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October, 2006:

I was taught go in the summer of 1969 but didn't take it up with enthusiasm until the mid-1980's. At about that time, the Ishi Press was distributing an assortment of Japanese go books in the United States. Looking at the titles and descriptions made me realize how much information there was much in such books, not available in translation. One thing led to another, and over a period of some years I eventually taught myself enough Japanese to read go books, though I still need constant dictionary help. What I do is to annotate the books, page by page, with vocabulary footnotes where necessary. This was slow going at first, but it ultimately has forced me to study go and Japanese simultaneously, double pleasure. (And my vocabulary has increased, reducing the amount of annotation necessary.) Have a look at my page of /Japanese Book Reviews.

Apart from the books, my grasp of the game took a great leap when I attended several go workshops led by Yi-Lun Yang. His instruction opened my eyes to many concepts, and also made it possible for me to get far more out of the books I was already reading.

I have been stalled at about 3 kyu, AGA, for some years. But now that both of my daughters are away at college, I expect to have more time to pursue the shodan level. (For one thing, our home computer will now be available to me in the evenings for Internet go playing...)

When I am neither playing go nor spending time with my family, I am a mathematician. (Actually, mathematics is frequently running in background in my head even when I play go or spend time with my family; but that is another subject.) The article by Conway and Kochman, Calendrical Conundrums, is very briefly discussed [ext] here. Also, for anyone interested, here is [ext] a simple proof of Kaijser's unique ergodicity result for hidden Markov models.

I can be reached at .

--Fred Kochman

November 30, 2007:

In response to a query by Yoyoma:

As mentioned above, I started studying Japanese in order to read Japanese Go books. This was a little before 1990. I learned entirely from books, with an occasional question answered by any native speaker (or other expert) I could find.

My first step was to learn the two duplicate alphabets, the hiragana and katakana. This is rather simple: there are 50 symbols in each, each symbol standing for a phonetic syllable. If you get one of the books devoted to these and do all the drills, you can pronounce any word written in them.

Having done this, I looked through my then small collection of go books and found, to my delight, that I could pick out many familiar words: atari, hane, kakari, tesuji, etc. (Incidentally, I knew these words already because the English language Go books published back then used them. Contrary to the present taste in translation, I see nothing wrong in using a technical vocabulary of otherwise unfamiliar words, especially when they are much shorter than their replacements. I've never actually heard anyone say "at this point I played a skillful finesse and saved my group with fancy footwork.")

Once the novelty of recognizing known words wore off, I realized that I didn't know whether I was being told to atari, hane, play a tesuji in the displayed position, or to avoid these moves. So it was necessary to learn some kanji and grammar, and actually study the language, not just individual words written out in alphabetic characters.

There are several classic books (in English) presenting the "jouyou kanji" -- the 1900 or so kanji that high school graduates are expected to have learned -- in the official pedagogical order, with meanings, and they are valuable references; but they are not the language. Many many compound words are kanji combinations whose meaning is not always evident from the component pieces. And there is grammar, of course. By the way, SL contains several excellent vocabulary pages, such as Basic Japanese for reading Go books, and Intermediate Japanese for reading Go books.

When I buckled down to serious systematic study, the book most useful to me was one entitled Japanese for Today, written by the staff of the Osaka University of Foreign Studies, published by Gakken. It is a nearly 400 page book, organized into thirty lessons, each containing reading selections and explanations of the grammatical structures in the reading. It starts right off with the use of the hiragana, katakana and a few kanji -- this is important if you actually want to learn to read Japanese!

Many books are available which teach some form of Japanese transliterated into English characters --"Romaji"-- but I found these nearly useless. Two exceptions: Easy Japanese, by Jack Seward, and the more extensive Essential Japanese, by Samuel Martin. Both of these actually teach the language, not just a collection of sample sentences for the busy business executive. Seward's book is written in a more popular style than Martin's, but both are quite good. However, for learning to read Japanese text, they can only be supplemental to a book like Japanese for Today. Unfortunately the latter is out of print, but it might be available from some online source; and doubtless there are similar books around. Browsing at Kinokuniya would be a good thing, if you live near a branch.

Another book I found indispensible was Handbook of Japanese Grammar, by Masahiro Tanimori (Tuttle), still in print. It is a dictionary style grammar reference designed not to teach systematic grammar rules, but rather the way the rules --and a variety of idiomatic constructions -- function in actual usage. The book was written "for the non-native speaker and user of Japanese, rather than the student of Japanese."

Learning to use kanji dictionaries was slow and painful, but it is unavoidable. Part of the discipline is learning what the kanji actually look like, in minute detail, and learning to recognize the component "radicals", the standard smaller pieces from which they are put together.

There is a lot of online dictionary software, drill programs, etc, free for the taking. Probably the best place to start is at Jim Breen's [ext] website at Monash University in Australia. He seems to have links to everything worth linking to, as well as a vast FTP repository of downloadable software, including the files associated with his own monumental, indispensible dictionary projects.

