All posts by Cure Yasashiku

Learning Japanese – the Real Question

Whenever I talk about my Japanese studies with others, invariably I will get the question, “Why Japanese?” or “What are you going to do with Japanese?” These questions often put me on edge a little, and often bring out a bit of defensiveness in me, I have to admit.

On the other hand, as frustrating as these questions from others may be, I think that they are good questions to ask oneself. These questions are actually sub-questions to what I have come to think of as the real question. The real question in my eyes is: what relationship do you want with Japanese?

vlcsnap-2015-11-16-00h05m29s711If a language is to be more than a school subject, one is going to develop a relationship with the language. I took two years of French in high school, because I had heard that most colleges required two years of a foreign language for admission. French was a school subject for me.  I was a good student in high school, and I did well in most of my school subjects, including French. I did nothing with French beyond what was required in school, though, and I remember very little of French beyond “bon jour.” I never developed any relationship with French.

For those of us learning Japanese in the present day, we are blessed and cursed with a huge amount of random information and advice. There are treasures to be sure, but sorting through what is useful and what is not a job in and of itself. With Japanese, in particular, it can be even more overwhelming because one must start from scratch. While Japanese is not an inherently difficult language, it is nothing like English, or any other language for that matter. While linguists are in disagreement as to whether or not Japanese is a language isolate, the only language that one might know that is even remotely like it is perhaps Korean, which is still not very close. This means that unlike European languages, one must begin with Japanese from ground zero, which can be a huge task. Much of the advice and information out there concerns shortcuts to make this task smaller.

I think that pondering the relationship one is looking for with Japanese is really helpful in sorting through all of the information available, particularly with respect to any shortcuts one may wish to take.

This question has come to mind because I recently started studying two other languages, Swedish and Spanish.  My family is from Sweden, and I still have many relatives in Sweden. Some of the relatives came for my grandmother’s ninetieth birthday party, and I had a hard time explaining why I was immersed in studying Japanese when I could not even speak Swedish. I also saw how happy my grandmother was speaking Swedish…much happier than she ever was speaking English. About a month after the party, my grandmother passed. I want to maintain contact with my Swedish relatives, now that my connection through my grandmother is gone, and I want to read the books my grandmother left that were written about her home town, Billesholm.

With respect to Spanish, my goals are even more limited. I have a dear friend who lives in Mexico, who I plan on visiting in less than a month. I want to know enough Spanish in order to get back and forth to her house, to go to the store, and to order in restaurants. I also have a lovely book with beautiful pictures in Spanish about traditional textiles that was given to me by a friend a couple of years ago, which has commentary I might someday like to be able to read, but that is a very low priority.

With each of these languages, I have clear and limited goals about what I am looking to be able to do, which guides my studies. I am looking for a completely different relationship with Japanese. I want Japanese to be my default language, the language I use when I do not have to use a different language. I want Japanese to be my second mother tongue. Actually, more than this, if possible I would like it to replace English as the language that I think in. Why, when I live in the U.S., and I am likely to be living in the U.S. in the foreseeable future? Well, to put it simply, I like myself better in Japanese than I do in English. It is a spiritual journey for me. I am trying to raise myself in Japanese. I do not have a limited goal or objective; I want Japanese to be the central language of my life.

There is a rather famous website, “Fluent in 3 Months,” which raises the hackles of some Japanese learners and learners of other languages. Yet, when reading this site, the author rather clearly states his goals. He is a world traveler. He choose the time frame of 3 months because that was the average length of time of a travel visa. His aim is to learn a lot of languages so that he can enjoy his stay in many countries and be able to speak to the locals. There is nothing wrong with this goal, and it sounds like it could be a lot of fun. In order to achieve his goals, he takes many shortcuts, which are perfectly appropriate for his goals. For Swedish and Spanish, I might look at some of his advice (I recently looked there for advice on how to roll my r’s, for example, which one must do in both Swedish and Spanish); however, for Japanese, I probably would not, because my goals with Japanese are much, much different.

