Okey, enough flexing with my rather bad 日本語 skills… to be honest, that’s about it. Not much, for the time I already invested - I especially miss vocabulary, but also advanced grammar, which is why I decided to start a study log, to focus my language work and be more accountable to a greater audience; but also to connect to fellow students. For my initial post I want to introduce myself (see above) and explain where I’m coming from and what I want to achieve here. Let’s get right to it:
That’s the question I face regularly when people learn that I pursue the language. Good question. To be honest, I am not the typical Japanese language learner. I never got into anime, I don’t read manga, I’ve never been to Japan, no one would ever dream of calling me “weeaboo”. I however got a bit into contact with parts of Japanese culture and philosophy: I have a 四きゅう in 柔術 (but had to stop a decade ago, when moving to a different town), and did some 居合道 (stopped for the same reason). I also find Japanese feudal history interesting, and I enjoy おすし and ラーメン, and am interested in Japanese Cinema (I am a huge movie buff and love international films in general).
The main reason however was that after high-school and after spending half a year in Spain (2007) I actually never picked up any language anymore; I am fluent in German and English and that’s it. This bugged me and I feel like becoming a “professional idiot” - so I decided to challenge myself with learning a new language. I wanted this language to be “exotic” - not yet another one of the Romance languages that all share basic grammar and loads of words and the Latin alphabet.
So I compiled a list of potentially interesting but also highly challenging languages...
- Arabic (lingua franca of the Arab world, I like Arab history and cultural history, I love the writing system)
- Chinese (with 1.2 billion speakers the most spoken language in the world)
- Korean (one of the most “useless” languages with “only” 80 million speakers [similar to Germany], but I love the Hangul script and they have produced soooo many good movies in the past)
- Russian (largest Slavic language)
But from all these Japanese turned out to be the most interesting to me from an interest in the country and it’s people, the cinematic world, and maybe also professionally as I have a degree with focus on AI and robotics. Plus, Japanese is said to be rather similar to Korean and learning and using Kanji gives me a small footing into Chinese as well - so if I ever get fluent with my Japanese, I might be picking up those languages with more ease in the far future? Who knows?
The Journey so far…
I set my mind on learning Japanese in 2016, started looking for resources and all told me to learn Hiragana and Katakana first, so I printed out trace sheets and learned my Kana in round about 2 months time using pure drilling. Hiragana was easier, but when Katakana came into the mix, it confused me mighty, and even today I feel uneasy with Katakana and need to look a few up. After learning the Kana I was a bit lost with all the different material on the internet but no structural way of learning, so I decided to visit a class; 6 months from 2017-2018, 2h per week, and it was a bad decision - the course was overcrowded, every second class you had one chance of saying a single sentence, so no practice in class. And everyone was super into Anime and Manga so I had a hard time connecting with the other students. Also, the teacher used the book J Bridge which we had to study with at home, and it’s weirdly structured and asks you to learn a weird amount of partly rather special vocabulary. There is no Kanji learning intended, yet the book uses them intensely and Furigana are really small.
Rather frustrated I didn’t learn much and had a longer break after the class. I think it was in 2019 that I discovered the audio course of Michel Thomas (I was listening to a podcast by Tim Ferriss and he broke down how he’d approach a new language, which is a more condensed way of what Michel Thomas does). While the other courses are rather old and a bit dated, the Japanese course is a modern one and really good - you get to talk in no time, you learn all the basic grammar and learn words and sentence constructs that allow you to easily talk; simple things like まいにち本をよみます、きょうはかのじょとえいがをみます。You get basic vocabulary, and basic sentence structure, you are shown how you can adapt this sentence to everything you might need. Lots of vocab that you already know (ビール、コーヒー、サンドイッチ), so you get talking and thinking in Japanese in no time. And this was something I really needed. I learned much more with that 2x 8h audio courses than in that half year of class with round about 52 hours.
Motivated by this experience I started reading different resources online again, and I also started rethinking the “don’t bother with Kanji” rule. I found a really interesting documentation on how to learn Japanese most efficient [really, check it out, it’ll be worth your while!], and - contrary to most resources I followed before (including the class I visited) - they suggested to learn Kanji as soon as possible (btw., Tofugu - the company behind Wanikani - does so, too), for a couple of reasons: You’ll never stop learning Kanji and learning them takes a long time - the sooner you start the easier it is later; also you build vocabulary with them; and you get to experience native Japanese texts (without furigana) faster. The documentation also suggested WaniKani as a resource, and so in spring of 2020 I started with WaniKani; I couldn’t wait, so I learned everything as soon as it was available, and after some days I was asked to do multiple hundred reviews a session and found myself in review hell, didn’t recall much and… well… I stopped, after some frustrating hours of reviews. Bad start, my bad. I hit reset on WaniKani in 2021 and tried again, and this time I was really good and enjoyed it a lot. But having a lot of problems in the Corona years I only managed to get to level 2 and then discontinued. During that time I also managed to get hold of a second hand げんき１ + workbook and mainly used it for further vocabulary work with Anki - using a method that does not translate the vocab but rather using personal images. I thought it was a good idea to get them in first, before working with the rest of the text, but since then I read some interesting “better approaches” (i.e. listen to the dialogue first and try to understand as much as possible, then listen to it with the Japanese text, and try to make sense of new words, then read the translation and read the dialogue aloud; this should engage you more with the text and allows you to better learn vocabulary - plus you can afterwards decide which of the vocab you really need to know to learn; and learn them in the example sentence not as a single word from the word list).
This year I restarted my WaniKani Journey and I am much faster than anticipated - for most Kanji I just needed a reminder and they climbed the SRS ladder in no time: A great testament for the method.