When I started trying to read Japanese Go books (other than problem books, where the text scarcely matters), I would try to pick out what I imagined were the few key kanji on given pages, and make marginal notes; but eventually I realised that this was inadequate, and it was necessary to translate essentially the whole page. At first this was exasperatingly slow, but over time -- a number of years -- I got better. (And I learned enough kanji and kanji combinations that I didn't have to keep looking up so many -- so my marginal notes became less extensive.) The book by Takemiya, 24 Basic Joseki, seems written in an especially uncomplicated style, and I found it ideal as a first book to work through completely, after giving up (temporarily) on some others which were too difficult.

In no way am I claiming to be an expert! These are just my own experiences in learning some Japanese, over a period of years, as a part-time diversion. As in so many things, perseverance was the key.

Having done this, with the current Korean presence on the international Go scene, my next project will be to learn Korean....

Tamsin: Hi, FredK! Thanks for sharing your experiences. As an Englishwoman now living in Japan, I agree with you about needing to learn the day-to-day language rather than crunching kanji from the 1900-odd in the official lists. I've found in much handier to learn common words and their kanji, and that way I've learned many kanji and their different readings as a by-product of learning the words that I encounter every day. It's much easier than trying to learn 'on' and 'kun' readings in isolation! I also agree with you about learning the 'radicals' and other building blocks that make up the kanji. At first, kanji can look frightening complicated, but once you begin to see repeating patterns and relationships between them it gets so much easier.

If you can come to Japan, that's certainly the best way to learn Japanese, provided that you keep trying and get stuck in with the Japanese people (many ex-pats just hang out with other ex-pats and rely on their Japanese girlfriends or boyfriends to help them out when necessary). If you can't come here, then the next best thing is to make friends with lots of Japanese people and to have a go whenever you see Japanese tourists. It's best not to be too shy when learning languages! I'd also say don't worry too much about grammar: trying to speak 100% correctly is a big road block to fluency. Being English, I speak English fluently, but if you printed what I said you'd find all sorts of grammar slips, ellipses, hesitations and changes of direction. Just use the language. 簡単に、言語を使いましょうね。

FredK: Hi, Tamsin! Thanks for your comments. I've read your home page from time to time, too. Total immersion seems the way to go. The language is such a central feature of the culture, it's hard to see how ex-pats (at least, if they emigrated by choice) could keep themselves holed up in a largely English-(or other non-Japanese) speaking environment. Did you already know some Japanese before relocating? Also, is this a big career change, or did you figure that you could compose in Tokyo just as well as in Chichester?

By the way, writing on this page has automatically enrolled you as one of those experts to whom I'll occasionally address language questions; I hope that's all right... (and I'll probably take up your offer, from your home page, to find and mail an occasional Japanese book.)

Tamsin: Hi Fred! Thanks for you kind words, but I'd hardly call myself an expert. I had studied Japanese intensively for about 8 months before I arrived, and that certainly has helped, but there's a big difference between knowing the theory and putting it into practice. You're welcome to ask me anything you like, but I can't promise that my answers will be correct. By the way, I live in Kure City, which is part of Hiroshima Prefecture.

Andy Pierce: Fred, thanks for your reviews of some the Japanese books. If you could get an agreement in place to do translations, I'd happily buy a copy. :)

maruseru: I also wanted to thank you for your reviews; they are very interesting. Being able to read Japanese seems to be a useful skill; I'm going to try to learn it...

Fredk: Thanks for the compliments. I'm glad people like the reviews. Learning Japanese is fun, actually, and as for translations, maybe when I retire :)..... (My impression is that there are enough go players who are *really* expert in Japanese to do translations; but the economics of publishing them is another matter altogether.)

isshoni: Thanks for your interesting reviews, Fredk, they make me want to read in Japanese again! There's a particular book I'd like to read, it's [ext] Takagawa Kaku's Fuseki Dictionnary. But I don't know how hard it is, language wise, and it's pretty old; have you read it? How does it compare with Michael Redmond's more recent ABC's of Attack and Defense (or, it's very unlikely, but [ext] Nihon Kiin's "Cho Chikun 現代花形棋士名局選)

Suggestion: in your reviews, you could indicate (or rate subjectively) the level of Japanese language easiness/difficulty.

FredK: Hi Isshoni. I don't know either of those books, so I can't help you there. As for level of difficulty of the language, I have a feeling that I'm still missing too much basic grammatical knowledge to be a really good judge. For what it's worth, though, I found Takemiya's 24 Basic Joseki to have an especially uncomplicated style, and would recommend it on that ground (as well as for the content!) to anyone who wanted a first go book on which to hone language skills. O Meien's book seems to be at a more difficult language level (though I'd bet that there are a handful of grammatical nuances and idiomatic expressions that I'm missing, which would make all the difference). The books by Ishikura are somewhere in between.

Richard Hunter: I would prefer to keep BasicJapaneseForReadingGoBooks to the absolute minimum possible. Would you mind removing your addition and just leave it in Intermediate? Appreciate the intention.

FredK Will do.

Anyhow, thanks for your comments.

FredK last edited by FredK on September 14, 2008 - 23:27
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