One area that this comes into play strongly is whether to and how one goes about learning kanji.  One of the most popular methods of learning kanji is the Heisig method, outlined in the book, Remembering the Kanji. It is a method designed to help one quickly learn the kanji, often before one learns any Japanese. It is designed as a shortcut to put the learner in the position of a Chinese native learning Japanese, who already knows the meaning of the kanji (and how to write them). Whether or not this is a good method, it does not fit with what I am trying to do with Japanese, which is to raise myself in it. I do not want to go into Japanese from the standpoint of a Chinese learner, but as much as I can from the standpoint of a Japanese child.

This being the case, I am going about learning kanji using the organic method as discussed on this site. In addition to that, I am learning how to write kanji. For me, learning to write feels like an important part of my Japanese upbringing. I am doing it slowly, though, using workbooks for Japanese children. I am now finishing up a 2nd grade kanji workbook, and I will be starting a 3rd grade workbook soon. Interestingly though, with the exception of one or two kanji, I already was able to recognize the meaning and some of the readings for all of the kanji at that level. I think that this is closer to the position of Japanese children who are likely exposed to the kanji in their lives before they learn them in school. Is this a better method than RTK? Well, for me it is, I think, because of the relationship I want with Japanese. It is much slower, to be sure, but I think it is building the foundation for a deeper relationship with Japanese than RTK could give me.

The question of the relationship one wants with Japanese is a personal one, and there is not a right or wrong answer. It is an important one, though, which has many practical implications.

HabitRPG – New Features

I have now been using HabitRPG for almost a year now, and it continues to be useful for me in my Japanese studies and in general. Some recent changes have made HabitRPG even more useful than it was before. We have written various articles about HabitRPG on this site, and Cure Dolly has previously written a very helpful article explaining this application.

Habit RPG QuestOne of the most important of these changes is that there is a Japanese translation available now. Of course, switching over to Japanese gives us the usual advantages of having one’s computer and applications in Japanese.  Because HabitRPG is a role-playing game as well as a productivity application, this also gives many of the advantages of playing games in Japanese. Many of the Quests are written in Japanese, and all of the pets, mounts, food, equipment and other items are listed in Japanese. This is excellent for reinforcing important vocabulary on a daily basis. For example, from feeding Pets in my Japanese HabitRPG, I now can recognize the word じゃがいも as potato, a word I frequently failed in my Anki.

Another very useful change is that Habits now count for damage against Quest Bosses. Previously, only Dailies and Todos would do damage to Quest Bosses. While it is certainly helpful to make immersion activities such as listening, reading, and watching Anime into Dailies, for many of these activities, one really wants to do as much as possible. With a Daily, once it is checked off, it is checked off for the day; one can not get credit for doing more than is required by the Daily. Habits can be clicked as many times a day as they are done. Of course, one always received Experience and Gold from Habits, I (and my party mates) have found that doing damage against a Quest Boss is extremely motivating, so having Habits “count” is a really wonderful change.

Habits are also good for immersion activities that are important but should not become a chore. HabitRPG punishes us for undone Dailies by dealing damage at our cron (the time we set for the beginning of the new day). When we are on a Boss Quest, the Boss does damage to the entire party, so it particularly important to do the Dailies on those days. For myself, there are certain immersion activities that I want to keep as optional, so that they psychologically remain leisure activities. For myself, some of those examples are reading novels, reading manga, and playing games. Now that Habits “count” against Bosses, I have more incentive to do those できるだけ (as much as possible).

Another exciting new feature is the Enchanted Armoire, which solved a huge difficulty with HabitRPG for long term use. The difficulty was that eventually one would buy up all of the available equipment, and Gold would become meaningless. One could forestall that trouble for a time by switching classes and buying up the equipment for all of the classes; however, sooner or later, one would reach the point of Gold losing its motivational value. Now, the developers created the Enchanted Armoire, which for 100 Gold Pieces randomly gives special items, experience points, or food.

My party donning items obtained from the Enchanted Armoire

Another wonderful change is the brand new option of creating Dailies which will become due in a certain number of days. Before one could only create Dailies that were due on specific days of the week. While the “number of days” option is not specifically useful to me with respect to my Japanese studies, it is useful for my other responsibilities, such as paying the rent and other bills, which are due on a monthly basis.

Oh yes, and the Japanese Deep Cave Adventures’ Guild is still going strong, and we are still playing Shiritori.

