I started learning Japanese at the beginning of 2019. The language fascinatingly different from any language I’ve studied before. I visited Japan for the first time in October 2019. The trip was wonderful, a source of yet more inspiration to continue with the language. It’s several months since my last progress report and here’s an update on how it’s been going, my methods, materials and mood. Video update down at the bottom of this post.
Language learning log: November through February
Since November 2019, my aim has been to put in at least thirty minutes of focussed study and practice, at least five times a week and by the end of October, I’d clocked up a total of 352 hours, 5 minutes.
November 2020: 20 hours, ten minutes over 25 days.
December 2020: 17 hours, twenty-five minutes over 20 days.
January 2021: 18 hours, five minutes, over 24 days.
February 2021: 10 hours, forty-five minutes over 20 days.
Running total (1st January 2019 to 28th February 2021): 418 hours
My approach to learning Japanese
I am delaying serious speaking practice until I’ve internalised the basic grammar patterns and a core vocabulary of a couple of thousand words….which is taking me rather longer than anticipated!
In summer 2020 I did have a number of one-to-one lessons with several teachers booked over italki.com just to “break the ice” with speaking and to try out what I’d learnt.
In a previous post here on the blog I explored the question “How soon should you speak your new language?”. I think it depends on your personality and how you like to engage with the language. But remember, engage, you must, and actively. And, if you want to speak, you have to practise speaking a lot.
After the first four months I decided to put a full frontal attack on the kanji (Chinese characters used in written Japanese) on hold and since then have just worked further on the 80 of them introduced in one of my course books.
Japanese writing is a combination of kanji characters and two other systems called hiragana and two other systems called hiragana and katakana (together, the kana), which are MUCH less work to master than kanji. I learned them during the first few weeks of my study.
As usual in my language learning, group classes don’t play a large role (no role actually, so far, with Japanese). No, my engagement has mainly come from following a number of self-study courses in parallel.
I don’t just passively read the course materials and listen to the audio. I make my study “interactive” using several methods:
- developing my listening skills through dictation
- using the shadowing method to practice the pronunciation and rhythm of Japanese
- doing self-correct exercises (either writing in kana and, where I can, kanji or orally my phone’s voice recorder – a new development for me, with the Colloquial Japanese exercises)
- flashcarding sentence patterns and vocabulary using a mixture of the electronic flashcard app Anki and good old paper flashcards
Turning to the courses…..
Japanese from Zero : on hold
At the end of October I finished the third in the Japanese from Zero textbook series I decided that I was more than ready for a break from the series, so I haven’t moved on to book four (there are five in all).
Assimil Le japonais
I’ve also been working with Assimil Le japonais from early in my journey.
By the end of October, Id worked pretty thoroughly through 44 of the 98 lessons. Since then I have dipped in and out of the first 44 lessons in an unsystematic way. I’ve redone some of the exercises, read the lessons passively, done some dictations and also learned several of the dialogues by heart.
Pimsleur audio course
Pimsleur Conversational Japanese is a five-level, audio only course.
In June I completed Level Four (of Five), Lessons 23 and 24 (of 30). As I put the course on hold in the summer and early autumn of last year.
Beginning in early November, I started fitting a 30 minute Pimsleur lesson in again on my daily, alternate run or walk in the park. I completed level Four and worked through the whole of Level Five.
Now (early March) I have doubled back to Level Two and have redone to the end of Lesson Fifteen.
I have to say, I feel I’m getting much more out of Pimsleur second time round, when I “know” nearly all of what I’m hearing. It’s working really well for consolidating feeling for the sound of the language, the sentence patterns and vocab.
Teach Yourself Japanese
Between late March and early August 2020 I worked thoroughly through the first 19 of the 30 lessons in the very old version of Teach Yourself Japanese by C J Dunn and S Yanada (1958, reprinted 1971).
