It’s time for my monthly Japanese learning update (with vid at the bottom of this post). I started my “Learn Japanese” project at the beginning of 2019. Though I’ve previously learned a little Indonesian, this is my first serious attempt at an Asian language.
I’m a firm believer in the power of habit in language learning and the core of my Japanese learning has been a thirty-minute focussed study slot (usually first thing in the morning).
Since I returned from my first trip to Japan last October, my goal has been at least one such slot, at least five days a week.
This is my third monthly update since London went into semi-lockdown due to COVID-19. For seven weeks, we were only allowed outside for limited reasons, such as to buy food and medicines. Mercifully, we were also allowed out for exercise once a day. Since mid-May, things have slackened somewhat and you are allowed out for exercise when you want, provided that you maintain social distancing. By the way, if you’re interested in some low-key slices of “lockdown life”, check out my “Coronavlog” series over on the YouTube channel 🙂
Month 17: week-by-week log
In May, as in April, I’ve not had to commute to the office (I usually work in another part of London three days a week).
Altogether, I managed at least a thirty minute focussed study slot on all but three days of May. That’s an average of just over forty-five minutes on each of the 28 days when I studied.
Not as impressive as my unbroken run in April, but still very satisfying.
I only really fell short of a full house because of the Polyglot Gathering. So, on 14th May, I’d managed 30 mins Basque but then got sucked into editing my interview with Gathering head honcho Peter Baláš. On 30th and 31st May it was the online event itself (post and vlog coming later) 🙂 .
Here’s the month’s breakdown:
Week 1 (Friday 1st May to Sunday 3rd May): thirty, minutes (studied every day).
Week 2 (Monday 4th May to Sunday 10th May): 5 hours (studied every day except one).
Week 3 (Monday 11th May to Sunday 17th May):
5 hours, forty minutes (studied every day).
Week 4 (Monday 18th May to Sunday 24th May): 5 hours, 55 minutes (studied every day).
Week 5 (Monday 25th May to Sunday 31st May): 4 hours (studied every day except two).
May 2020 Total: 21 hours, five minutes over 28 days (so averaging about forty-five minutes a day, on those 28 days).
Running total (1st January 2019 to 30th April 2020): 263 hours.
My approach to Japanese
An early decision on this project was to postpone speaking and listening much longer than I’d done with Basque, my last serious new language (and one I’m still very much learning).
In the first weeks I learned Japanese’s phonetic katakana and hiragana writing systems. However, given the limited time I’m putting into Project Japanese, I’m no longer attempting a simultaneous head on assault at the Chinese characters, called kanji in Japanese. These are essential to reading all real Japanese (except books aimed at younger children). They’re fascinating but they do take a lot of time to learn. All I’ll be doing for now are the eighty characters in my current main textbook.
Work with my core course: Japanese from Zero
I like to have one core resource to provide a roadmap and basic structure to my language self-study. This could be a printed textbook or an equivalent online course.
On this project, it’s the multi-volume Japanese from Zero book series. There are five volumes and I’m on Book Three, which is the first one to introduce some kanji. It has just eighty. There are 2,200 you need to know to graduate high school in Japan but, hey, I’ve got to start somewhere!
As reported in the previous Japanese learning update, by the end of April I had just started Lesson Ten of Japanese from Zero Book 3. All I did in May was to complete the lesson.
There wasn’t much new grammar in Lesson Ten. The focus was on how to use とき (when). There were some useful structural words: たくさん (a lot, many) and だけ (only), both of which I’d already met in the Pimsleur audio course (more on that below).
Back-up course: Assimil’s Le japonais
In May I kept using my “back-up course”, Assimil’s Le japonais, as well.
At the end of by the end of April I was in lesson 34.
In May’s focussed study sessions I revised lessons 15, 16 and 17, including making a dictation exercises on the dialogues from lesson 17 and 34. I moved on to cover lesson 35 for the first time (including doing another dictation).
Every seventh lesson in the book is a review lesson. It summarises the structures introduced in the previous six units and has some additional revision exercises. Lesson 36 was the latest of these and I covered it in May as well.
In April’s Japanese learning update I said that I wanted to get a “satellite slot” set up (a second, shorter focussed study period later on on the day). I failed to do that again but what I have been doing is carefully reading through an Assimil unit or two in bed, just after waking up and sometimes also just before putting my light out in the evening.
Audio only course: Pimsleur Japanese
I’m listening to the five-level Pimsleur audio-only course on my jogs round the local park.
Each level consists of thirty, thrity-minute lessons.
In April I’d started on Level Four.
By the end of May, I had played the first twenty-two lessons. I also did quite a bit of re-listening to earlier lessons in this level.
I can’t imagine myself learning Japanese from this course alone. I’m not saying it’d be impossible, but I prefer some direct instruction and to take my sound with dollops of written word.
Still, I’m a fan of the Pimsleur system: it’s great for preparing the ground and reinforcing what I’m learning in the courses where there’s much more explicit explanation and instruction and, of course, it’s great for pronunciation and the sound of the language.
Blast from the past: Teach Yourself Japanese (old edition)
In March, I acquired and made a start with a further course: a 1970s reprint of the 1958 version of Teach Yourself Japanese (C.J. Dunn and S. Yanada).
I made April I worked through the explanations and back and forth translation exercises in Lessons 3 to 10.
In May I continued devoting significant time to the course and covered lessons 11 to 14.
Lesson 11 was an extensive overview of the system of the Japanese counting system. As usual, the book gives it to you both barrels, stating that the topic is “of considerable complication and requires much sheer memory work.” There are then six pages of dense explanation.
This includes the traditional system of numbering years (according to the number of years since the Emperor came to the throne, when each “era” begins)).
There are extensive exercises to practise all the common “counter categories” used for counting different types of object (e.g. long and thin, round, ships, books, people…).
This would be totally overwhelming if I hadn’t already learned quite a lot about the basics of the system from Japanese from Zero.
I’d reiterate what I said about this course in the April Japanese learning update : if you’re an experienced language learner who likes explicit instruction and exercises, it’s great as a supplement to a more modern, user-friendly course (with audio).
Goals for June
It’ll be more of the same for me and Japanese in June. I’m still fired with energy and finding the language fascinating. I appreciate the reinforcement of running several courses in parallel, even though it means I’m moving through each relatively slowly.
The speaking will come…but there’s no rush. I don’t want to repeat what I did with Basque: tens of lessons one-to-one online when I was still only able to say the most basic things. With Japanese, I’d prefer to keep building the mental scaffolding of the language inside my head, learn more words and phrases and listen to them with my Assimil and Pimsleur course audio.
I welcome your thoughts and feedback on this Japanese learning update and the project overall. If you’re learning Japanese too, or you’ve already got fluent, I’d love to hear how you did it and what it means to you.