Absolutely newbie at Japanese - some thoughts

Hi, I just signed up for LingQ last night (for Japanese). I’m an absolute beginner.

As a web designer and app developer myself, I always appreciate comments from someone with a fresh pair of eyes, and I have some experience in reviewing sites. LingQ got my attention because I have been thinking about a developing a language-learning site myself. Here are my observations, after just about an hour playing with the site.

I’m going to pretty much write my impressions verbatim. Even though some were misunderstandings, I believe it is important to capture these so that they can be corrected.

Learning a non-Roman language seems to offer additional challenges that don’t seem to be particularly well thought out on LingQ. I will try to explain more below.

  1. Pre-sign-up. I feel there was not enough detail about the product being offered before sign-up. If I had not wanted to develop a language-learning site myself, I would not have signed up, because there was not enough detail about what LingQ had to offer. All I could see, really is the home page: http://www.lingq.com/ and the two videos at Learn languages online: English, German, Russian, Japanese... - LingQ

I suggest to make some of the introductory content available for viewing without signup, so that people can see how this method of learning works for them.

  1. Before I get into specifics, I would say in general that the site design is good, but it is slow. I believe that improving the site speed is necessary to improve the usability. The core problem is there are too many resources loaded on each page load. (184 URL’s resolved for the beginner japanese page!). This should get reduced to something like 30 or so as a start to get decent performance.

  2. I added the Getting Started lesson, and I watched the video. This was a very general video which describes the basics about using LingQ, which was useful. But I expected the video to be about Japanese. Or, at least, there should be an additional video to watch about learning Japanese.

  3. The audio player is slow. There is a delay between pressing the play button and the audio starting. I feel it should react more quickly when I press the play button. The audio should be downloaded in the background after the page has finished loading. I recommend the audio to use either flash or the new HTML5 audio controls. Another recommendation is to highlight the words while playing the audio, and to be able to slow the recording down. Having someone say “atarashii gaikoku go o manabi masu” at full speed as the very first sentence is somewhat daunting.

Finally, It would be nice to be able to hear a word when I mouse-over it.

  1. Now I get to the heart of the more serious problems with the Japanese lessons.

Think what it’s like to see this lesson for the first time. Although I get the idea of learning the words, and marking them (creating LingQ’s), I’m not sure what the real goal is. Am I supposed to be learning how to ‘read’ japanese, or how to listen? Or both?

There really needs to be an introduction to written japanese, the different character sets, and what those characters ‘mean’. There should be a table of all the Hiragana characters, or at least some subset of those used in this lesson. The lessons should also be structured to teach a subset of, say 10 Hiragana characters each lesson.

My friend knows some Hiragana, and he says that some of the characters in this first sentence are Hiragana and some are not:

新しい外国語を学びます

My understanding is that Hiragana is a way to write phonetically in Japanese characters, in a way that someone can read the text and reproduce the spoken sound. (In much the same way that letters in roman alphabets let you say a word without understanding the meaning of what you are saying.)

The Japanese lesson on LingQ is missing even this basic description. Indeed, it doesn’t even mention what character set the writing is, or even that there are different character sets.

Note that a novice with almost-zero knowledge of ideographic character sets may be under the impression that the characters have an explicit meaning, rather than a phonetic meaning. I believe it is very important to make it clear whether you are learning a bunch of characters that represent sounds, or a bunch of characters that are conceptual.

However, my assumption is that I am supposed to learn two things: a) the sounds represented by these various characters, b) the meanings of the ‘words’

It is still unclear to me what the meaning of the first character is, if it’s not Hiragana.

Suggestion: Clarify the goals, explain the character sets. Make the first goal explicit: Learn Hiragana.

  1. As I mentioned, the barrage of audio associated with the first sentences is overwhelming. I honestly didn’t even know if the speaker was reading the entire text on the page, or just one of the 4 lines. How am I supposed to follow this?

… Until I saw the ‘Romaji’ translation. This makes things a lot clearer and is the only way I could possibly follow what the speaker is saying. After browsing on the forums, it seems that these translations into kana and romaji are done somewhat in an ad-hoc manner, so I despair when I get to a lesson where the romaji is not available (or perhaps does not match exactly what the speaker is saying?)

Suggestion: Make the romaji translation an integral part of the lessons. The romaji characters should be integrated immediately underneath the Hiragana text in the lesson text and also when displaying the LingQ’s.