Since then, I’ve done some the odd dictation exercise (one of my teachers recorded many of the Japanese example sentences for me). I’ve used the book for reference and plan to use it a lot more in the coming months.
In my last review (early Nov) I said that my focus would be Colloquial Japanese by H D B Clarke and Motoko Hamamura (1987 reprint of 1981 edition).
That’s what happened and this book (with the audio) became my main resource for this latest learning phase.
From the end of October to the end of February I worked thoroughly through 18 of the 20 lessons in the book (including working with the audio).
Much of the grammar and vocab was repetition and consolidation for me but in the latter units there were also new things such as the verb form -tara (if), the passive and the causative tenses and a lot of “modal” structures (must, should…).
The final two lessons of the book focus on honorific speech and brusque speech, both of which are much less needed for foreign learners so I will leave those for now.
Two new courses
I’ve picked up two new courses (the way one does….) They are Beginner’s Japanese by Joanne Redmond (Hippocrene Books, MP3 audio available online) and Olly Richard’s Japanese Uncovered (online twenty lesson course).
Four courses is already more that I’d recommend any “normal” student to use. But I’ve written myself a free pass in my capacity as a course builder, reviewer, language teacher and blogger 😉 It goes with the territory to try things out and compere methods and approaches….
Increased emphasis on listening practice
I said in November that in early 2021 I hoped to start getting more listening practice with wider range of audio.
Now I feel ready. I can already pick out many individual words (including ones I recognise but can’t remember what they mean) and snippets of familiar phrases (again, whether or not I can remember what they mean).
Since the beginning of February, I’ve been aiming to sit and listen to Japanese for at least fifteen minutes more or less every day. I’ve made time for the daily listening practice by using the fifteen minutes or so I typically spend watching YouTube anyway (in other languages) over my after lunch coffee.
My listening material falls into two groups:
First, material aimed at learners:
- Thinking in Japanese podcast
- Nihongo con Tepei podcast
- The Real Japanese podcast
- Japanese with Shun podcast
- Easy Japanese (also a podcast)
- Olly Richard’s Japanese Conversations
Second “authentic” (i.e. native level) material:
- NHK news (bulletins available as podcasts)
- YouTube channels aimed at natives
I’ve found several travel/daily slice of life vlog channels and also a channel about photography and videography.
I’ve been listening in a semi-active way: attentive but not rewinding, not working with transcripts to use dictation and certainly not trying to pull out words and phrases to learn.
The idea at this stage has been simply to get some general exposure to the sound of the language at natural. Colloquial audio and Pimsleur feel more or less natural speed as well; At lesson 44 of 98, Assimil has speeded up from the earliest lessons but is still slower than natural). Understanding something is almost a bonus at this stage.
Goals for the first half of 2021
During the first half of this year, I want to keep continue the core of my Japanese learning will continue to happen during my thirty minutes focussed study slots, at least five days a week.
The aim will be to continue to work on the main grammar patterns and build core vocab, either consolidating those I already feel I can use or internalising those I’m still not sure of.
There are three things I want to do:
Consolidate the basic grammar and vocab
By the end of June main aim is to feel I have an active command of the material in the first eighteen lessons (of twenty) of Colloquial Japanese and at least the first twenty lessons (of thirty) of Teach Yourself Japanese and the first half of the Assimil book (50 lessons of 98).
So I’ll be going back and forth through that material as interactively as possible.
I’ll reinforce further by dipping in and out of the Assimil Course and Japanese from Zero.
Get further listening practice
I’ll continue my second run through Pimsleur on my jog and the after lunch listening that I started in February (podcasts and YouTube).
Third, I want to try to fit in some work with Beginner’s Japanese and Japanese Uncovered….Not sure whether I’ll make the time for that yet.
At the moment, I envisage getting speaking practice in July and onwards (regular one-to-ones booked over italki.com).
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!
Next posts in this series:
(Note end January 2023: I’m still very actively learning Japanese. New update soon!)