For over a year now, I’ve been sharing my no-hype, “no magic method” account of my attempts at learning Japanese through self study. Although I haven’t reported back since I got back from my first visit to Japan, I’ve been keeping going with my study routine. This post marks the long-overdue resumption of my monthly language learning updates here on the site. There’s a “Month 15” video update down at the bottom.
My learning Japanese study routine and approach
Since I began Japanese, the routine has been thirty minutes focussed study daily,. I’ve aimed to do this at least five days a week.
As to approach, I have been holding off speaking and listening as I seek to get a grasp of the sounds of the language, the basic structures and a core vocabulary first.
This is a rather different from my way into the last language I began in earnest: Basque. When I started with that, I went more for “speak from Day One”. I’m still actively engaged with Basque too: mainly weekly conversation practice and native-level talk radio, but more on that another time.
If you’ve been following the Japanese project, you’ll know that I’m using the Japanese from Zero textbook to provide structure and pace to my efforts and I that I also have a secondary course book: the Assimil book Le Japonais.
Study breakdown: Months 10 to 15
Before I hit the road for Asia in the middle of month nine (September 2020), I had clocked 166 hours and thirty five minutes working with these two books (overwhelmingly Japanese from Zero).
Here’s an update of the amount of focussed study I’ve done since then:
October 2019: on the road. No study.
November 2019: studied on 11 days. Total: 5 hours fifty-five minutes.
December 2019: studied on 16 days. Total: 8 hours, fifteen minutes.
January 2020: studied on 22 days. Total: 15 hours and five minutes.
February 2020: studied on 19 days. Total: 10 hours, fifty-five minutes.
March 2020: studied on 23 days. 13 hours 45 minutes.
Running total (1st January 2019 to 27th March 2020): 220 hours, 40 mins
Working with Japanese from Zero
My original project goal was an active command of language in the first three volumes of the Japanese from Zero textbook. Before I went away in September, I’d nearly finished Lesson 3 of Book 3 (which contains thirteen lessons).
I didn’t get as far as hoped for two reasons.
First, when I got about halfway through the first Japanese from Zero book, I did some doubling-back to underpin my work.
Second, Book Three begins to teach the kanji, the “Chinese” characters, which are by far the most complex part of writing in Japanese. That really slows things down.
At the end of month fifteen (March 2020) I have just finished Japanese from Zero 3, Lesson Eight.
Since my distant last report, I’ve covered various new structures: reported speech using と (to say what somebody is thinking or sayiing), the ています form of the verbs (to express actions that are currently taking place or ongoing), some more new “counter” words and how various useful verbs are used. There are six new kanji in every lesson, so 48 so far (most of which I’d already met in Heisig (see below)).
A few months into the project, despite repeating some JFZ units, I felt that I simply wasn’t retaining enough of the material covered needed to spend more time actively doing spaced recall training using home-made flash cards of words and phrases from Japanese from Zero. I found flashcarding hugely helpful to get me “into orbit” with Welsh, French, Russian and German. I hadn’t used the method for Basque at all though.
I’m using cardboard cards (rather than an electronic equivalent such as Anki or Quizlet).
So far, I’ve only flashcarded the whole of Japanese from Zero One. Making flashcards takes time (not included in any of my Japanese hour totals, above).
Just like before my trip to Japan, I’ve been reviewing the flashcards on the underground train when I commute to the office. I haven’t included any of that time in the totals above.
It’s the second week of coronavirus semi lockdown in London as I write this. No more commute time for now!
Spending more time with Assimil’s Le japonais
In February and March, I’ve been spending a lot more time using Assimil’s Le japonais. That’s another thing that’s slowed down my progress with Japanese from Zero.
By the end of Month 8, I’d already done a light work through the first twenty or so of the one hundred Assimil lessons and done some flashcarding of phrases from the earlier units.
Now I am on lesson thirty.
As to how I’m using the course, I’ve recently been focussing mainly doing dictation exercises with the MP3 audio from each new lesson and then checking against the transcript. Plus, I use the parallel translation into French to unlock the Japanese that I don’t understand.
Assimil obviously mainly introduces more of less the high-frequency words and structures covered in Japanese from Zero. It does so, of course, in a different order and from a different angle. That helps prepare the ground for JFZ (when I hit the material in Assimil first) or reinforce the material (if I come across it in JFZ first).
