I have one major reason for wanting to study Japanese– MANGA!
These are the books I’m starting with:
Writing Katakana and Writing Hiragana, both by Jim Gleeson, and also A Guide To Reading And Writing Japanese by Florence Sakade.
At this early, early stage, I found the Gleeson books more helpful. His books are about the two alphabets of Japan (Katakana and Hiragana) and are written for the complete beginner (that’s me!). There is much space devoted to just getting used to writing the characters and to seeing them on the page amidst other characters in simple words. There are lots of pictures provided so that the reader may associate the words with an image, which is also helpful. Basically, lotsa really elementary stuff here, which is exactly what I need at this point.
Sakade’s book devotes most of its pages to Kanji, the Chinese characters that make up a large part of the Japanese language. These Chinese characters are much more complex, and many times more numerous (thousands!!), than the Katakana and Hiragana alphabets.
The two alphabets each have 48 characters (along with some supplemental signs). Unlike the English alphabet (in which most letters stand for either a consonant or a vowel alone), most of the characters of the two Japanese alphabets stand for syllables, or consonant-vowel combos. Luckily for me, the two alphabets cover the same sounds. The reason there even exists two alphabets is that one alphabet, Katakana, is used for foreign-imported words (mostly). One author compared Katakana to italics in English, which makes sense when you consider that foreign words often appear in italics within our printed texts.
Kanji, the complex Chinese characters, are ideograms, standing directly for objects or ideas. The way it has been explained to me is that the Kanji will often be used by the Japanese to get across the heart of a sentence, and that the alphabet-made-words will be used to detail, expand, or connect the main ideas.
By the way, if you’re wondering, one would not mix characters from one Japanese alphabet with the characters from the other. Not in the same word, I mean. Just doesn’t happen.
Because I try to embrace knowledge from so many fields (I know, I know– many people say I’m too scattered in my pursuit of knowledge, but hey– I gotta be me!), my learning curve for Japanese will be long and shallow. In fact, I plan on never being fluent in Japanese. However, I will be bettering myself slowly over the coming years, and I intensely look forward to the day when, with a little help from context and the cool pictures, I can read my first manga in the original Japanese!