Do you think learning Japanese helps keep your memory sharp?
  • A ponderous question for you all..

    I visited my 90 year old grandmother a while back, and after seeing how severe decline in memory function has affected her quality of life I've been looking into various ways to avoid a similar predicament when I grow old.

    In recent years, brain training exercises have been touted as a preventative measure for decline in memory. Most of these exercises base themselves on testing your capacity to remember shapes, patterns, configurations, etc. You're also often required to apply regular thinking processes in reverse (i.e. reciting the alphabet backwards.)

    I learn Japanese through various means, mainly via the Core Japanese courses loaded into Anki, the spaced repetition program. Learning in this way tests my ability to recall meanings of Japanese words, both written and spoken. In addition to this, you're also given english sentences and need to think about how to articulate them in Japanese.

    As learning Japanese is a constant test of short and long term memory, and has a sentence structure which often forces an english speaker to think in completely reverse order to what they're used to, I'm wondering if continuing the learning process throughout my life might be exactly the kind of workout my brain will need as I get older. Does anyone have any further information on this? If so, let me know!

  • Incidentally, I was thinking something similar a couple weeks ago. Certainly there are lots of studies that point to taking up new hobbies/learning new things (especially languages) as a way to keep your mental ability from deteriorating as you age. I was thinking about kids learning to speak, and how learning a language really develops the way one thinks, and how I'm doing many of the things Japanese kids are doing to study Japanese, and that learning Japanese has affected my thinking in many ways. There's also lots of research about how language affects one's way of thinking. Unfortunately, I don't have any specific links for you, but my experience agrees with what you're suggesting, and I've heard similar things about learning languages in general, though perhaps nothing specific about Japanese. However I think the vastly different grammar/vocabulary, culture of the language and kanji, make it one of the best language challenges for a native English speaker.
  • I totally agree with this! In any case it can't HURT to flex one's mental muscles. It's a whole bunch of memorization and quick mental problem solving i.e. "How do I say this English sentence in Japanese?" and more than that: "How do I cause the same reaction to my words in Japanese as I do in English?" So I think it even helps one's social skills in that one needs to consider feelings / emotions in another language and culture. For me the best exercise is constructing a sentence on the fly. I believe in memorization but also I'm a big fan of being able to construct something concrete using background theory. The way English is taught in Japan is completely ineffective because students are forced to memorize so many "set phrases" that really shouldn't be set. They aren't encouraged to try to form sentences they haven't studied to death. There is absolutely no thinking outside the box.

    For example they study something like "I want to go to Canada next year." And all they can do is change the location. I grade papers that look like this:

    1. I want to go to Canada next year.
    2. I want to go to France next year.
    3. I want to go to England next year.

    Then when you point to the neighboring student and ask "Where does HE want to go next year?"
    The student you asked is paralyzed and has no idea what to say. If you do get an answer, half the time it's "I want to go to Korea next year"
    instead of the correct 3rd person form. It's like they have no personal identity, and they can just recite things from rote memorization.

    Charles the Great (a.k.a. Charlemagne, Karl der Grosse) is quoted as saying:
    "To have another language is to possess a second soul"

    That's a great way to put it, but Japanese is my 3rd soul. My 2nd soul (which was German) has deteriorated pretty badly haha.
    I've been in Japan so long that now when I try to speak German my brain just goes into "foreign language mode" and the word order is all Japanese.
    All my "um" and "well" and "lemme see" type phrases all come out as Japanese, and sound completely ridiculous. haha
    German is far easier to learn if you're starting from English, but I didn't spend as much time in Germany though, so my Japanese has gotten a lot better than my German.
    Now when I think about it, speaking German is like speaking old English or something. So many of the words are so close to English that I practically didn't have to memorize them.
    At least in my brain, 2 languages are "company" and 3 is a "crowd."

    The mangled wreck of a writing system that occurred in Japan (haha yes occurred. if it were planned it would make more sense, like Hangul!) is a serious mental exercise.
    It takes a long time to be able to wield it to some extent, but once you can it feels great. I watch Japanese school teachers slow down in their writing on the chalk board when a not so common kanji comes up. One of the English teachers I work with forgot how to write 船 amazingly.... Another wrote 状能instead of 状態. It's easy to forget how to write kanji, or to mix them up with other similar kanji.

    I imagined what it must be like for Chinese people since they don't have hiragana to fall back on, but on the other hand, in China, 1 character has 1 reading, and there's no problem of "where the hell does the okurigana start?"

    I haven't heard of another writing system that is so complex and illogical. You'd probably have to gather some of the best minds on Earth to create one. Hahaha.
    I don't get as burned out as when I was taking Calculus and Differential Equations classes, but man at first my brain would tire out quickly (it still does depending on what I'm trying to read).
  • hi!
    I've been interested in learning another language... well for various reasons like one keeping my memory. It seems to me that watching english movies feels like not using my brain at all because its already given or its processed automatically. For months i've been watching Japanese Movies with English translation it made me wanna learn the language and I look forward to watching it again without the translation. I have just started learning the basic but I'd like to hear from you how to start learning a new language particularly Japanese. My challenges right now is unlearning my English and how to know that I'm pronouncing it right.

    Hope to hear some tips from you all!

  • Paul: like you my "second soul" is German, I learnt it through school and afterwards spent some time in Germany, and got to a point where I could converse fluently enough and wasn't really motivated to learn the language any further than I had, primarily because it was so much like English and the Germans were so well-versed in English anyway. The only taxing part for me was the occasional reshuffling of word order when formulating longer sentences.

    My experience going to Japan was that nearly everyone had 6 years experience with English under their belt from school, but most people were very hesitant to use it. One guy I met there, who had lived in New York for a number of years, said it wasn't until he left Japan and went and lived in the US that he actually started getting some real practice formulating sentences on the fly for real-world situations.

    For me the appeal of Japanese is the fact that it is so unnecessarily complex at times, and that as an English speaker you have to tread very carefully with it or you'll get "zapped." It's like a great big code, and when you manage to crack it it can be very rewarding.

    Umang: as mentioned in my first post, check out - the company who run the site (Cerego) have an excellent series of Japanese learning courses. Check out the Japanese Core 2000 program, which contains 2000 vital words and various ways they're used together. Also, rather than doing the course through the site it's more efficient to use the spaced repetition program, Anki ( and load the course material in through the program's built in plugin loader.

    If you do it right, you'll learn material in quite an efficient manner and there will be spoken audio examples every step of the way. This system in itself is probably not enough to learn the language properly, as you also need some method of practicing expressing yourself and being reviewed (I use for this, as I can write journals and Japanese people will correct them for me.) Finding a good book on Japanese grammar will do wonders also.

    Hope that helps!


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