I applied a little bit of the same methodology to learn some Japanese, including some kanji.  While watching YouTube videos one time, I came across a Japanese mini-serial called “I give my first love to you”. It’s an emotional story about young love with some tragedy mixed in. At any rate, I really liked one of the songs from the movie called 僕は 君に 意をする - boku wa kimi ni koi wo suru – I will fall in love with you. I actually don’t know the real name of the song. It may be called something else.

The point is, I really liked the song and I wanted to know what the words meant. That was my motivation. The challenge was to learn the words, including the kanji. The methodology was brute force. I won’t put the song here since it may not be your cup of tea, musically speaking. But I do want to show you the kanji I had to learn to make sense of the song. Keep in mind that this is only one song.  How many more kanji could I learn if I did this to say, three songs?!

願 – wish       未 – not yet                            止 – stop

叶- grant    来 – come                              溢 – overflow, spill

君 – you(fem.) 来 – future                           何 – what                                    

悲 – sad    描 – picture, describe          度 – occurrences, times

僕 – I, me   地 – earth, ground                 恋 – love

胸 – chest   図 – map, plan, sketch         全 – completely

中 – inside          好 – like                                        捧 – lift up

注 – pour   無 -nothingness, be not       消 – extinguish

込 – include  笑 –  laugh, smile                    色 – color

下 – go down 泣 – cry, weep                           心 – heart

痛 – pain         伝 – transmit                              瞳 – pupil

耐 – endure  言 – say, word                         苦 – suffering

輝 – radiance      忘 – forget                                怒 – angry

会 – meet              葉 – leaves, foliage              愛 – affection


That is 41 kanji that I learned in context. I also learned how the kanji are used to make other words, such as the word future, which I included in the list, and how the kanji are used to make verbs by adding verb endings. In addition, these are kanji that I will not soon forget since I like the song and I will be singing it often, much to my children’s chagrin!

Most of the kanji above have multiple meanings but I only included one or two as I felt they applied to the sentiment of the song. And last, any errors in the translation of the kanji are purely my own.

I used two very good resources to learn the kanji above: the book Essential Kanji by P.G. O’Neill and the website http://nuthatch.com (Kiki’s Kanji Dictionary).

So there you have it. It took me a whole afternoon to find all the kanji and learn their meaning. That it took me that long was due mostly to my inexperience using the kanji book and dictionary. Now, it would only take me an hour or so to find the meaning of that many kanji characters.
Another tricky thing was to find the lyrics to the song written in Japanese characters and not Romaji (western alphabet). I had to set up my computer to write Hiragana and then I did a search on Google using Hiragana and the title of the song.

Thank you for stopping by!


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