I’m now nine months into my learning basic Japanese project, just a week away from my arrival in Japan for the first time, to attend the Polyglot Conference…and to explore a bit too. This is my latest monthly report. It’s a brief one this time. Why? First, because, I’m on the road for a month (first Singapore and Hong Kong). Second, erm, because has been my least productive Japanese month so far. (This month’s video update is down at the bottom of this post.)
The basic routine I set myself when I began Japanese back in January was thirty minutes a day, seven days a week.
I’ve managed to meet or exceed that every month, until now. True to the spirit of full disclosure (not only when things are going swimmingly), here’s the September low-down in glorious technicolour:
Week 1 (Sunday 1st September): thirty minutes.
Week 2 (Monday 2nd September to Sunday 8th September): two-and-a-half hours (two days missed).
Week 3 (Monday 9th September to Sunday 15th September):
two-and-a-half hours (two days missed).
Week 4 (Monday 16th September to Sunday 21st September): one hour (five days missed).
Week 5 (Monday 22nd September to Sunday 29th September): no active study.
Week 6 (Monday 30th September): no active study.
Month Nine Total: 6 hours, thirty minutes over 12 days
Running total (1st January to 30th September): 166 hours 35 minutes
So, after a normal enough first half of the month, how come things collapsed completely in the second half of September?
What went wrong?
Well, nothing, really.
I was, simply, working flat out from Tuesday 17th until I took off for Singapore on Saturday 28th, researching and writing all the training talks, quizzes and workshops I’m delivering to colleagues in the law firm’s offices in Singapore and Hong Kong in the first two weeks of October.
It was stimulating work, but I was in the office till approaching midnight many times and working on over the weekend of 21/23rd September as well.
Then, with the time that was left, I was also busy making sure I had blog posts in advanced draft form for here in the site in for my month on the road and seven of the eight vids for the twice-a-week schedule on the YouTube channel.
When I sank back into my capacious Singapore Airlines business class seat (thanks airline and dear colleagues 🙂 ), there were only two things missing from the roster: this post and “This post: the Movie” (which I’ll shoot on my phone for the channel on Tuesday, and link below).
I’m actually writing this from a hotel room at Hong Kong airport. Due the unrest here, it hasn’t been possible for me to travel to the more central place I had booked. I’m hoping to get there tomorrow. Work at the office starts on Tuesday.
Resources in September
If you’ve been following this project, you’ll know that my core textbook has been Japanese from Zero, supplemented with the Assimil course (Le Japonais) and the Pimsleur audio course (levels two and three).
When I was planning back in January, I thought it was a suitably restrained goal to aim for an active command of language in the first three volumes of Japanese from Zero. The idea was to do one book every three months.
By “active command” I meant that I would be able to deploy the words and structures from memory for meaningful communication. (Of course, understanding the answers you get back is another matter….)
I fell behind with Japanese from Zero in April and only got into unit 4 of book three by the end of August but I was up to that point at least moving forward.
In September I have’t progressed any further. That was a deliberate decision.
Come the end of August, I didn’t feel that I was inwardly digesting the material, so all my focus in September (such as it was) went into making flashcards of words and phrases from JFZ and reviewing them (using spaced recall techniques).
Making flashcards takes a lot of time in itself (a reason why I haven’t used flashcards in my more recent language projects, of which Basque is the biggie). As a result during September, I only “carded” up the to second lesson of JFZ book 2.
Reviewing took place mainly on my daily commute to the office. That’s also a time when I could get some passive audio exposure to Japanese (Pimsleur) again (the time is not included in the totals above).
I also went through several chapters of Assimil for a second time (also not included in the totals above).
I didn’t have any one-to-one sessions with a native speaker in the end but I did exchange a few basic phrases with some Japanese lawyers I met at a business meeting, which went down well. No Basque lessons via Skype for me in September, either.
Keeping calm when you can’t carry on
How do you react when your plans are thrown off course by life?
Thing is, I’m not too phased. It’s bound to happen with any routine and my excuses aren’t weak. I know I’ve been putting in the hours over the last months (thanks to my language logging). I can feel some progress (ok, not as much as I’d like…but, still…). Plus, I have some firm “language anchors” (as I call them), in place (good materials, a regular slot, some accountability…). Thanks to the anchors, I’ll be able to hold firm till the “storm” is passed.
Reading and writing Japanese
In case you’ve stumbled on this post out of sequence and are wondering about my “script strategy”, here’s some background.
I leaned the two “kana” syllabaries within the first couple of months. So, when flashcarding, I have English on one side and the Japanese written just in one or the other syllabary on the other (broadly, the “hiragana” letters are used for native Japanese words and the “katakana” ones for loan words, including the huge number of recent borrowings from English).
Japanese also uses kanji, the Chinese characters. They are not phonetic. You have to learn both the meaning(s) of each character (Japanese high-school graduates are expected to know the 2,200 most common characters) then the and different combinations. Besides the “meanings” of the symbols, you have to learn the pronunciations. This is all a big task and, although I started trying to do this, I put it on hold in April. We’ll come back to the thorny topic of “script strategy” in another post.
In Singapore this year, I’ve been far more aware of just how much Japanese influence there is about and I’ve enjoyed deciphering signs written in kana (as, indeed, I was starting to do in London).
Final trip planning for Japan
I had already long booked the flights (arrival from Hong Kong on Saturday 12th October).
The Polyglot Conference is in the city of Fukuoka (on the southern island of Kyuusi). After nine nights there (two hotels), I’m moving travelling north for one night in Kyoto.
In early September, I finally got round to sorting out the final five nights in a hotel on the western edge of the district of Shinjuku (west central Tokyo).
Yes, it’s hotels all the way, for this trip. I gave up with Airbnb when researching the Fukuoka leg. The places all seemed to be very small. Many seemed to be hotels or guest houses rather than individual lets and few appeared to have a desk or even a decent table. It could be that I left it all to late booking accommodation.
The other bit of essential preparation was to buy a Japan Rail Pass, which covers all your rail travel on most trains (including all the bullet trains except some of the very fastest). It also covers some busses and things like the airport train in Tokyo. It’s for tourists only and you have to buy a money order before you arrive in Japan. This is then activated on arrival.
To month ten and beyond
The nine “official” months of this project are now over. I’m not setting any goals for the first two weeks of October because of work and, well, for the second two, it’s JAPAN! Once I get back to the UK, there’ll be time enough to reflect more fully on what I’ve done right and what I’ve done wrong. I’ll also be thinking about whether and how to take my Japanese forward for the next leg. Some of that will depend on my experiences of the land and its culture at first hand.
Look out for some reports from there….
Vlogging the trip….multilingually
Reports? Well, for one thing, you see, I made a spontaneous decision four days ago in Singapore was to vlog my whole trip in German, Russian and Basque over on the YouTube channel.
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Now, from the mean streets of Hong Kong (or, at least, a hipster coffee shop looking out into one) here’s this month’s video update…