Blog 1: Japanese – a new beginning


Welcome to the first of what I hope to be many, many, many blogs on my Japanese language blog journey!

Firstly, let’s get into what I knew about Japanese before I started this blog, and then I can go over what I’ve been learning recently.

The Backstory

So! 9 years ago (2009) I married my Japanese wife, and she was able to get me to Japanese language fluency in 12 days.

…Well, actually, that isn’t quite true! Having a spouse teaching you a language doesn’t work out so well. Of course, my wife has helped me with pronouncing words, or correcting me on phrases; but sitting down and learning the language with my wife was never really going to happen. Instead I began learning Japanese on my own. Initially, most of what I learnt was basic communicative phrases and words which would be useful at a Japanese market to buy some fried chicken. I learned the number system, and was shocked to find that there are variations when it comes to actually counting things. I also learned basic words for foods, animals, colours, etc.

First Classes

Going forward to about 2010, I started my undergrad, and began taking lessons from a native Japanese friend teaching Japanese as a side job. She was very organised with her lessons, but I was struggling to find the time to finish the work she set me. I began learning hiragana at this point, but my focus was taken by my university study.

Flash forward to 2015, when I started a short course in Japanese, at Dundee University. This was taught by a Japanese native, and she was a fabulous teacher! She was initially unsure what level I should start, due to my prior knowledge of Japanese, but I insisted I start at the lowest. Afterwards, I was more able to communicate with basic phrases, I learned new words, and I was able to read/write Hiragana.

This was the last focused study that I did with Japanese, up until now. I have been ashamed to admit, that I had forgotten some hiragana, but equally that I didn’t learn katakana. Alas, I’ve been staring at snacks in Seven Eleven, hoping I don’t choose squid flavour crisps!

Later on, I jumped onto WaniKani for a while, just to test the system and whether I thought it would work for me. I learned a few kanji! I did, however, dislike the controlled pace of the system (feels like they are just milking the users into buying lengthy subscriptions). Though it did work!

Where I’m at currently

So my current level of Japanese is very patchy. Let’s go over what I can do at this moment.

  • Basic introductions / Phrases (e.g. what’s the time, how are you, what’s your number hello, goodnight, etc)
  • Counting
  • Telling the time
  • Colours / Some shapes / Some animals / Foods / Vehicles
  • Some moods and feelings (it’s hot, cold, it hurts, bad, good, etc)
  • A few other words outside of these categories
  • As of this week, I can also read hiragana, katakana, and can remember about 90 kanji

It’s enough to buy myself something from the shops, but having a conversation with my mother-in-law is pretty much a guessing game!

Prep and go!

Last week marked my latest venture into active learning of Japanese! I spent a week prior, trying to figure out the best way to tackle learning the Japanese language, and this proved helpful, but also unhelpful!

There are so many methods! I would read or watch a video about one method getting a recommendation, and then I’d read a conflicting article suggesting a completely different method.

One thing I noticed, was that many suggestions were from those not living in Japan, and with no experience in other methods. I was also concerned, because I had no idea how proficient these people were in Japanese. They may sound good, but I can’t speak Japanese, so…

Anyway, I decided to take my circumstances and concerns to Reddit. I asked if anyone could suggest a method for someone who is living in Japan, who wants to put in some serious time into Japanese. Without many responses, there was one that really resonated with me. A suggestion to just get into it, Don’t worry too much about what learning materials to use“. With that, I went to a book shop and picked up Minna No Nihongo I and II, and  a copy of Remembering the Kanji. I decided to structure my own plan, based on my own circumstances. It’s good to get a feel of how others have made their way to a particular goal, but I think it’s best to form your own path to that goal.

My plan

Focusing on aspects of Japanese which are of most use in my current situation, and building upon that is my plan. The aspects of most importance right now are:

  1. Listening comprehension
  2. Speaking ability
  3. Reading
  4. Writing

Using the MNN books to get me into basic conversation ability, I will then move on to more advanced material once finished. Alongside that, I will be pushing through kanji in the RTK book. I’m hoping this will teach me to speak the language, whilst also gradually building my kanji database. It should also help me to learn the kanji readings as I encounter them in the MNN books (and whatever materials I use later on). I will be using Anki for refreshing my memory, and I will also be using this blog to review my progress.

Progression So Far…

Well, it’s been roughly 2 weeks since I started. I have not been as active as I would prefer, but I have been doing something each day. I’m currently up to about 90 kanji in RTK. I’m also a few pages into MNN. I also spent a few hours remembering hiragana, and learning Katakana! I feel like I’m making some good progress with it all. Katakana and Hiragana are in the bag!

Mnemonics

One of the things I really enjoy about learning Japanese, is creating mnemonics! For instance, to remember the word for wife (つま tsuma) I think of “my wife is a satsuma“. This word is super useful when, for instance, someone is at the door and I don’t know what they want, and my wife is at work! I can just tell them I only speak a little Japanese, and my wife is at work (おしごと oshigoto). Another of my favourite mnemonics is for the katakana ma (マ), I’m a big fan of the band Queen, and it really makes me think of Freddie Mercury, leaning back, holding a mic to his face, belting out “MAMAA!”. Mnemonics are great, and they are very useful.

Learning some of the kanji readings is getting there too. I already knew the kanji for river (川) and field(田), but I didn’t know how to pronounce them. However, these kanji are so common in surnames, it was very easy to learn the readings in those contexts, kawa and ta. I think many of the readings will be learnt this way.

Next time

So anyway, I think I’ll leave this blog post at that. I’ve gone over the backstory to my situation, and I hadn’t planned to do a blog until today, so I hadn’t really prepared anything structured. I will however have something a bit more structured next post!

If you’re reading, let me know of any mnemonics you have employed that you love. Or let me know your story so far!

Thanks for reading!

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