On the run with the Pimsleur Japanese audio course
I originally started to use the Pimsleur audio course because the Japanese from Zero books don’t come with audio. There’s some for free on the series website (YesJapan) but I didn’t like the interface.
Each Pimsleur lesson is thirty minutes. Following a short conversation, it’s prompt and respond. For maximum effect, you’re supposed to do one lesson a day. Each “level” has thirty lessons and there are five levels. I started with the second half of Level One. Since then I’ve completed Level Two and Level Three. I’ve listened to many of the lessons several times.
I haven’t been sitting down for thirty focussed minutes listening, though.
Instead, I have the course on through the earbuds when jogging. That’s thirty minutes or so, two or three times a week. I also listen on the walk to and from the underground station when I’m commuting to the office. That’s maybe an hour’s listening time in total in a week). I haven’t included this exposure in the study totals above.
I’ve bought Pimsleur Level Four, but I haven’t started it yet.
Another “new” Japanese course
There’s a real risk that having too many materials can dilute focus. In Japan I did buy some more language books mainly “out of interest” and for future use. None of these books are complete courses, though. Rather, they focus variously on vocab building, common phrases and patterns or innovative grammar presentations and several seem to me to be pretty cutting edge.
I’ve just bought another complete course though. It’s a British one and it’s far from cutting edge.
It’s a 1970s unrevised reprint of the first ever version of Teach Yourself Japanese, from 1958. It’s almost a pure grammar-translation textbook. It doesn’t teach Japanese writing at all, with everything transliterated. There are thirty chapters of grammar explanations and two-way translation exercises with answers. In a concession to conversation, though, there are twelve conversation transcripts (including parallel translations) at the back. There’s no audio (though Linguaphone did publish records for the course back in the day).
Unlike my other two course books, this one has an index (wow!) so it’s great for reference when I need a little more explanation and that’s how I’ve mainly been using it so far.
I’d like to do more with it, though….
The writing question
If you’ve been following the project, you may recall that I was initially learning the kanji characters from James Heisig’s classic book Remembering the Kanji. All of the 2,200 that Japanese children need to know to graduate from high school are included in the book. I put that project on hold at the end of month five. By that stage, I’d done a “quick and dirty” on 200 of the characters.
The reason for the pause was making a priority of learning core words, phrases and patterns in the thirty minutes a day that I was setting aside.
My plan for 2020 was to hit the kanji big time. That only lasted a couple of weeks in January, simply because I’ve keep the thirty minutes a day study slot so the previous time/ambition tension remained unresolved (doh!).
Given my current short slots, I’ve decided to stay with my priorities of focussing on the core vocab and getting a map of the patterns of the language into my head.
The only kanji I’ll be learning for the rest of this year are the ones from JFZ3 (eighty characters) and JFZ4 (if I move onto that book).
Goals for April
I’m now resuming monthly updates here on the site, so I need to get you guys keeping me accountable.
For April, my goal is simply to continue on my current track. I want to maintain my thirty minutes a day, five days a week focussed study slot as a minimum.
I’ll continue to work with Japanese from Zero. That’s to say, I’ll be moving slowly forward through Book 3 but also keep reviewing the flashcards for Book 1. I also want to create and begin reviewing flashcards for as much of Book 2 as I can.
There’ll be more dictation exercises with Assimil and some flashcarding of the content there as well.
I’m going to try and set aside a second half hour “satellite slot” to replace my lost commute (when I used to review flashcards).
I’ve listened a second (and even third) time to a lot of Pimsleur Level 3 a lot, so it’s time to move into Level 4 on my runs (so long as we are permitted to leave the house). T
Finally, I’d like to work through some of the early lessons of the old Teach Yourself Japanese for some old school explicit instruction and some two-way translation practice.
That then is that plan. Now: over to you! If you’re a self study Japanese learner, how’s it going? Are you doing things differently? If you’ve already learned how did YOU get fluent? Did you use different books, no books at all, did you take classes? We’d all love to hear in the comments below!
Here’s my video update:
I’m still learning Japanese – February ’21 was month 26. Here’s a link to the latest update”