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RobertB

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Hi, I'm new here. Still poking around the forum, but I thought I'd introduce myself and ask a question.

Last summer, we decided to plan a Tokyo trip for the summer of 2016 as a graduation present for my daughter (she's been studying Japanese for several years). I decided that I wanted to challenge my aging brain and see if I could learn a useful amount of Japanese in two years. I think my expectations are realistic: I know I won't become fluent in two years (welll, eighteen months now), but I want to reach a basic level of "survival" Japanese that will enable me to read signs and menus, order a meal, that sort of thing.

I signed up for a series of classes that will continue right up until we go. The introductory class, which I finished in December, focused on some basic vocabulary and stock phrases (introductions, greetings, etc.), as well as hiragana. The second class, which starts tonight, will build on that with more vocabulary and katakana. Subsequent classes will add some grammar and kanji.

I'm starting to think that I'd like to supplement the class with some independent study, mainly to learn more kanji. Looking at the course descriptions, it looks to me like the classes will probably only teach me a couple hundred kanji at best, and I suspect I'll want to know more than that. (I know patience is important, but I'm on a time limit here!) With a year and a half to go, I figure I can try to learn a couple every day. I've found some Android apps that are good for teaching stroke order looking up definitions, but I'm looking for a good book that will give me an ordered set of kanji to work my way through.

The two kanji books that I've been looking at are Heisig and Kodansha. I know that some people love Heisig and others don't, and I'm undecided; while I like the idea of his approach, I kinda feel like I'd rather come up with my own mnemonics rather than using his. Kodansha seems more systematic and no-nonsense, and I like the focus on radicals.

I'd also rather focus on learning kanji in terms of vocabulary. From everything I've learned so far, it seems wrong to try to learn each kanji in isolation; I'd rather learn words and how they are written. I haven't found a good way to do that, though, other than just randomly picking words from Japanese text and learning them. What I'd really like is a list of the words I'm most likely to find useful in Tokyo, which I could use as a structure for learning the kanji I need.

Anyway, I said I had a question, but now that I've written this much I'm not even sure what my question is. But I'd welcome any thoughts about my approach, and any opinions about Heisig versus Kodansha. Not to mention any words of encouragement from others who have tackled Japanese later in life!
 
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Hi and welcome to the forum! I can tell you my experience with Heisig (haven't tried Kodansha). I finished RTK1&3 in roughly 3 and a half months. Then moved on to reviewing kanji with Anki. As you said, some like it, some don't. I would say that I'm in the middle somewhere.
The main problem with RTK is that it doesn't teach you any actual Japanese (vocab). It does 2 things: 1. You'll know a large portion of the individual kanji meanings (in English) associated with each kanji and by the time you're done with the 1st book, you'll know the stroke orders very well. While those things are not bad to know (especially the latter), it may not be everybody's priority, especially for someone with a time limit. I feel that it wasn't a waste of time to go through it, though.
If I were to suggest RTK1 to someone, I'd tell them to do it before starting any actual Japanese studying. It's good as an introduction to kanji.

About the 2 year time limit - you didn't say how much time you have per day to study. 2 years is a long time and spending 1 hour or 3 per day studying are two very different things. I never took classes or anything like that, just did self study so I don't know how that's like. However, I imagine that it's only a few hours per week, which is definitely not enough to get to a decent level without a fair amount of independent study.
On the other hand, if your goal is to just get to the "survival" level, you definitely don't need 2 years for that. A friend of mine was in a similar situation as you, but he had only 6 months before his trip to Japan. I gave him Genki I&II and linked him http://www.japanesepod101.com/. By the time he went there, he was at what you'd consider "survival level". My point is that, depending on the time you can put into it during the remaining 1 and a half year, you can get way past the survival level.
 
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I don't know the Kodansha (other than they do a dictionary), but you might also want to look at Kanji Odyssey:
https://www.coscom.co.jp/ebook/item_2001kanji.html

Don't worry about learning all the joyo. If you like the concept of Heisig, search for a thing called "RTK Lite" and also "Heisig Japanese keywords". I'm personally much more on the context learning side of things. An understanding of radicals/components of kanji does help.

To be honest, you won't really need Japanese in Tokyo.

More general (and random) advice:
Don't neglect your katakana, menus etc. will be absolutely covered with it and words that are derived from English can often be sounded out (not all katakana is from English, or foreign origin at that, but a lot is).

Pick up some generic phrases like "これください" (this one please), learn numbers/dates/times and how to ask about them (how much stuff costs, when places are open to, etc), and set phrases - including those you might be asked (ここで召し上がりますか). Much of this will be found in textbooks. A tourist phrasebook might be worth it just as a guide to common phrases/vocabulary.

Food words - start off with the generic things - e.g. learning 牛・豚・鶏・魚・野菜・海老 will give you a lot of bang for your buck, so to speak、as will things like 甘い・辛い・塩 and 丼・鍋・定食 (or セット)・汁 Menus usually have pictures on anyway, so as long as you can recognise what's beef and what's pork, you'll have a reasonably good idea of what you're likely to get.

For practice, just google for メニュー as lots of the major chains put theirs online. Although in some places you're likely to be handed a menu in English anyway. Obviously adjust to preferences - you might already know at least some foods that you particularly like, want to try, or want to avoid.

If you want to virtually wander about and see what the signs are like, Google Streetview has pretty much all of Tokyo (and by extension, the earth). I like to streetview the route from, e.g. station to hotel just so I get a feel for landmarks in advance.
 

RobertB

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About the 2 year time limit - you didn't say how much time you have per day to study. 2 years is a long time and spending 1 hour or 3 per day studying are two very different things.... My point is that, depending on the time you can put into it during the remaining 1 and a half year, you can get way past the survival level.
You make an excellent point. Two years of full-time study is quite different from two years of spare-time study as a hobby! Unfortunately, with a full-time job and a family, for me it will probably be closer to a few hours per week than an hour a day. But I am highly motivated, so I'm going to make an effort to set aside some time. At any rate, you encourage me about what I can achieve, if I can give it the necessary time.

To be honest, you won't really need Japanese in Tokyo.
Heh. Yeah, I've heard that from other people too. And besides, we'll have my daughter along, and she'll be way more able to communicate than I will. But I'm just kinda stubborn ... I hate the idea of going over there and feeling like an illiterate. I want to immerse myself in the culture as much as possible in two weeks, and I guess I just feel like I'll be better able to do that if the language isn't completely opaque to me.

Thanks for the great ideas, BTW. You make some good suggestions that I will check out. I don't know why it hadn't occurred to me to "look around" using Google Street View!
 
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