Square root of wha…?

My study of Japanese has reached a bit of a stagnating point over the last year. I have no problems communicating in everyday life, talking with friends or conducting most of my work duties in Japanese, but at the same time, I would hardly say I’m fluent. As well, my activities over the last two years have left me with tremendous differences in my competency from one area of the language to the next. My listening and comprehension abilities are quite good and I do a decent job of expressing myself verbally as well – both benefits of having studied Japanese in university and working in a job where I often need to communicate in Japanese on a daily basis.

micro office photo

What do you do when the snow traps you in your apartment for 2 days straight? Take macro photographs of tiny pieces of office furniture, I suppose.

On the other hand, my written kanji skills are atrocious and my essay writing abilities do a pretty fantastic job of making me sound like an elementary school girl. My kanji comprehension is wildly uneven as well – I can tell you the kanji for technical things like “random error” (確率的誤差) or “transfer function” (伝達関数), but struggle with everyday terms like syuusyoku (就職 – “search for a job“) or gaiyou (概要 – “outline/summary“).

It’s a fairly comfortable place to be – able to sort out most things on my own and decent enough for most communication. However this comfort is a huge problem because it takes away any sense of urgency in terms of motivating myself to study. The resultant stagnation is bad in the long run because my lack of fluency prevents me from even considering jobs which require near-native levels of Japanese ability. Not to mention that I sound like a 12 year old girl most of the time, which sucks, especially when you’re trying to yell at someone.

micro office photo

For some reason this picture seems like it belongs as a product shot on the website of a B2B supplier of office equipment. Preferably next to a slogan to the effect of “Keeping up with the speed of your Business”.

To this end, I’ve been taking a course in “Japanese Linguistics and Pedagogy” for the past 5 months, a questionable decision given how much I hate thinking of language as a subject to be systematically analyzed. It’s hard work – the ostensible goal is to prepare you to teach Japanese in your native country, an aim I in no way share. However, I am a sucker for punishment, plus you get a free weeklong trip out to a language institute in Shiga prefecture (15 minute train ride away from Kyoto which makes for a happy panda) and a nifty certificate of completion I can stuff with all the other “certifications” I have in Japanese that lose all meaning the second I open my mouth to speak.

The other day I was struggling through one of the textbooks when I came across a section detailing ways in which native Japanese either use mnemonic devices to remember kanji, or else use kanji as mnemonic devices.

The first is obvious enough:

melons and nails

But things get tricky in reverse:

kanji are commonly used for remembering historical dates, complex numbers, telephone numbers and such like, by utilizing the availability of chinese, japanese and variant readings of characters.


It continues on with an example:

envoys mnemonic

It’s a bit of a stretch, but after thinking about it for a little while, it becomes (somewhat) clear. While they play a little loose with the “8″ (truncating the “chi” to make it fit the mnemonic), we can see how 8-9-4 can be substituted in for “白紙 directly in the sentence. The rest of the sentence (interpreted liberally) means “Chinese envoys return(ed) in ~” so dropping in the figure, we can get “Chinese envoys returned (were recalled) in 894″. At least 894/白紙 is short and makes sense in context.

“Cool”, I thought. “I’ve got it”. But then the book throws this jaw dropper.

root of three mnemonic

Oh. my. goodness. And this is supposed to help you remember something!? I need a mnemonic just to um, remember my mnemonic! Now if this was as simple as the one above – just using the on/kun readings of the characters, then it might – might – be useful. But what a mess! You’ve got characters which are read using the Chinese readings. You’ve got characters which are read using the Japanese readings. You’ve got characters are read using the abbreviated Japanese readings (na(na) for “7″). You’ve got other characters which are read using the roman alphabetical reading and yet another character (“0″) which has to be read both in English (“oh”) and in truncated (old-style) Japanese (“re(i)“)…!

*sigh* It’s enough to drive a panda to drink.

The real kicker is – after all is said and done and you try and commit that monstrosity of a so-called “mnemonic device” to memory – you have to stop and ask yourself:

Why do we need to memorize the square root of 3 anyway…!?!?

diana fox

Now listening to: ” Diana Fox – Where are you now?”

Ahh, once again, Vocal Trance, my not-so-secret shameful cheesy obsession. What would I do without Digitally Imported.com?

They lyrics, however, leave a bit to be desired!

Where are you now? cause I need to have you right here next to me
Your not around feels like you took the air I breathe
I hear the sound of my lonely heart calling out to yours
You cant be found Oh where are you now?

Hey, no one ever said trance artists were poets!

2 Reactions

  1. momolo

    thanks for calling me out yet again!
    i think i was more upset at this guy persisting on showing off his japanese when it was made clear that i would not be able to judge his speaking abilities.
    while it could be interpreted that way, it wasn’t a very clear case of “fetishism.” more like “being an annoying ass.”
    ps: i wish i could also modulate my voice when i am in a temper. it ends up getting higher and higher so that it is hard to take me seriously! even in english. :sigh:

  2. bellish

    Square root of 3? And people say the Japanese education system concentrates too much on rote memorisation! ;)
    That said I love the number mnemonics. They seem to attach them to so many phone numbers and if they make sense they’re cool. I think it’s Hokkoku Shimbun whose phone number ends in 4946 (よく読む). Or something like that. My students made some up to read like their names when they had to do home shopping presentations :D