Introducing Kanjimasu

11 Jan. 2014

Meet Kanjimasu. I wrote last time about fixing my broken Japanese language skills, but I didn’t explain how I plan to do it. Lofty goals without grounded plans aren’t worth much.

There aren’t a lot of resources out there for budding Japanese learners like me. But they do exist. So why am I building my own?

Partly because everything I found was either expensive or designed with last decade’s best-practices in mind.

Now I’m not saying I’m a great designer. Far from it. This site is my third time designing anything at all, and I take no credit for the good parts.[0] But as a user and a learner, I can’t deal with janky UI elements, complex navigation, tiny graphics, no mobile functionality, and all the other quirks that come with free software.

Which is fine. Free is free is free. Is another man’s pride and joy.

But I need more. And I think I can do better.

And the other reason has nothing to do with Japanese, learning Japanese, or studying for the JLPT: I discovered coding.[1]

Not for the first time – I read a book on Objective C 2.0 in high school because I wanted to know how those new iPhone apps were being made. I took a class at MIT on Java because I’d enjoyed that book and wanted to actually make something without declaring Computer Science.

But despite it all, I never really built anything. Never believed I could do it without a degree and a large team. Never tried to.[2] Until I took MIT’s 6.470, taught myself Ruby, Rails, JQuery, and HTML/CSS in four weeks, and launched Short Story Board.[3]

That first project wasn’t very good. But when I stumbled into my problem with JLPT kanji I knew I could fix it. What’s more, in addition to learning Japanese I’d be improving my coding skills. If we’re talking about expanding our personal knowledge – and I often am – it’s the perfect solution: learn something new, use it to build something I want, learn even more!

So here I am. Introducing Kanjimasu.[4] If you’d like to do so, feel free to use it to study kanji and their compound vocab words. I will be.

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[0] Codeacademy, Medium, Hacker News & others were my sources of inspiration. Perhaps you think things are getting worse, not better, (I don’t. Most days.) but the general rule of thumb so far has been “Less is More.”

[1] Coding, hacking, developing, programming, software engineering, computer science…there’s a scale in there somewhere. As an initiate with grand ambitions I don’t want to overstate my abilities lest I offend those more senior.

[2] Stupid untested belief. Maybe a hold over from Mechanical Engineering. Maybe just a lack of personal need/will.

[3] Of course “taught myself” is a bit bold. I picked up enough to cobble together a poorly performing, embarrassingly ugly Rails app in four weeks. But I loved it. Designing and building things rocks. I need more of it.

[4] 感ます. Cross-lingual puns are rarely successful in both languages. English-speaking students of Japanese might get it. To the rest, I apologize.