I’m now just over three months into my new language project: learning basic Japanese in nine months. Here’s an update of how it went in March (with the update vid down at the bottom).
My target minimum focussed study time is half an hour a Japanese daily, seven days a week or, over nine months.
The month in figures: my Japanese study log
Thirty minutes a day for March would amount to fifteen and a half hours. My actual total was nineteen hours and forty minutes. I’m glad that I came in over quota. However, this was thanks to a strong first half of month.
Here’s how my study breaks down:
Week 1 (Friday 1st March to Sunday 10th March): 6 hours, 45 minutes (missed three days).
Week 2 (Monday 11th March to Sunday 17th March): 7 hours, 55 minutes (every day YAY!).
Week 3 (Monday 18th March to Sunday 24th March): 3 hours, 45 minutes (missed three days).
Week 4 (Monday 25th March to Sunday 31st March): 1 hour 45 minutes (missed four days).
Total: 19 hours 40 minutes (days) . Running total (3 months): 62 hours 40 minutes.
Before we get any further, in comparing my hours with February, I’ve noticed a really freaky thing. The days of the week of each date in March are the same as in February. Does this happen often? Anyone out there with the maths to tell me?
My regularity record for March was not so good. I studied on twenty-one days of the month’s thirty-one .
That’s my worst so far.
My excuses? The third week was a heavy one in the office. For the fourth week I travelled to Berlin where I was busy working on my upcoming German mentored course and attending a conference.
Time trade offs and technical woe time wasters
One morning in the beginnig of the month I spent a whole two hours trying to work out how to use make flashcards on the Anki spaced repetition app including not only kana (the two native Japanese writing systems) but also the kanji (Chinese characters) with the pronunciation written above in tiny kana (when the kana appear this way, they are called “furigana”.
I couldn’t solve the problem. I found various YouTube explanations but none helped me crack it for English on the front, Japanese with furigana on the back. I’ll have to go back to this. I am enjoying using Anki on my commute but it really isn’t a user-friendly app if you’re not a computer geek experienced in coding and are trying to do something none standard.
To spin that a positive way: it’s an app with a lot of custom functionality if you’re prepared to invest the time to understand it.
Invest the time, invest the time…. So much of learning in all spheres boils down to this. It’s always a trade-off, though, isn’t it?
Now I’m using anki to review Japanese vocab on the commute, I’m no longer doing twenty minutes or so of native-level German reading per day. Cue a “Quick Tip Tuesday” video:
Main textbook: Japanese from Zero 1
At the end of February I correctly surmised that I’d I have my work cut out to reach my target and finish book one in the four-book Japanese from Zero series. My goal by the end of September is to be in active command of the contents of the first three volumes.
In the end, I only got to the end of Lesson 11 of 12 with hardly any reviewing of previous chapters.
Lessons 8 and 9 were quite challenging covered dates and related festival and time expressions, days of the week and months of the year. Here and in Lesson 11, more counting systems were introduced. You have to learn the words for “one to ten” several times over in Japanese, for use depending on the object counted).
Lesson 10 was focussed on how to ask for things at a shop or in a restaurant, Lesson 12 introduced the (relatively simple, it seems) Japanese verb system with just four common verbs.
I’m doing a lot of the exercises on paper and finding that I sometimes need to check the stroke order of the hiragana. I do feel on top of the syllable assigned to each symbol, though. In Unit 10 the last step with the hiragana was introduced: compound hiragana.
These are all combinations of other hiragana ending in -i (consonant + i), followed by a shrunken hiragana for ya, yu, or yo (ゃ, ゅ or ょ respectively). This changes the i vowel sound to a glide (palatalisation) to a, u or o. So, き (ki) plus ゃ (small ya) gives us きゃ (kya).
Compound hiragana are, bizarrely, not covered in Heisig’s Remembering the Kana.
I’ve noticed that reading the hiragana is getting easier with practice, though don’t just hear the sound in my head without thinking yet when I see a symbol like I would with Latin or Cyrillic script.
The katakana forms are not taught actively in JFZ but they are included in the vocab lists next to the word in Latin letters (rōmanji). As I’ve worked through them already in Remembering the Kana, I am paying attention to words written in them and also writing them when they come up in the exercises. I’m still shaky on quite a few, though. I’m glad they are covered in detail in Japanese from Zero 2.
So, the month finished with one more Unit to cover and I am a long way from having properly internalised all the structures and vocabulary from all the units. I keep pressing on, though. My reviewing is inadequate at the moment but some of this is taken care of by the design of the book, as things covered earlier crop up in texts and exercises in subsequent chapters (though not nearly enough – that’s too much to ask from any textbook writer… The onus has to be on us, the learners to interact actively with the material.
Library woes…..Still no Pimsleur
A goal for March was to get hold of the first part of Pimsleur course at last (and maybe start listening to that when I’m out jogging, for example). I joined my local library expressly for this purpose and took out the second part of the course (part 1B) on some tatty CDs. Four weeks on, I’m still waiting for notification that the first CDs have become available, so I might either crack and just buy the MP2 downloads or dive straight into part 1B).
What about Assimil Le japonais?
At the end of February I said that I wanted to start working more systematically through Assimil’s Le japonais (“sans peine” as the earlier editions of the book were called). I have done some work from the early units and some physical flashcarding, but still not much.
Heisig’s Remembering the Kanji
At the end of last month I also said that I wanted to keep it more regular with Remembering the Kanji. In the end, though, I only worked on the kanji on three days this month. I do enjoy it when I get to it. It’s a completely different form of activity than anything I’ve done before in language learning.
Still no speaking
When I started Basque and Icelandic it was “speak from Day 1”. This time, I’m holding off having italki conversation practice sessions until much later, to compare approaches. My current plan is to splutter into life after I’ve completed JFZ book 2. That should be at the beginning of July.
Goals for Month Four: Sticking to the approach?
In an ideal world, I think I’d be doing ninety minutes a day with a 30/30/30 JFZ/Assimil/RTK focussed study routine, plus listening to Pimsleur on my jog or around the house (again, at the expense of the extensive Basque listening I’m doing at the moment).
In reality, given the other things I’ve got on, it’s still only thirty minutes a day. I see real advantages in a “second” or “third” take from Assimil and Pimsleur, though and I’ll be working with them in snatches, at least. The reality is though, with this time commitment, it’s mainly just Japanese from Zero. That’s ok because it gives system and direction to my momentum. At the time of writing, JFZ Book 2 is on order. In April I want to finish Book One and do the first four chapters of Book Two.
Any other beginner Japanese Students using JFZ out there? What do you think of the course? Are you using other materials that you prefer? Are you speaking from “day one” and are you learning the writing system as you go? Let me know in the comments below. (PS: I’ll add a video update on Tuesday).
Other posts in this series: