I’m now over well over half way through my learning Japanese in nine months project. Now, I’m not foolhardy enough to try to learn the whole language in nine months. After all, I’m only setting aside thirty minutes a day, seven days a week of focussed study. No! The aim is simply to get as far as I can within these constraints. My reason to learn some basic Japanese now? A trip to Japan in October to attend the annual Polyglot Conference, which this year will be in the southern city of Fukuoka. Here’s my “end of month six” report on my progress with the language (with an update by video at the bottom of the post).
If I’d kept to plan in June, I’d have clocked up fifteen hours (30 mins x 30 days).
My actual total was, I’m afraid, only 11 hours, fifty-five minutes. I missed six days in all.
This was my worst month so far and the first when I’ve not met and exceeded the target.
Here’s the month six study breakdown:
Two day rump: Saturday 1st and Sunday 2nd Jun (both days missed)
Week 1 (Monday 3rd June to Sunday 9th June): three hours, forty-five minutes (one day missed).
Week 2 (Monday 10th June to Sunday 16th June): three hours, ten minutes (one day missed).
Week 3 (Monday 17th June to Sunday 23rd June): two hours, thirty minutes (one day missed).
Week 4 (Monday 24th June to Sunday 30th June): two hours, forty five minutes (one day missed).
Total: 11 hours, fifty-five minutes over 24 days.
Running total: 115 hours 30 minutes for the whole of the learning Japanese in nine months project, so far.
My excuses were, for the first weekend, that I was in Bratislava at the Polyglot Gathering. Then, for the next three weeks, it was full on with preparations and the launch of first round of my German course and was hugely time-consuming. Given both of these, maybe I did do badly not to fall even shorter of the (admittedly modest) daily target. Or maybe I should have been better organised.
Flight to Fukuoka
The trip really is happening! I fly in Fukuoka from Hong Kong on Saturday 12th October out of Tokyo to Singapore on Sunday 27th October.
I’ve had my ticket for the Polyglot Conference for months. It’s only in the last couple of weeks, though, that I’ve booked the flights. I was waiting to finalise the other legs of what will be a full month in the Far East. In Singapore and Hong Kong I’ll be busy training colleagues (I’m a lawyer by day).
Other than the Polyglot Conference on Friday 18th to Sunday 20th October, I have no itinerary within Japan planned yet. Any “must see” tips, please let me know in the comments below!
Working with Japanese from Zero
To provide a backbone to my learning Japanese in nine months project and aid focus, I’m sticking to one core resource, the course book series Japanese from Zero.
My project goal is an active command of language in the first three volumes of Japanese from Zero.
My intention was to complete one book every three months, so that the first three are done by the end of September but I started to fall behind in March and I didn’t compete volume 1 until the second week of April….
In June, as in May, I continued to work with JFZ 2 but I haven’t been able to catch up to the original target. Worse still, I’ve now fallen another full chapter behind.
Instead of completing Lesson Twelve (and hence the whole of volume two) by the end of June, I was still only part way in to Lesson Nine.
New language covered in the last month included vocabulary around Japanese family structure (Lesson Seven). This includes many specific words that we don’t have in English, such your wife or somebody else’s, older brother, younger brother, one’s own child, another’s child and so on).
Adjectives in Japanese have different endings in the positive and negative and, I now know, these also change in the past (Lesson Eight).
The biggest development in my grammar journey is starting to use the informal verb forms. Up to Lesson Nine, the course has taught the polite form.
Learning to read and write
Book Two of Japanese from Zero covers the “katakana”, the second of the two “syllabaries” (rather than alphabets) used in Japanese. “Hiragana” the main one, was taught in Book 1.
As you’ll already know if you’ve been following my progress, I learned both syllabaries in January using James Heisig’s Remembering the Kana book. So, the further work on them in Japanese from Zero is welcome consolidation rather than a complete introduction. I still find the memorable little mental images that Heisig creates very helpful for the katakana (they have “fallen away” like boosters from a rocket as I’ve got more practised in the hiragana).
Katakana is used mainly for loan words into Japanese and foreign proper names.
It can be difficult to recognise English words because Japanese adopts them to its standard syllable = consonant + vowel combination and does not have all the sounds that we have in English and so opts for the nearest one (“r” for “l” or “r”, for example).
So, I learned Rosangelesu for Los Angeles.
As well as such placenames, there have been a further steady-flow of off-the-wall English loan words coming up in the book:
ハムサンド hamusando = ham sandwich
ドライヤー doraiyaa = (hair) dryer
クレジトッカード kurejitokkaa-do = credit card
Isu en tu ja pa ne zu am ai zin gu?
Blowing the dust off my flashcards
The main development in month six was the return of flashcards to my language learning arsenal.
With Basque, I haven’t attempted vocab rote learning at all. The result has been much slower progress, relying on dint of accidental rather than planned, deliberate repetition.
For me, that has been slow and has felt very sub optimal. Conscious effort to recall seems for me to be most efficient way of getting off the ground. I’m really aware that I’m not internalising much of each lesson of Japanese from Zero as I go.
How helpful I’ve found flashcards really came back into focus for me when I was reflecting on my language learning history in the Dr Popkins Method series here on the site.
At the beginning of the Japanese project I did start to use the electronic flashcard app Anki systematically. I’d tried Anki with Basque a couple of years ago but gave up quite soon.
The same has happened again this time.
I have to say, I find Anki very user unfriendly.
Fans say it’s worth learning about its functionality and I’m not in the business of challenging that. I have come further than the first time round. I’d go so far as to say I’d give it a go if I was learning a new language written in Latin script.
I’ve got far enough to be able to create Anki cards hiragana and katakana or in kanji, though was still challenged by some aspects of adding furigana to flashcards (small hiragana written above kanji characters to show how they are pronounced).
Not that I wouldn’t work it out eventually. It just didn’t seem worth the effort at this stage.
Yes, I could download a ready-made decks (sets of e-cards) and that may be something I’ll try in future.
For the moment, though, mainly, I just felt I wanted to get off the phone.
It’s true that making the flashcards takes time (as does making your own Anki decks).
It’s not perhaps the most efficient way forward, but I’m telling myself that creating something hand written is a first go at “elaboration” with the material. I’m making the vocab my own.
The other approach for systematic vocab learning would be the gold list method and that, again, is something I may come back to later in this project.
For now, I’m enjoying the portability of the cards and using them on my commute when I want a break from the Pimsleur audio (see below).
Other resources: Heisig’s Remembering the Kanji and Assimil Le Japonais
The third system used in Japanese writing “Chinese” characters, kanji, don’t appear until book three. If you’ve been following my project from the beginning, you’ll know that I started learning the kanji as well, using Heisig’s Remembering the Kanji but, by month five, work on this had more or less ground to a halt.
I did no more work on them in month six.
They are fascinating and I have been enjoying working with Heisig’s book.
That said, in the time I’m willing to set aside for this project, the priority is learning to listen and speak.
My plan is currently to tackle the kanji as a new project, after my trip to Japan.
I didn’t use Assimil’s Le Japanese in Month Six either but expect to come back to it before my departure.
Continuing with Pimsleur Japanese course
Although there are audio files for Japanese from Zero available online, I didn’t find them appealing and haven’t used them for several months.
Good listening practice is crucial and so I had kitted myself out with several levels of the Pimsleur audio-only course.
I had already Level 1 part B (as CDs) and made a start on Level 2 (as an app on my phone) in Month Five. In Month Six I completed Level 2.
I listened either while jogging or on the commute to work. That’s maybe seven or eight additional hours of listening practice that is not included in my totals above.
Pimsleur was my only audio exposure. I do have the audio to the Assimil book, though, and will certainly go back to that.
What about other audio and video?
Ideally I would be listening to a lot of the free videos on YouTube, before you even turn to the wealth of paid material accessible via platforms such as NetFlix. Working with subtitles, transcripts. There are all sorts of options.
The issue has been opportunity cost in the time available. Using Pimsleur on my jog and commute has ousted Basque listening and German reading. It’s all about choices and balance.
Goals for Month Seven
The next update will be at the end of month seven (July) at the latest. By the end of the month I hope to have begun Japanese from Zero Book Three and maybe even closed some of the lost ground. In addition, I want do have done some reviewing of Pimsleur Level One (Part 2) and Level Two. I also have the CDs for Level One (Part A), which I may listen to for consolidation of the basics.
I may update earlier as I’ll have more free time for a month beginning mid-July. My annual unpaid sabbatical from the office is coming round again. If I decide to give it some more gas with Japanese from mid July,, then you’ll be the first to know.
If you are learning Japanese or have done so, let me know how you’re going dand do share any resources or recommendations in the comments below.
Other posts in this series:
New Project: Learning Japanese
Learning Japanese: month 1 update
Learning Japanese: month 2 update
Learning Japanese: month 3 update
Learning Japanese: month 4 update
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