The Joy of Winning

You may remember from a previous post that I’m not particularly found of flashcards.

I might have come across as bitter.

Well, yesterday I passed the first of ten tests in Nazotte No Oboeru (なぞってのおぼえる大人の漢字練習), and, happy as I am to finally win something, I’m getting even giddier thinking about the new kanji I’ll now be able to add to my Anki deck. The cockles of my heart are enjoying a toasty sensation, I believe is the phrase.

I was not thinking this kindly towards なぞってのおぼえる a few weeks ago. I got it around the beginning of September, but was busy “vacationing” with Theo and didn’t really look at it. After she left I sat down and vowed to pass a test a week.

Three weeks passed.

Part of the problem was that I just didn’t play it, so of course I wasn’t able to learn the kanji properly. You know, repetition, repetition, repa- *yawn*. I was avoiding it because I’m a bad sport  I seemed completely unable to tell when 石 should be read as “ごく,” as in 加賀百万石, when it should be read as “せき” (偉人の石像), and of course, when it was finally used as “いし” (石焼き芋). Even if I could remember that 石 had all three of those readings, figuring out which one the program was asking for was taxing my brain to an embarrassing extent. For each question that tested my ability to write a kanji based on a given reading, I was reduced to guessing which of the 80 or so characters I was studying could be read the way they wanted.

Obviously this was the wrong way to go about things. The game (I use the word without sarcasm now) was meant for Japanese adults who want to brush up on their kanji readings. When this target audience goes to read “春のなな草,” they will know what the sentence means (the game provides furigana over all the kanji, so they really have no excuse). Knowing what it means, do you think they will be trying to match kanji readings to find out what “なな” is? Of course not, they’re going to think “what is the kanji for seven?” and then plug it right in. My vocabulary is worse than my kanji reading*, and maybe that’s why it took me a while to realize that I was going about the whole thing wrong. But I did, finally, about two weeks ago, and now I’m putting sentences from the game into Anki with their translation. Doing this, it makes sense that “石” is read differently when in the compound 加賀百万石.  Normally it’s the kanji for stone, but here it’s being used as an ancient unit of weight, a “こく.”* Suddenly, I’m not failing when this question comes up.

So yes, I’m happy now that I’ve passed level one with a 92%, missing 4/50 kanji. I’ve got about seven more weeks to get through the rest of the levels if I want to beat the game before the JLPT in December. Buy hey, I figure with Anki I’ll not only be able to read the kanji by that time, but use them too.

_____________________________ Socks’s Off _________________________________

* I may know more words than kanji, but the way I look at it, I have way more words left to learn than I have kanji to study.

* How funny is it that stone has been used to measure weight in both the west and the east? Seriously though, look this compound up and then google the bits that still make no sense and you’ll see why I’m now motivated to study. The phrases they use in なぞってのおぼえる range from mundane, to colloquial, to archaic. Translating them often feels like opening the door on an advent calendar. 49 more days to Christmas . . . .



Define “Study”

If you’ve been reading this blog’s back posts, or if, say, you actually know me in the physical world, I’ve probably mentioned the fact that I study Japanese. Or rather, that I don’t study Japanese as much as I’d like.

Japanese was my foreign language in college, and I spent six months in Japan (which I took basically zero advantage of), but my Japanese skills are still at the “beginner/intermediate” stage. That is, they were. Then I realized that my brother actually had manged to smarmy up to convince my sister to send him her DS. In my mind DS = Japanese Immersion Study Method. I immediately started spending shocking amounts of time researching DS games (immersive? not so much). I also finally downloaded Anki, and picked up the manga I had bought during Christmas, ditching the sticky notes and translation and just reading it straight up. I was already watching anime (Natsume Yujinchou at the time, but now season four is over. Sob).

Anki lasted until my game arrived and then I no longer had twenty minutes to spare for flashcards. It was good while it lasted though, because even now I’m recognizing kanji from the Heising deck I downloaded. Now every time Natsume visits a swamp in my manga I do a little happy dance – I get to recognize both swamp (沼) and seduction (召), which are two words I don’t often think of together. The downside is that the Heising deck doesn’t come with any readings, and some of the key words it picks for the kanji are, as you’ve probably already realized, real head scratchers (decameron for 旬 is my favorite), but it has exposed me to a lot of kanji and that in itself is enough. I also downloaded a Japanese  grammar deck, which threw me off completely at first, as I tried to answer it in polite, classroom Japanese. As useful as these decks were (and will be when I start them up again), both of these decks annoyed me like nothing else. I hate losing, and it appears memory is not a game I’m ever going to win an award for. It took me five days to finally get the kanji for “page” right, and then I failed it again the very next time Anki showed it (i.e. the very next day). Looking at my flashcards started leaving a bitter taste in my mouth, like cheap, burnt joe thrown back in the cold of a winter’s dawn as you trudge outside to shovel your car out of a two foot snow drift, knowing every other person in the house is sleeping at the moment, and will still be sleeping in an hours time because they stayed up all night partying while you were trying to get some shut-eye so you could function at your job.

Man, I hate to lose.

Luckily, you can’t really lose at  a video game. Not a linear one like Dragon Quest IX, anyway. You either progress or you wander around lost, but you don’t lose. Every time I come to a boss fight I die, but that doesn’t seem to bother the game at all. People tell me important things in the game and I just nod and smile and select “はい” as if I know what they’re saying. When I get really stuck (i.e. whenever the game wants me to do something in order to progress) I just go online and use a walkthrough. I rather wish the ones I’m finding would tell me a little more of what I was doing, instead of just saying “go to the north house and talk to X,” but oh well. I’m actually learning quite a lot while playing this game. My katakana, which was always really bad, is now passable as a skill (though the names they use for villagers and towns in this game have too many vowels). On top of this, I’m actually learning vocabulary and kanji. For instance, I know three kanji for “village” now, and the word for “goblin” that is used for monster attacks. I can recognize stuff versus equipment, and know defense and spells. Magic and curse and shield. Experience, defeat, inn . . . . Maybe not useful or applicable in real life, but if I ever run into a Japanese gamer I’ll be able to carry on a passable conversation – vocab-wise at least.

Best of all, there are the odd sentences where I understand everything they say without having to look any of it up. And every now and then, when I do look up a word or two, it’s like being able to see fae, that distant country that is really all around us, only on a different plane.* Whether I come across these gems in my manga or my game, they make me want to keep going, to try harder, to fall, and fall, and fall as proof that I’m moving. My life is a never ending distraction, so my Japanese might be pushed aside a little here and there, but I’m never going to be able to push it out entirely. Not when I haven’t restored peace to the villages yet.



_____________________ Foot Notes _______________________________

* If you prefer sci-fi over fantasy you can read fae as something Out of Phase or, perhaps, in the forth dimension – though I’m not sure if even Japanese is that mind-bending.