I recently finished one year of Japanese study, and wrote an article about my experience:
It had a brief section on my intentions about how I wanted to proceed with the language, but this topic deserves a whole new post by itself, mainly to help ME reflect patiently and clarify my thoughts on the topic.
This post is about where I’m going from here.
At my current stage, I’d say I’m roughly on Gear 3 of Japanese. I’m far from plateauing in terms of language ability (the more I read, the more I learn), but I’ve definitely plateaued in terms of excitement. I’ve been coasting for a couple months now (which is a GREAT milestone to achieve, don’t get me wrong), and I want to kick things up a notch to rekindle the fire I had in my belly when I started.
What my Japanese is missing
Obviously, there’s still a LOT to learn (it’s only been 1 year of study!), but having vague goals gets you vague results. Let’s get specific and focus on the areas where I need the most improvement.
First, it’s time to revisit my goals with the language. Why am I studying it, and what would make the next 12 months a success?
When I started the journey, my overall goal was to pass the N2 or N1 JLPT exam. That’s still a worthy milestone I would strive for in the future, but for now, a change in my circumstances has changed my goals too.
Life took a turn, and I’m officially going to Japan this winter — for a few months at least. With that in mind:
- I want to be able to get around Japan and perform everyday activities (getting through the airport, shopping, visiting government offices, talking to staff at the metro station, and even encounters with the police etc).
- I want to be able to talk about myself and my background, pitch my company and its vision and answer most questions about it, talk about my family and philosophy, my Japanese learning journey, etc.
I’m still not done with the Joyo Kanji deck. As of now, there are 825 kanji that I’m yet to see, and around 100 whose meaning is still “loose” in my memory.
If I can’t read Kanji, I can’t read, which means I will keep fumbling with my phone (and google translate’s image scaning feature, etc) everywhere I go in Japan. Unacceptable. If you know kanji, then even if you’ve never seen a word, you can guess a lot of context about it, which comes in super handy.
So far, the “meat and potatoes” of my limited study time was to just read and listen to lots of content, to drill sentence patterns until they become second nature to me. Kanji was an afterthought. I used Anki to learn, but I regularly missed days altogether, and the review cards piled up into the hundreds. Then I would plough through them to bring it down to zero, only for the whole saga to repeat after a few days.
Not only the consistency, I also reduced the quality of my Kanji study time: I set “new cards” to only 5 per day, and also stopped practicing handwriting every character. I somewhat regret this, because previously, having to write them by hand meant that I had to really recognize each little radical, and see the kanji as a collection of parts as opposed to a pictograph (which tends to get confusing over time).
So here’s the update I’m going to make:
- Increase daily new cards from 5 to 15. With this, I will be able to get through the deck in 60-70 days as opposed to 165.
- Restart handwriting practice. In the beginning, just start with new kanji, and forgotten kanji.
By January 1st (exactly 70 days later), I should have finished the kanji deck and only have reviews to do from then on.
2. Go hard on speaking and writing – finally.
Not focusing on “output” activities was one of the best decisions I made when I started this journey. With the time constraints I had, I wouldn’t have done it any other way.
Ironically, my output ability kept progressing regardless. I occasionally got mistaken for being pera-pera by native Japanese speakers. 🙂 I’ve also been fairly good at conducting text conversations in pure Japanese (with slight assistance from a translation tool).
Recently, I’ve had to get on some phone calls with Japanese people who don’t speak any English. My discomfort came through loud and clear. Although I knew the words I wanted to say, I couldn’t form the phrases in my head quickly enough on the spot.
In the next 12 months, I would like to be at a place where I can really hold my own in Japanese conversations whether in business or personal life.
Now, I have a big advantage. I’ve been meaning to consciously slow down my speech and be more soft and calm when I talk (perhaps like a batshit angry person who’s trying to choose their words carefully…).
Speaking fluently is as much about vocabulary as it is about practice. Your brain needs practice, and so do your tongue and facial muscles.
So here’s what I’m gonna do:
First, I’ll write out sample conversations and monologues on a variety of topics that I’m likely to come across in Japan. This is a technique I’m borrowing from the late youtuber laoshuu505000, who used it to achieve conversational fluency in dozens of languages at rapid speeds, including some less common ones like Khmer, Hmong, and Lao.
The idea is this:
- First, write down dozens of conversation “templates” in your native language, aiming to be eloquent (For example, in response to the question “what did you study?”, don’t just say your major, but rather tell a story of how you maybe originally wanted to study X and then decided on Y because X was boring, etc etc.)
Do it for common conversation topics like why are you learning this language, where are you from, tell me about your family, what do you do, would you like to hang out, etc.
- Translate the text into your target language, and practice speaking and listening to it A LOT until you’re sharp as a tack.
Do this enough times and it will help you be very well versed in most of the grammatical structures in the language, and sound very natural. I know this works, but I’m glad that I’m coming to this stage after going through an entire year of laying a solid foundation, instead of trying to “memorize” a language as a beginner.
Now, a lot of these conversations, such as going to a convenience store, hospital, etc are readily covered in beginner-oriented courses, so I can just do those. But for other stuff, where I talk about myself and my work, I’ll have to write those scripts myself.
I’m also thinking about maybe doing a YouTube show where I just talk in Japanese about things I’d typically do in English.
3. Continue listening to and reading authentic content
It goes without saying that I will not stop listening, for the foreseeable future.
My reading activity has gone down greatly over the last 30 days, and at the moment I intend to get it in by simply doing more writing instead.
My daily streak right now is ~280 days. It was hard-earned, and I don’t have enough conviction that breaking it will be beneficial to my Japanese learning journey. (I’ve wavered in the past on this, but always felt grateful to myself for sticking through.)
Today is October 25, 2023. Let’s see what happens on October 24, 2024.