Everyone expects areas of ability to vary in strength depending upon your focus and the training you put in. If you don’t care about something, you let it become frail. You accept your weaknesses, and study based on the reasons you are learning Japanese and what you want to use it for. You always have the opportunity to strengthen your weaknesses later once the need or desire arises.
But there is one weakness which is universal. If you study Japanese in the 21st century you will have it.
Handwriting? Who needs that?
You don’t need to have good handwriting, whether in your native language or Japanese. It’s a skill that you decide the value of. For me it was always at the bottom of any ranking. However, everyone has probably put some time into handwriting in their early stages. If you are taking Japanese in some kind of class format, you also practice it.
But I’m talking about a skill that you may have put nearly 0 experience points into for months or years.
Reading native Japanese handwriting.
If you are studying on Jalup, you did not grow up going to a school in Japan. School is where you get the most practice of reading things written by hand. You did not grow up reading others’ handwriting, whether that of your friends, teachers, family, or material you were studying. Native Japanese speakers have decades of reading handwriting experience. Handwriting reading experience may be on the decline due to cell phones in recent years, but it is still there.
What’s the problem? Japanese handwriting is Japanese after all.
Neat handwriting is not a problem. Neat handwriting resembles typed out characters. There are some slight differences, but it’s fairly close. For the most part, as long as you can read Japanese fluently, you can read neat Japanese handwriting fluently if you give it a little time to get used to.
But there is an evil lurking out there: sloppy handwriting.
There are varying levels of sloppy handwriting.
1. A little sloppy
3. Very sloppy
4. What the hell is this?
The typical Japanese native person can understand 1 fine, 2 mostly, 3 to some extent, and 4 just just a little bit. You, however, may not be able to understand any of it. Your inability to comprehend handwriting is due to your lack of experience. Handwriting, just like in English, is different. Being fluent in Japanese will allow you to use your analytical mind to make out many hard-to-read characters. But the worse it gets, the more you need to have had previous experience with sloppy handwriting.
Then there is Japanese calligraphy, which I’m convinced the harder it is to read, the more beautiful it is considered. But that’s a whole other topic…
When would you need to deal with sloppy handwriting. No big deal if you can’t read it, right?
You have two big situations that you will need to be able to read handwriting.
- Working at a Japanese company: people often take notes by hand. They use whiteboards. Japanese companies still do old fashioned things (fax machine anybody?) Don’t forget that most people applying for jobs still have to hand write their resumes before sending them.
- Translation: If you want to become a translator you may be given handwritten translation assignments occasionally. Let me tell you straight up: I hate them. These assignments drop your pace down, and require you to go into ultra deep-thinking mode. If you are an aspiring translator, you don’t want to have to turn down a job because it involves handwriting.
Think you are safe because neither of these situations applies to you?
If you plan on living in or even just visiting Japan, it will come up in all kinds of public places. For example, there are many handwritten signs inside and outside restaurants in Japan. In supermarkets. In convenience stores. While this type of handwriting is usually of the non-sloppy variety, it can slow you down a bit.
Can you overcome the weakness?
Yes. Just like everything else, it involves practice. If you want to understand the news, you must listen to the news. The same applies here. Getting this practice isn’t easy to come by, but you have a few options:
● Write letters back and forth with Japanese people.
● Read online diaries (some people even write diaries where they hand write letters and then put the text below them).
● Check out Social media where people hand write (you see this often on Instagram)
Unfortunately, most of this handwriting is at worst a little sloppy. People that engage in the above write somewhat neatly. So you are going to have to go out of your way to dig and find some sloppy documents. I’ve gotten most of my (painful) experience from translating handwritten documents.
At first it a took a long time. Eventually I started to get the hang of it. I can handle “a little sloppy” and “sloppy” now. Very sloppy and what the hell are still out of reach. But then again, it can depend on individual handwriting style. Sometimes a unique handwriting style that is just a little sloppy can still pose a problem.
Have any of you struggled with improving your handwriting-reading ability? How did you do it? Where did you find sources to practice that ability? Or maybe you’ve decided you’ll never need to read handwriting ever?