Learning Human Languages

Aug. 4, 2022 [language]

Some may struggle to learn new languages because they take a top-down approach. They jump right into the larger overarching concepts and then anticipate tacking on the building blocks afterward. I am of the mind that one needs to begin with the mundane little things before moving on to formulate sentences. A bottom-up approach. It is what has worked for me anyway.

A few years ago I spent up to an hour each day while on break studying Japanese, beginning with the written characters and pronunciation and moving on through basic vocabulary and grammar. In the span of several months I had reached a basic transactional level in spoken comprehension and enough in reading signage (non-kanji) to be able to navigate comfortably. The writing system may be a non-issue depending on your native and target languages but it is the best place to start so you don’t end up accruing “technical debt” that needs to be revisited later on.

While there are a lot of great materials for learning Japanese, intermediate sentence clauses are not organized into one clean place so I wanted to share my own quick-reference for any other aspiring learners of the language. My idea was to place like and opposite structures adjacent one another, which for some reason a lot of resources seem not to do. This assumes one already knows basic どうし and い/な けいようし conjugation.

Sentence enders :

~てもいいです may do
~なくてもいいです don’t have to do

~なければなりません must do
~なければいけません must do
~なくてはいけません must do (lit. must not go without doing)
~てはいけません must not do

~てよかったです glad I had done/it was so
~ばよかったです wish I had done

~ほがいいです would be good to (advice)
~たらどうですか why don’t you… (strong advice)

~てほしいです want you to
~ないでほしいです don’t want you to 

~そうです it seems (drop the い/な in adj.)
~なさそうです it does not seem (drop the い/な in adj.)a

~でしょう it is probably so
~かもしれません it is probably soa

~てくれてありがとう thanks for doing ~てすみませんでした sorry for doing

Sentence connectors :

~のために~ in order to/to the benefit of
~のせいで~ by the fault of

~x ながら~ while doing x
~x あいだに y~ y took place during x

~たら、x~ if, then x
~x のに~ even though x, despite x…
~かどうか~ whether or not
~ようになる~ became able to do
~によると~ according to
~おかげで~ thanks to

Sentence openers :

ところで、 by the way,
しかし、 however,
たとえば、 for example,
たしかに、 certainly,/surely,
そういえば、 that reminds me,
とにかく、 anyway,
とりあえず、 first of all,
いつもどりに、 as always,

And if grammar is the scaffolding holding your sentence formulation together, then vocabulary makes up the plates forming the gangways. I found that Anki, as good as it is, was not readily available for ppc64el when I first began learning. So I took it upon myself to write a more portable flashcard program in bash.

flashcard.sh accepts text files with tab-separated list columns for the foreign word, its meaning, and optionally a middle column for its native script, if not studying in romanized characters.

flashcard.sh /path/to/cardset

After you begin a session, flashcard.sh will iterate through all the cards in the deck, while saving the cards you haven’t memorized yet into the next rotation. This continues until all the cards have been memorized. The first column vocabulary is presented alone before revealing its meaning. I recommend deck sizes of only one or two dozen vocabulary that share a common topic. Example deck.

Hopefully, this page can act as what I think can be a decent fast reference for learners who are no longer just starting out.

Last updated: May 06, 2023