Means of Traveling
After all that I've done, here's what I plan to do:
- Find more fellow learners: This will hopefully make me more focused and helps me stay motivated with Japanese; they say you are the average of the five people you interact with the most - none of my friends, family, etc. is into language learning, so I need to find them somewhere else; hopefully it’s you who kept on reading all of this?
- Find a learning routine: My biggest enemy is “falling off the wagon”. Therefore I want to have a routine that I keep to. Currently it is WaniKani - it’s really fun to do, and I do my reviews and lessons in the morning before starting to work, and in the evening I try to catch up with further reviews. In the long run I will want to add more to these routines (once they become habits I cannot live without anymore ).
- WaniKani: I want to continue using WaniKani and will buy a lifelong access at the next winter sale. WaniKani has helped me a lot - I learned vocabulary and recognize Kanji which allows me to deduce context - this even works with Chinese texts, and whenever this happens, I feel a sense of accomplishment and am motivated to go on.
- Genki: As described above, I think I found a good way to work with this textbook: Start with listening comprehension and reading comprehension, while being fully aware that there is new things you don’t know - but activating your brain to try making sense of things will help recognizing things in the long run. Put the interesting vocab in Anki, using images and sentences instead of translations of single words. Then work through all the Grammar, one point at a time. Once done, do the exercises in the textbook the day after. When all the Grammar is done, you’d probably know the vocab as well, so you could work through the reading material at the back. And a week later cycle back to the exercises in the Workbook - taking advantage of the SRS method this way.
- Writing: For me, writing is an essential part of language learning, so I want to work on my hand writing. Writing stuff down helps me to even further decompose Kanji into radicals, helps me to better recognize them later, but it’s also simply fun to write these beautiful characters. Currently I am not using any method, but I’ll want to do something here - probably Anki with stroke orders of Kanji I know in WaniKani?
- Reading comprehension: I joined the 📚📚 Read every day challenge - Summer 2022 🏖 ☀ - #691 by pygospa to make it a daily habit to read something. And I started with the Graded Readers Lvl 0 (find it here Graded Readers and Parallel Texts "Book Club"), reading it the same way I described above for Genki. In the longrun I would love to be able to join the Absolute Beginners Book Club // Now reading: The Wolf of the Small Forest // Upcoming: Horimiya, but they suggest to have a level of JLPT N5/Genk 1 finished. Until then I’ll keep on reading Graded Readers, to make reading in Japanese a habit, gain speed in reading, and trying to make sense of stuff.
- Listening comprehension: There is a club for it, which is great, they also collect material, so once I feel comfortable joining them, I’ll do that. For now I feel that I should stick to just a few new habits, and in the beginning for me as an self-teaching student I find reading that much more valuable; but I’ll join them eventually… 🔉 🎙 Listen Every Day Challenge (Summer Edition) 🏖
- Movies: I own approximately 40 Japanese movies on blu-ray (from modern horror movies [Pulse, One Missed Call, Ring, Audition, Battle Royale] and gangster movies [Outrage trilogy, Hana-bi, Violent Cop] to family dramas [I wish, Like Father Like Son, After the Storm], to classics [Tokyo Story, Human Condition, Onibaba], etc. I seen most of them, but I’ll want to rewatch them more often to get some authentic Japanese dialogues and train my listening comprehension even further. Problaby part of the Extensive listening challenge 👂 (2022)
- J-Bridge: I’ll give it a second chance, as an additional source for exercises that help on repetition, and with a head start I got after working through げんき１ and knowing more and more Kanji with WaniKani
… end of Journey?
This is a difficult one - self management/improvement experts will tell you that you’ll need to write down your goals as SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound). For Japanese, my main reason for learning this language is to (a) have my brain be challenged in something totally different than I do every day, and (b) become fluent in another foreign language besides English. How do you measure this? Is JLPT any indicator for fluency? How can you time-bind it? Is fluency even achievable?
You see, these goals are bad goals, I’d need something like "by the end of year, I want to pass the JLPT N5. Problem with this: I am doing this entirely for leisure (relevance?), and when something else comes inbetween, everything else will take priority. Never will Japanese. So I don’t want to time-bind any goals (even though it might be a good idea) - at least not for now. Same is true for measurability. If I don’t have a time-bound goal, it doesn’t matter if I managed to move X items to Enlightened in WaniKani, each week, or if I met a certain page number on a book, etc. So the only thing left is specificity. Let’s try that:
List of goals
- I want to reach level 60 on WaniKani. Why? I want to learn those 2,136, or at least most of them, to become as fluent in reading as possible. WaniKani gives me 1,963 of those, and I love using it, so this is a no-brainer.
- I want to be able to watch my Japanese movies without subtitles
- I want to be able to keep up with the advanced book club
- I want to probably be able to reach JLPT N1. Why? I don’t need it for anything, and arguably it is a bad test for testing proficency. But it’ll give my learning efforts a direction, it’ll make progress measurable and visible and give myself anohter sense of acomplishment. Maybe this is just true for the first couple of Levels (N5, N4, N3)? That’s why the probably - I’ll reevaluate it later - but for now, JLPT N5 is the next big step, and it’ll force me to work through Genk 1 and finish WaniKani up to Level 16 (I guess?).
- I want to be able to converse with a Japanese person.
Will you follow me on my journey? I’ll irregularly post things here, that I’ve done, that I’ve achieved, or maybe even interesting new things that I’ve learned. And I hope to motivate you, if you follow along, and maybe we can also start discussing things? Feel free to leave me a comment here any time.
See you in the next one!