I’m now just over four months into my current language project: learning Japanese. Here’s my April update. There’s a video update at the bottom of the post, too.
My target minimum focussed study time is half an hour of Japanese daily, seven days a week or, over nine months.
A “full house” total of 30 mins x 30 April days would be fifteen hours. My actual total was twenty hours and forty-five minutes.
Here’s how my learning Japanese study breaks down for month four:
Week 1 (Monday 1st April to Sunday 7th April): 3 hours, 50 minutes (every day YAY!).
Week 2 (Monday 8th April to Sunday 14th April): 5 hours, 35 minutes (one day missed).
Week 3 (Monday 15th April to Sunday 21st April): 5 hours, 45 minutes (every day YAY!).
Week 4 (Monday 22nd April to 28th April): 7 hours, 5 minutes (every day YAY!).
Week 5 (two day rump) (Monday 29th and Tuesday 30th April): 30 minutes (30th – missed).
Total: 20 hours 45 minutes (days) Running total: 83 hours 25 minutes.
My regularity was good. I only missed two days out of thirty, whereas in March I only managed twenty-one out of thirty one days.
All in all, I was pleased with how my focussed Japanese study habit shaped up in the fourth month of the year.
Main course: Japanese from Zero
At the beginning of the year I set myself the goal of being “on top” of the language taught in the first three volumes of the Japanese from Zero textbook series by the end of September.
I started to fall behind in March. I was supposed to finish JFZ Book One at the end of that month, but I didn’t do so until 9th April.
By a lucky coincidence, that was the day JFZ Book Two arrived in the post. I was so excited, I did my first “live” in the Howtogetfluent Language Learners’ Club Facebook Group.
Well, after all that excitement, it was down to work with JFZ 2.
To get back on target – and stay there – I would have needed to be at the end of lesson (chapter) four by the end of April.
Instead, I just finished the second lesson. So, I didn’t manage to make up any time (as I also hit Pimsleur this month – see below).
The first lesson of book 2 looks at the basic “existence verbs” いる (iru/to be – living things) and ある (aru/to be, inanimates) and revises the two tenses – present and past that we covered in Book 1. There’s some more about verb conjugation. In lesson two the focus was on prepositions; very useful!
JFZ book 1 taught the “hiragana” writing system. The second book gradually introduces the second syllabary, “katakana” (used mainly for loan words and foreign proper names). The two systems together are known as the “kana”. The “Chinese” characters, kanji, don’t appear until book three.
As you’ll know if you’ve been following these updates, I’ve already learned the kana using James Heisig’s Remembering the Kana. That said, I really benefitted from the reinforcement of the hiragana that came from JFZ1 and I’m looking forward to the same thing for the katakana thanks to JFZ2.
I didn’t use online Japanese from Zero (Yes Japan) audio in April. While the Book 1 materials are available free online, it’s USD8.99 a month for access to the other levels. I haven’t upgraded yet. I found the materials fun(ish) but I’m not really a funster when it comes to learning…(or much else 😉 ). I’ll maybe give it go in May.
Trying out the Pimsleur Japanese course
In March I joined my local library to get hold of Pimsleur Level One course. Part One A was loaned out so I took out the second part of Level 1 (Part One B, Level 1 Lessons 15 to 30) on some tatty CDs. That gathered dust on my shelf for several weeks as I awaited notification that my turn had come for Part One.
Then I called by the Library and was told that Part One A was missing. Hey ho!
Despite my nonchalance about the JFZ audio materials, I was, by mid April, crawling up the walls for want of some good audio.
I dived into the Pimsleur Part One B CDs.
I found the level ok, thanks to the work I’d already done with JFZ and Assimil.
Several of my polyglot friends are great fans of Pimsleur’s audio only approach. This is the first time I’ve tried a course and I’ve been really enjoying it so far.
Each lesson lasts just under thirty minutes and starts with a short exchange between a man and a women. The conversation is broken down. The narrator will briefly explains a new word or phrase. It’s not listen and repeat so much as listen and then respond to a prompt, including a lot of revision of language from earlier lessons. It thus gets you thinking and using the language you’ve just heard.
I’ll review the course in full at a later date but I just wanted to mention the use of “back chaining“. I’ve long been familiar this pro technique but never seen it in a course before. They get you constructing a word in reverse: ing….ing..ning…ning…aining….aining…chaining…chaining….chaining.
The theory of backchaining is that it’s best to start with the “landing point” at the end of the word. Plus, with each repetition you put the new element in the word first, where it’s harder to forget.
My plan is to continue to the end of Pimsleur Level 1 (i.e. finish the CDs in May and buy Level 2 (in digital format this time).
Assimil Le Japonais
Besides the Japanese from Zero books, I’m learning Japanese with the latest, French edition of Assimil’s Le japonais (earlier editions were called “Le japonais sans peine” (with ease, ohne Mühe). I did some physical flashcarding or the first three units in March.
I binged on Assimil when I was up at my dad’s place over Easter. I pushed through, rapid fire, to the end of Chapter 20, just reading and saying the answers to the exercises out loud. Just basic familiarisation with the material, really.
I really like the course and the only reason I haven’t done a lot more is my limited daily time allocation for Japanese.
I’ve noticed some things come up in Pimsleur that I’ve seen briefly in Assimil but not yet met and focussed on in JFZ. I think the cross-fertilisation across the three courses is helping me to notice and remember as I go.
Heisig’s Remembering the Kanji
James Heisig’s Remembering the Kanji is my go-to book for the “kana” characters.
I only worked on the kanji twice in April and covered characters 185 to 200 in the book (there are 2,200 in total). As I said in the March update, learning the characters is a completely different form of activity than anything I’ve done before in language learning and I enjoy working on the characters when I get to it.
In April, though, any additional time I have for the project went on Pimsleur audio rather than Assimil or Heisig.
As I said in the March review, I’m holding off on attempts to speak until I’ve got more of a foundation and plan to start some live conversational practice only after I’ve completed book 2.
Goals for Month Five
First, I want to keep defending my daily thirty minute “learning Japanese” JFZ slot as other priorities jostle (writing my talk for the Polyglot Gathering, blogging and vlogging, keeping at my intermediate Basque and completing work on my upcoming B1 German mentored self-study course….Oh and my day job at the law firm, too).
I still expect to do occasional dips into Heisig and Assimil. I’ll complete Level 1 Pimsleur, return the tatty CDs to Brixton Library and equip myself with a shiny digital download of Level 2. That’ll be my audio input sorted for May.
Let’s see how it goes!
If you’re a beginning learning Japanese, what course or method are you using and why? If you’ve already got further with the language, do you have tips for me and other beginners? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!
Here’s this month’s video update:
Other posts in this series: