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Language Files: Japanese

Like most kids who grew up in the 1980s, Looney Toons—Bugs, Daffy, Tom and Jerry, Tweety, and Yosemite Sam—were all I needed. Cartoons were, well, cartoons and serious movies were, you know, serious movies. Then one day that changed for me.

My brother’s best friend, a Korean kid named Alfred, introduced my brother to anime, and one day, Alfred came over to our home with a new cartoon. My brother promptly kicked me out of the living room while they watched.

Thankfully, I was always a patient child, so I waited until they grabbed their skateboards and headed outside; then, I rewound the tape (this was in the era of VCR’s) and watched. The first thing I saw was a Rocky/Bruce Lee hybrid look-a-like repeatedly punching what was obviously a delinquent thug.

The thug laughed, leading me to believe that the punches were useless; then, the Rocky/Bruce Lee-lite character said, “you’re already dead.” Then the thug’s head began to pulse, bubble and finally explode, blood shooting into the air. That was my introduction to anime: The Fist of the North Star.

This was most certainly not Tom and Jerry. But I was hooked, and I have been an anime fan ever since. I’m not sure if that says something about my disposition or psychology, but I accept myself, I love myself, etc…

It was maybe a decade ago that I begin to appreciate subtitled anime rather than dubbed. No offense to the great voice actors out there, but there is something really special and powerful about listening to something conveyed in its native tongue.

I then begin to watch Japanese movies and listen to Japanese music. I love languages, and I tend to cycle through different language obsessions at various points in my life. I know a little bit of a few languages—French, Spanish, Japanese, Mandarin, Cantonese, Swedish, and even Irish Gaelic and Swahili—so this is, perhaps, the way I am wired.

Japanese has circled back around to be my current language obsession except now, I want to make it a bit more formal. I want to read Japanese. I have watched so much anime that I rarely need subtitles anymore, but Japanese demands much more formal learning. I began with Living Language, which is a great program that teaches you quite a bit. I definitely recommend it for anyone learning any language.

Duolingo’s Japanese tree is, well, difficult. It goes from hiragana straight into katakana and kanji without any explanation. If I were not already familiar with the language, I would be in trouble. I would not recommend it to an absolute beginner.

I also have Rosetta Stone which, I must confess, I am kind of lazy about. I have also accumulated a lot of textbooks that teach readers how to read Japanese. So far, I can read hiragana fairly well; the sounds are pretty straightforward. I don’t actually understand what I am reading, but hey, we have to start somewhere.

In any case, the best way to learn a language is to thoroughly engage with it, and it is best if you approach the process in a way that you enjoy. The most important thing, though, is to have fun.

Happy learning!