How To Read Manga Better, Part 3

As long as sound effects and basic grammar are not being completely ignored, it’s safe to address the next phase.

Part 3: Vocabulary

Vocabulary means words.

Here’s the problem.

Neko is a word; it means “cat.” Isu is a word; it means “chair.”

猫 is a character that likewise means “cat.” The Japanese mapped their native word for cat – neko – and assigned it to the character. Simple.

椅子 is composed of two Chinese characters (i.e. kanji). The first character represents “chair.” The second character represents “child.” Together, these characters form the word, isu, meaning chair.

椅, by itself, is not a word.

By itself, 子 would be a word; it would be read as こ (ko), the native Japanese word for child. 椅, however, is never a word in Japanese unless it is paired with 子.

Therefore, to read manga properly, you must learn words, not just kanji.

Many books and courses simply do not emphasize this, so quite a few learners will find themselves unprepared for the problem. Even first grade Japanese students learn that 犬 means dog (inu), and 子 means child, so that 子犬 means “koinu,” or puppy.

These are compound words that are formed with more than one kanji.

Your vocabulary must be measured by words, and not by individual kanji alone. This is the only way you will be able to read a manga effectively.

How To Master Basic Kanji

Manga are great for practicing your skills, if you can read out loud, or “out loud in your head,” what you are reading. In the end, though, kanji are best reinforced by using them.

If I speak as if I wrote the book on mastering basic kanji, that’s because I did. This first volume is free; the Issuu version (using flash) looks extra spiffy.

Now, I emphasize two things for learning kanji: visual power (big black kanji against wood backgrounds) and strong explanations giving you the context of the character.

After all, learning the characters is a major step towards learning the words.

Once you have learned them, however, they are only half-mastered and remain “floating” in your head. Flashcard systems can help, but ultimately, you need to use kanji to form your own simple sentences.

Reading manga can help you understand how simple sentences work, helping you form your own. Or, you can learn more Japanese to help you read manga better. The two feed on each other; it’s a symbiotic relationship.

Article first published as How To Read Manga Better, Part 3 on Technorati.

J Sensei

About J Sensei

Blogger, writer, linguist, former Japanese> English translator, rusty in French, experienced in Japanese, fluent English native. Writing for and various blogs. Skype: jeremiah.bourque (messages always welcome). E-mail: [email protected]
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