Japanese Inner Monologue – My Experience

I was going to comment on Cure Dolly’s article about changing one’s inner monologue to Japanese, but in thinking about it, my comments seemed long enough for a full article.  I am an extrovert as well, I think, although not so strongly as Cure Dolly has described herself to be.  Still, a lot of my inner monologue is rehearsing conversations.

vlcsnap-2015-04-25-14h57m30s077Like Cure Dolly, I have found that using brute force to change my English thoughts into Japanese is not very useful.  One of the reasons this may be so is that my Japanese thoughts tend to be much different than my English thoughts.  My English mind is very noisy, far, far noisier than my Japanese mind.  The first difficulty I have is just getting my English mind to be quiet.  It goes round and round in circles endlessly, sometimes rehearsing the same conversation over and over again.  Even though I have relationships that are almost exclusively in Japanese, I really do not rehearse my Japanese conversations very much.  Indeed, I only do so when I need to communicate something above my level, and I need to work out what to say.

When I do quiet my English mind, my Japanese mind tends to be rather still, often just enjoying the quiet.  This is great for my soul, but I am not sure that it is all that useful to my Japanese.  Sometimes when words do come to my Japanese mind, they are things like Anime theme songs, or simple things like 幸せ (shiawase), happiness, or 気持ちいい (kimochi ii), good feeling.  I think I am much happier in Japanese.

I am shyer in Japanese than I am in English, I think.  I am realizing that with the Kawaii Japanese Forums.  It is interesting.  I am happy reading and listening, but I find it hard to talk.  Some of it is my current level of Japanese, which is much lower than a lot of other participants.  It is really exciting, we have people of all different levels, from professional translators to those who are just beginning their Japanese journey.   Some of it is that I am just not as talkative in Japanese as I am in English.  I like to be with people and listen to what they say, but I do not always feel the need or pressure to add in my two cents, as it were.  Spoken Japanese is so nice that way, in that one can get along for a long time with 相槌 (aidzuchi), or words and phrases that indicate that you are listening, such as そうですね、そうね、and そのとおり, without having to interject anything at all into the conversation.

Given all of this, I have developed my own strategy for converting my inner monologue to Japanese.  I do not know if it will be helpful to anyone else, but I think it is working for me.  I am letting my English mind be my English mind, and my Japanese mind be my Japanese mind.  In order to quiet my English mind, I have been talking to it in Japanese.

For example, if my mind is going round and round rehearsing a potential English conversation, I might say, 気になるね (ki ni naru ne), “this is worrying you, isn’t it?”.  Then I feel myself responding そうね, and my English mind gets quiet.  Sometimes my Japanese mind gets more forceful, 英語、英語、英語、やめて!(eigo, eigo, eigo, yamete!) “English, English, English, stop!” or even うるさい! (urusai!) “Noisy!”

When I can quiet my English mind, I let my Japanese mind do what it will, even if it just wants to be still.  Sometimes Japanese comes, sometimes it doesn’t, but I am allowing that to be ok.  This seems to me a better strategy than to try to force my English thoughts into Japanese.

Using Anime for a Balanced Japanese Study Routine

To learn and maintain Japanese, or any other language, one must must develop a study routine.  If one is in a class, some of this routine will be provided, such as assigned homework and test preparation; however, classes do not last forever, and to keep a language, one must use it.

Learning a language is not just one skill, but many.  For this reason, it is important to have a well balanced routine.  While the different skills build on each other, I have found it necessary to make sure that each skill gets at least some attention, and to grow in a skill one must practice and use that skill.  For example, listening is very helpful to one’s speaking ability; however, one is never going to become proficient in speaking unless she actually spends time speaking.  It is as simple as that.

So, how does one decide what practices to use?  It can be a matter of trial and error, and one’s routine may, and indeed should, change over time as one becomes more proficient.  Something may become too easy to be useful anymore, and something else that was too difficult early on may become useful over time.

vlcsnap-2015-02-22-11h32m07s154In my own routine, Anime watching plays a central role.  I use it in all different ways, and I have found ways to make it useful for every skill (except handwriting).  For me, each way of watching develops different skills.

Below are the ways I watch, and the skills that they develop:

Slowly and carefully, with Japanese jimaku (“subtitles”), as described by Cure Dolly.  This practice develops my vocabulary, kanji recognition, reading, reading comprehension, and grammar.  On the other hand, for myself, this method does very little for my listening ability.  I find that when watching this way, I am concentrating on the written word, and I barely take notice of the spoken words.

