Saturday, October 17, 2009

Secret #1 for Speaking Fluent Japanese - Abbreviations

How to Speak with Maximum Efficiency

The second post of the series -13 Secret Techniques to Put You on the Fast Track to Fluency in Japanese.

The first chapter of the Giles Murray book 13 Secrets to Speaking Fluent Japanese sets out "to increase vocabulary by learning abbreviated spoken forms". Like it or hate it, modern Japanese is littered with absurd abbreviations; of Japanese words, loan words, and hybrid words. Recognising that these words are part of everyday speech, and becoming familiar with them may help you in a limited range of situations.

Paul (in the center) speaks Korean fluently by Invisible Hour.
Paul (in the center) speaks Korean fluently by Invisible Hour on Flickr.

Just as you wouldn't pepper your speech with TLA's (Three Letter Acronyms) in everyday English, there isn't much point alienating people by using these abbreviations too often. Even so, this chapter gives you a good idea of the structure of the rest of the chapters in the book.

There is a little bit of culture and history to start the chapter, a rationalisation for the choice of strategy, a few examples and then a quiz in the form of a short story. The answers to the quiz form a small vocabulary list at the end of the chapter. The vocabulary is starting to look a little dated, and the story of the research scientist is perhaps one not many people can relate to, so I've updated them in the list How to Speak with Maximum Efficiency.

Let's take a closer look at some of the different types of abbreviations that are characteristic of modern Japanese. The first type to consider are Japanese words that you may already know, for example Nikkei, which is an abbreviation of Nihon Keizai Shimbun (日本経済新聞|にほんけいざいしんぶん) The Japanese Economic Newspaper, or lesser know examples such as yougaku, which is an abbreviation of seiyou ongaku (西洋音楽 | せいようおんがく) Western music. This isn't much help though unless you are familiar with the Japanese in the first place.

Where you are going to get the most leverage is with the words you already know in English that have been abbreviated for Japanese consumption. There are many plenty of good examples from the world of manga, Fruits Basket (フルーツバスケット) known colloquially as furuba (フルバ) is just one. Anime (アニメ) is another of these abbreviations that has become so much a part of modern lexicon that we have reappropriated the word in English.

Slightly less familiar but also highly valuable are the hybrid abbreviations, combinations of Japanese and English in one contracted form. One such example is shāshin (シャー芯) which is short for shāpupen no shin, or the lead of a mechanical pencil. Many acronyms represented in romaji also appear in written Japanese, particularly in advertising and print media. For example GW stands for Golden Week (ゴールデンウィーク), a holiday period in early May. More examples of these types of Japanese abbreviations and contracted words can be found at Wikipedia.

Now that you have a good idea of the kinds of abbreviations to expect, read the short story below and see how many you can recognise. Once you have read the story practice the vocabulary on the list. We'll be taking a much closer look at using these abbreviations in the live video lesson on eduFire - Fast Track to Fluency.

A brief account of the life of an Eikaiwa dreamer.

When John left his マスコミ job in ロス for the bright lights of Tokyo he knew he'd have to teach English for a while before he could live his dream of being がいタレ on Japanese テレビ.

Living in Tokyo wasn't too bad, his アパート was small but it was an lively neighbourhood with plenty of characters at the local パブ to share a laugh with over a beer or two.

John didn't have a girlfriend, but there was a cute デパガ who worked in the エーブイ section of the nearby デパート. He never had a lot of money so the thought of asking her on a date when all he could afford was a ファミレス was sometimes too much to bear.

Most weekends he sat at home and tapped out a drum master rhythm on a second hand playstation. When the タタコン broke John was devastated so he decided to catch the train into Akihabara find a ゲーセン.

Akihabara wasn't his favourite place in Tokyo, with a high concentration of ロリコン guys chasing コスプレ and teenagers dressed as ポケモン. But it did have a couple of good book stores and デジカメ shops.

When John got tired of walking he found a ネットカフェー and decided to strike up chat session with someone on twitter. He always felt a little uncomfortable because he could never be sure if they were ネカマ or not. This Japanese life might take a little longer to get used to than he first thought.

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