Thanks for listening. I think LingQ is an interesting site, but the Japanese lessons need some work before they can be used by a true novice to learn Japanese.

And again, there may be some misconceptions here. I would be interested to have my misconceptions corrected! And if so, I would gladly offer my advice on how the misconception could be avoided.

Steve

Signing up is free, and there’s quite a bit of information available before hand. When I signed up I remember I had a good idea of what there was.

I think that Japanese does offer some challenges different from European languages, notably with the script. LingQ’s approach is great, but for learning hiragana, katakana and kanji (to some degree at least) you have to do this by yourself. Actually, this makes sense: learning a script is different from learning a language, and the needs are often specific to the script. LingQ couldn’t teach you how to write kana or kanji correctly anyway.

You can LingQ all of these words anyway, with their meaning in English and even romaji equivalent. Then you can try to recall the reading before showing the lingQ pop-up.

As you say, romaji and hiragana versions are available. LingQ is not there to teach you the language, but to give you material and tools for teaching yourself. You are your own best teacher! If you know you should learn hiragana, then the best strategy is to do just that.

If you find the audio difficult to follow, then you haven’t had enough exposure to the language, which is understandable. The solution is to listen to it again. And again. And again. And again. And slowly, the sounds take shape in your mind. 新しい goes from meaning ‘new’ to meaning 新しい.

The site is sometimes a bit slow, but not that bad. You generally have a single page open for a while, so a delay in loading is quite forgiveable.

Thanks for your detailed comments. Here are my views on those questions that I feel I can answer.

  1. I feel that there is sufficient information about the system available. Most people don’t like to read very much. Since it is possible to sign up and start using the system without paying, there are few barriers to starting. In fact, a relatively high percentage of new visitors sign up.

  2. There is a lot happening at LingQ. I am not technical and cannot comment on how best to speed up the site. This is something we have spent a lot of effort on, and we are always looking at ways of making the site faster without losing functionality. It is a compromise.

  3. We have 11 languages, and this is about to increase. We also have to consider the native language of the learner, so potentially this would mean a lot of videos. We have chosen to use one video to help the learner get started. There is a lot of other help, explanations, and the tutorial mode. I don’t think we are going to create more videos at this point.

  4. Re audio, I defer to our technical people on this.

  5. The goal is to learn the language, initially through a lot of listening , reading and building up your vocabulary, and eventually through speaking and writing using the words you have learned, and the familiarity with the language you will have acquired… We try to explain that this is the core concept of LingQ.

It is not possible for LingQ to cover all aspects of the learning of all the languages we offer. We expect that people will seek other resources for explanations about writing systems and even grammar.

LingQ is a platform, a system and a community. The lessons are created by our members, and if they choose to add more explanations and resources, Romaji, Hiaragana etc.,that is what you will find in each lessons.

It is possible that your post may inspire some of our Japanese providers to provide more explanation. If you start another thread with a specific request for more explanation to the beginner Japanese lessons, here on this forum, or at the lesson forum for the lesson you are studying, you may get a response.

The lessons are not created by LingQ.

The online dictionaries only work with a mixed hiragana-kanji text.

Thanks for your replies. I hope you took my criticism in the way it was intended. My only goal was to help improve the site. I neglected to mention all the good things about this site. This type of internet-facilitated language learning definitely seems the way to go.

I accept that I misunderstood what level of Japanese LingQ is targeted at. I haven’t looked at the other languages yet, so I’m not sure if the Japanese LingQ is unique in having prerequisites. I do not think it’s a bad thing for LingQ to focus on it’s core competency, but in my opinion there should be some explanation in the first lesson (or before) what the pre-requisites are. I will try to bring this up in the Japanese forum.

It seems that the vision of LingQ is to provide a platform where a person who speaks language A can learn language B, where A and B may be any languages. As such the learning tools are structured to help your brain to marry up the strange new squiggles and the strange new noises with whatever squiggles and the noises you are used to.

A first lesson would ideally be just a few words, one per line, eg man, woman, boy, girl, dog, cat, with the audio spoken very slowly and clearly. Associated pictures or videos might help. However, lessons are provided by volunteers and LingQ does not control content or style.

LingQ really comes into its own at beginner 1 level, by which time you have a rough understanding of the basic sounds and squiggles, and have learned a handful of words.

I have learned Japanese with LingQ from scratch and am now intermediate. It was pretty puzzling until I got to beginner 1, then it became easier and easier. After a year I’m on Harry Potter :wink: