July was a big month in my Japanese journey: I started speaking Japanese with a teacher. During the month I had with six one-to-one conversational sessions online. In this latest monthly update on my Project Japanese, I’ll tell you all about that in the context of my wider efforts to learn the language (also as a vid at the bottom of this post).
I started learning the language eighteen months ago in advance of my first visit to Japan (last October). In Japan, I certainly had a lot of “orientation” in the language, but didn’t say very much beyond the absolute basics.
The way I’ve been learning Japanese is in many ways typical of the approach I took to get fluent in Welsh, French, Russian and German: slow but steady conscious study, deliberate vocab building and a lot of listening practice.
As usual, I like have a focussed study slot, daily where possible. For Japanese in recent months it’s been thirty minutes a day at least five days a week.
Month 19: week-by-week log
I managed at least thirty minutes on twenty-six days of July.
Here’s the month’s breakdown:
Week 1 (Wednesday 1st July to Sunday 5th July): 1 hour, thirty minutes (missed two days).
Week 2 (Monday 6th July to Sunday 12 July): 4 hours, thirty minutes (studied every day).
Week 3 (Monday 13th July to Sunday 19th July):
3 hours, thirty minutes (missed three days).
Week 4 (Monday 20th July to Sunday 26th July): 7 hours, forty minutes (studied every day).
Week 5 (Monday 27th July to Friday 31st June): 2 hours (studied every day)
July 2020 Total: 19 hours, ten minutes over 26 days (so averaging about forty-four minutes a day, on those 26 days).
Running total (1st January 2019 to 31st July 2020): 299 hours, 30 minutes
When to start speaking Japanese?
I’ve just mentioned key components of my approach to language learning but I experiment with different approaches and methods as well.
One “moving part” has been how early I start speaking.
With Basque, I put a lot of emphasis on speaking from day one.
With Japanese, I’ve once again delayed speaking, which is a return to my previous approach. The reasoning was that I was spending a lot of time (and money) in the early years of my Basque journey, saying very basic things over and over again because I didn’t have enough vocab or patterns to do much more.
Why I started speaking Japanese in July
Towards the end of June I heard that my friend John Fotheringham of Language Mastery was running a new “Japanese Accelerator” programme for the month of July. The aim of the “Accelerator” was to get beginner to lower intermediate students of Japanese actually speaking the language.
I got to know John personally a couple of years ago (and then had him as a guest on the Howtogetfluent YouTube channel).
But before that I already know how big an expert he is on learning Japanese and how good his material is, as I’d been a regular reader of his blog and a podcast listener and I’d already bought his Japanese Mastery book.
So, I thought “why not now”? Let’s see how John runs this and spice things up a little in my Japanese journey.
The four “Japanese Accelerator” conversation challenges
In Week One our task was to work up a brief “self introduction” script and have a one-to-one session with a teacher. We were to use the session to have our self introduction corrected and to get the teacher to record it for us. Then we used the recording for practise before posting a recording in the Accelerator Facebook Group of us saying our spiel.
Here’s my attempt from my corrected script (full disclosure: it took about 40 takes for me to memorise it off to this level).
In Week Two we had to book another session with a different teacher.
Our task was to stay in Japanese for at least five minutes and to have a conversation based on our week one self introduction and using some high-frequency phrases to keep the conversation moving.
For this, John provided us with a list of high frequency “getting to know you” questions (e.g. What’s your name? おなめはなんですか; What is your hometown? どちらのしょっしんですか; Where do you work? どこではたらいていますか and so on), fillers and connectors (e.g. that’s correct/right そうそう ; of course もちろん; well さあ)(I covered strategies like using fillers and connectors a few months ago in a post here on the site on how to sound more fluent).
In Week Three we had to book a further two sessions and have two 10 minute conversations. The challenge was to practising the same material and questions but using additional questions and phrases to talk to the tutors about their family and hobbies as well.
In Week Four we had to find three more tutors and have three ten minute+ conversations.
