To be honest, I’ve been wanting to get something like this off the ground for a while.
Just a preface: this is meant to be a guide specifically for people who want to get started with Japanese and know HypMic with these particular goals in mind:
- understand HypMic in its native language and/or
- understand anime, manga etc. in its native language and/or
- use the previous points as a jumping-off point for Japanese language learning in general.
It’s going to give strategies you can use and exercises to strengthen your understanding using things from the fandom as a guide, but it won’t teach you everything – that’s what textbooks, immersion and other resources are for! Note:
- depending on where you suck, you can cherry pick and tackle these exercises in almost any order (aside from the first one coming first, for reasons you’ll be able to see when you read that section) – they’re for studying up on individual skills.
- I make references to the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) because it’s many Japanese learners’ goal to pass at least one level of it one day (including mine at the moment, considering I failed the N2 I did in December) and so I won’t cover speaking or writing in too much depth here, but other resources may cover those instead. I also recommend a few resources outside of HypMic, but most of the work and evaluation of where you’re at is up to you, the reader.
- I am open to feedback on this guide, so long as it’s respectful – I’m not a Japanese teacher by trade…I’m just a very enthusiastic blogger who’s been there, done that.
I hear people say they want to learn Japanese because…well, I, a person who’s been learning the language for about a decade as of the time of writing who wants to seriously make the language into a career, surround myself with Japanophiles a lot. Why wouldn’t we want to learn Japanese if it brings us closer to the media we love?
Hiragana and Katakana
That said, you must start somewhere and that “somewhere” is…not here. If you wanted to avoid rote learning by reading this, sorry! All I can recommend for you is to make mnemonics and/or little “stories” for things to speed up memorisation (e.g. と, read to, looks like a toe). Understand things in a way that works for you, so long as it’s within test limits for if you want to pass the JLPT.
How HypMic can help at this stage: If you have hiragana and katakana, you can pick up a few words here and there which can help you gauge how well you’re doing, plus furigana in certain cases. For one thing, どついたれ本舗 (Dotsuitare Honpo) is pretty easy to pick up because it’s the only division name which consistently has hiragana in it. Also, the katakana versions of the division names come up on occasion (such as フリングポッセ for Fling Posse). If you’re good enough with katakana, you might be able to pick up from Tragic Transistor why Sasara makes a pun of フリングポッセ and pudding (プリン).
Vocabulary and Kanji
Again, rote learning and mnemonics/”stories” are your friend with vocab and kanji, but make a habit of writing down anything you don’t know (not just vocab or kanji!) that you want to learn and have it somewhere accessible. It’s highly likely it will appear somewhere else in a similar/the same context. Many people – myself included – use Anki as a flashcard program, but you can also make physical flashcards or a different method entirely. I am aware you didn’t sign up to learn about software or apps for language learning, but once you make using your given method a habit, you’ll eventually (or you should) see a marked improvement in how much you can recall.
Pay attention to even small details – with kanji, a part of a character can change the entire meaning of a phrase! The JLPT tries to sometimes stump people with fake kanji or very similar kanji.
People who started with (traditional/simplified) Chinese characters or Korean hanja have an advantage in that they’ll have some level of familiarity with characters and possibly how some characters are pronounced, but despite the commonalities, there can be differences in how the languages treat the same characters – Japanese teachers can be pretty harsh if you write something in a manner befitting Chinese/Korean.
I will give a specific warning for false friends and other confusing terms. For instance, 紅茶 literally means “red tea”, but refers to what is known as “black tea” in English. Likewise, 黒砂糖 translates literally to “black sugar”, but is what is known as “brown sugar” in English. Things like that. (Unfortunately, both of these examples appear to be a quirk carried over from Chinese and you’ll just have to rote learn them.)
How HypMic can help at this stage: Make a bit of a game out of things – try and find kanji and/or vocab you’re learning “out in the wild” if you get regular exposure to Japanese.
To continue with the division names, the 本 in どついたれ本舗 – a basic kanji required for JLPT N5 – will inevitably come up a lot, although its meaning can vary wildly based on context (…if you’re curious, in this case, the kanji means “main”). Break things down: Now you know 本 can mean “main” and I tell you 本舗 can be translated to “headquarters”, you can probably guess 舗 means something like “store” or “shop”. (Note: This doesn’t work with everything, but it works with a lot of things.)
Also, a tactic I learnt while learning simplified Chinese (and without going all linguistics on you!) is kanji are comprised of radicals, parts that give the kanji its reading (sometimes those two are the same thing) and maybe some other parts. Sometimes, you can check things up by radical…but the reason it’s only a small section here is you can get by without ever learning them.
In this way, kanji get less daunting if you can piece together 1) what they mean and/or 2) how they’re read somehow…or, as a variation on 2), you already knew how those characters were read due to reading up elsewhere.
Grammar is its own can of worms, because it can change based on situation. New vocabulary doesn’t always necessarily indicate new grammar, although some grammar points can double up as new vocabulary (e.g. the JLPT grammar pattern 故に, which appears in Jakurai’s 2nd solo title – 君あり故に我あり or You Are, Therefore I Am). Grammar is also a big tripping point for learners because you need to know the correct context said grammar is used in (examples: Is it ultra formal? Is it casual? Can you only use it when the verb being changed is negative?).
For those who wanted to avoid textbooks for this section, unfortunately, textbooks are probably some of the best resources in this regard because they teach the points in isolation and within context. For online resources, I’d recommend Maggie-sensei and JLPT Sensei, although some people also like Tae Kim’s guide.
How HypMic can help at this stage: If you’re confident enough, obtain some of the raw manga – you can start with the DH & BAT oneshots on Magazine Pocket – and see how much you can read.
So far, this guide has been about reading things and rote memorisation. What about listening?
How HypMic can help at this stage: An advantage of having understanding HypMic as a goal is it’s got an ever-increasing repertoire of listening material, particularly if you want to upskill in spoken dialogues of various formalities. Think outside the box: don’t just listen to the drama tracks, treat even video content as listening practice! (Just…make sure to focus on what’s being said, plus how it’s being said if you’re trying to learn pronunciation.) Subtitled drama track previews and lyric videos are good places to start, although you can really test yourself by trying to watch a HypNama Hangout+ or listening to the Spotify podcast HypNama Hangout!+ After Talk Podcast.
If you have a specific song you want to learn, trying to follow along with the romaji and the music video can help, although you may need to slow down the song or go over it many times before you get used to it enough. Picking up select kanji from songs may also give you a “story” to remember by, such as how I remembered 挫折 (zasetsu, “setback”) from how it appears in Own Stage and then encountered the word in the JLPT.
In terms of JLPT practice, try to single out words which will aid your comprehension. An example which is not HypMic-specific but useful in that context is dates (see: CD release dates, live show dates etc.) – they tend to have a set format and show up pretty much anywhere, so if you focus on these, you’ll need to know how these things are read. In this case, the days have special readings, like ついたち for the first day of a month.
The road to understanding can seem insurmountable and these things you can do may not be exactly matched to your skill level, but as Jyushi says, never never never never never give up!