With Japanese jimaku, at full speed, with preparationBecause of the difficulty I described above, if I watch an Anime slowly and carefully, I always watch it again with jimaku at full speed.  This matches the words that I have previously read and studied with the spoken word.  It also serves as a review of everything I studied and researched during the careful watch.  I have discovered that I get the best results when I do this at least one day after my first watch, but still within a few days.  This way there is time for the new words and expressions to cycle through my Anki at least once, but it is still fresh in my mind.

With Japanese jimaku, at full speed, without prior preparation.  I started doing this because there were only so many series I could manage at a time using the slow and careful method, and there were a lot of series I wanted to see.  Yet, unexpectedly, I have found that watching some series this way develops some rather important skills, such as reading speed and the ability to understand what is going on from context, even when one does not understand all of the words.  This is also useful in associating the spoken and the written word, because in order to keep pace with the action, one must use spoken and written cues.  On the other hand, this method is not very useful for learning grammar or vocabulary.  It does review the vocabulary and grammar one already has, though, and really forces one to use those skills at a real pace, rather than a practice one.

With English subtitles.  As I discussed more fully here, I have found some limited use for English subtitles, although really this is the least helpful way of watching.  I think that to be of any use at all, it must be accompanied by another form of watching.  The uses I have found for English subtitles are to check my comprehension after watching with Japanese jimaku and to prepare to watch jimaku nashi (without any subtitles).  The best time I have found to watch with English subtitles is a day or so after watching with Japanese jimaku (with or without preparation) and a day or two before watching jimaku nashi.  I only include this step for the series I watch with my spouse (who is not studying Japanese).

Jimaku nashi, with preparation.  For any show I watch with subtitles, I include a final watch jimaku nashi (without subtitles).  For me, this is an essential step in the process.  This reinforces everything I have previously studied in prior watches, and in my mind, this is the only time I feel like I am really “watching” a show, rather than “studying” a show, which is important in and of itself, I think.  Everything prior is preparation for watching it jimaku nashi.  While eventually one will want to be able to listen and understand unprepared in real time, I think that this is a later skill.  I think being able to understand after preparation is a stepping stone to being able to understand unprepared.

Jimaku nashi, with no prior preparationI tried this in my early days of Anime watching, but not for long.  The reason for this was that I was not really getting anything out of it.  I could pick out a few words here and there, and I would find myself making up little stories about what was happening (rather like a small child).  After about six months of working with Anime, I could manage something for small children, like Anpanman, and have a general understanding of what was going on.  Yet, now after over a year of watching Anime, I tried this again with Go! Princess Precure, and I found that I really did understand most of it (which I was able to confirm afterwards, when I watched slowly and carefully with jimaku).  I tried this with a couple of harder Anime as well, and I understood less, but enough for it to be useful, I think.  I still think that it is important to use the other methods I described to work on other skills, such as vocabulary building and reading comprehension.  On the other hand, I think I am now ready to add this practice to my Japanese study routine.

Audio only.  Lastly, I take select episodes and put them on my iPod to listen to over and over again, with only the audio.  Usually, these are my favorite episodes, but they may also be episodes with important vocabulary.  In the beginning, I chose episodes with a lot of singing to help with my pronunciation and ability to form morae, which are different than syllables.  I found that singing along was extremely helpful.  Now, I have about 30 episodes on my iPod, which I cycle through, usually using about about 2 episodes a day.  This is almost completely passive learning, which I do while doing other things, such as housework.  I think that the passive component is really important, because it allows Japanese to slip in at a deeper level than active learning does.  It brings Japanese to the level that one does not have to think about it.

I have also recently found another use for the audio only component.  I recently learned of the technique of shadowing, or trying as much as possible to talk along with the characters.  Pronunciation is my weakest skill, so I am using shadowing to work on this skill.  While this would be impossible with  an unfamiliar episode, I have episodes on my iPod that I have been listening to for over a year, so much so that I almost know them by heart.

This probably sounds like a lot of work, and it is.  I get enough benefit out of it, that for me, it is worth it.   I hope that some of these ideas are useful to the reader.