As well as repeating the basic self-introduction and questions about them, we had to prepare sentences on three topics in advance. One for each session. I chose two of my hobbies (gardening and, erm language learning) and the COVID-19 crisis (keep things cheerful, eh?).
In sessions two to six I stayed in Japanese for thirty minutes (some of the lessons were one-hour slots and I did switch to English for the last ten minutes or so sometimes).
I was at a very basic me-Tarzan, you-Jane sort of level but it was really exciting to get speaking for the first time.
It was useful to work up a number of mini “islands of fluency” (bespoke topics in which you feel confident to say something). It was great to “test drive” six different teachers. The idea of that was to find people you “clicked” with for the future. John encouraged us to find teachers of the same gender (because Japanese language is very gendered and you probably don’t want to end up sounding like a boy/girl if you’re not).
I was lucky with my teacher choices. They were all native speakers (not actually that important at this level), patient and encouraging and I could see myself working with any of them on an ongoing basis.
Without the Accelerator, I’d probably have continued building up my word and grammar pattern power for several more months.
From an efficiency perspective, that may also have made sense for somebody who’s highly motivated, good at efficient focussed study and who isn’t going to fall into the trap of postponing speaking just because of a reluctance to have a go.
I’m very glad I got started. The Accelerator injected some variety into my efforts. The weekly group Zoom calls with John and the other participants gave me a bit of “community” in my language learning. It was great, too to be really “doing Japanese”.
From now, I plan to continue include one-to-one practice sessions in my routine. More about that in a minute.
First, a quick look at what else went on on this project in July.
Focussed Japanese study with my usual course materials
My main course book is Japanese from Zero. It’s a five volume course and at the end of June I’d finished Lesson 11 (of 13) of Book Three. In July, due to work in the “Accelerator”, I put Japanese from Zero on hold and didn’t work with it at all.
My complementary course is Assimil’s Le japonais
In June I’d worked thoroughly through the first 37 lessons (of 98). I didn’t break any new ground in July but I did quite a bit of review of earlier lessons (and re-doing the exercises in my head). This action took place in bed (either on waking in a morning or last thing at night).
Pimsleur’s Conversational Japanese is a five-level, audio only course. In June I completed Level Four (of Five), Lessons 23 and 24 (of 30). I didn’t use the course at all in July. All my listening time on my thirty- to forty-minute daily runs and walks went on Basque. That’s great for my Basque but not at all ideal for Japanese.
I do intend to get back to Pimsleur Level Four, when I can fit it in. I’ve got Level Five lined up ready, too.
Since April, I’ve also been working with the original version of Teach Yourself Japanese (C J Dunn and S Yanada) (1958, reprinted 1971). It’s a dated course but useful if you like detailed explanations and lots of two-way translation exercises.
In July I worked through the whole of Lesson 17 (out of 30) and started Lesson 18.
Goals for August
In August, John invited Accelerator participants to enrol in his new ongoing Japanese Academy School which is an expansion of the “Accelerator” concept (and also replaces it).
I’ve joined with the intention of giving it a further go for a few months and that will mean more sessions speaking Japanese with a teacher coming right down the track.
I certainly felt that I got more out of the Accelerator thanks to my previous focussed study and I’ll be trying to juggle building out my word and pattern power in my usual focussed study slots with a new weekly “Japanese Academy” speaking challenge.
The Academy speaking challenges similar to those in the Accelerator but on different themes. The first, for August, is Japanese cuisine.
Watch this space to see how things go from here.
By the way, you can check out John’s Master Japanese guide. I’ve partnered with him as an affiliate, so if you buy it with my link, it will benefit my work here at the site, at no extra cost to you. You can check out the offer here:
Are you a beginning Japanese learner? Have you started speaking yet? If you’re an older hand, how soon did you start speaking? What were the challenges, what were the rewards? Let me know in the comments below!
And finally, for those of you who like your blogs as videos, here goes 🙂 :