Learning Japanese through Anime – English Subtitles

Over a year ago, Cure Dolly wrote a wonderful and helpful article about How to Learn Japanese through Anime.  I have followed that method for almost a year myself, and I think it has really helped me learn.  Watching Anime with Japanese subtitles is not my only learning tool, but it remains an important one.  In that article, Cure Dolly discussed that using English subtitles is not very useful, and I agree with her.

The trouble with using English subtitles, aside from the translation difficulties, is that our minds are efficient, and despite our good intentions, will take the easiest route to understanding possible…which is English.  For example, I have noticed that when I used to watch shows with English subtitles, when the theme song played in my head later (and it often did), I heard the music in my mind with the words in the English translation, even though I actually heard the song originally in Japanese.

vlcsnap-2014-12-28-21h12m10s82This being said, there are some shows I still watch once with English subtitles.  The reason for that is I live with someone who is not learning Japanese, and there are some shows I watch together with her.  I think that there is an important strategic value to this.  One of the things that attracts many of us on this site to Japanese is its culture, including the importance of community and family.  Learning a language and using immersion really does require one to make adjustments to one’s life, and it is so very helpful to have the support of one’s family and one’s household.  Sharing the shows that you are watching with one’s household can be a good way to solicit and encourage their support.

Aside from the social advantage, I have found ways to make this time useful to my studies as well, which may also be of use to some readers.  First and foremost, anything I watch with English subtitles, I watch again without subtitles.  For kikitori (“hearcatching”), it is quite helpful to be able to anticipate what is likely to be said next.  Even if I have only recently watched the show once with English subtitles, I can actually hear and understand much more when watching jimaku nashi (without subtitles) than I can watching a kinnie cold for the first time (or for the first time in a long time).  I have done (and do) both, and there is a clear difference in what I can catch.

If Japanese subtitles are available, I watch the show with them before I watch with English subtitles.  This increases the chance of me actually hearing the show in Japanese rather than in English.  The mind is efficient, and it will rely on the memory of the previous work I did with the Japanese subtitles in understanding, as much, if not more than the English subtitles.  This also gives me the opportunity to check my work.  I can say…oh I did understand this….or oh dear, I missed all of that explanation.

This being said, use of English subtitles is a slipperly slope.  In order to minimize the dangers, I have two rules for myself.  I only use English subtitles when watching with someone else and never watching alone.  If she does not want to watch the show, I do not watch it with English subtitles at all.  Knowing this rule also gives my family member a sense of importance (she is helping me safely “check my work”).  I can not emphasize enough that the more family support one can get, the better.  I also do not give the show my full attention when watching with English subtitles.  I do a lot of handcrafting, and if I watch a show with English subtitles, I work on a project at the same time.  This means I am not looking at the screen the entire time, because I often need to look down at what I am working on, so that I need to rely on the spoken language from time to time.

Actually, as an aside, I have found that to be an interesting test of whether I am processing the show in English or in Japanese.  Before I started learning Japanese, I would watch a show with English subtitles when doing other tasks, and I would find myself surprised that I would lose track of what was happening when I would look away.  I would then remember…oh I am understanding through the subtitles, and not through what I am hearing.  Now that I have learned much more, I do hear the Japanese when I look away (even if I do not understand every word).  It is quite interesting really.

Keeping Up Studies During the Holidays (or other Busy Times)

Like many people this time of year, I am busy with holiday preparations.  I am much further behind on my gift knitting/crocheting than I would like to be, and we are hosting the family holiday dinner this year.  I have started decorating, but there is still quite a bit of decorating (and cleaning) to do.  With all of this going on, it is tempting to back off on my Japanese studies during this time.

vlcsnap-2014-04-15-11h31m26s209This being said, I think that this is a temptation to avoid.  I have gotten into a rhythm with my studies that I do not want to interrupt.  Also, with language learning, I think that it is really easy to lose ground.  I have noticed that even after one day using mostly English, my Japanese is worse the next day.  I can only imagine what would happen if I interrupted my studies for a few weeks.

Still, there is only so much time in a day, and holiday preparations are important.  Luckily though, there are ways to adjust my study schedule to accommodate the holidays.  While I have less time for active study, I have many more opportunities for passive learning.  It is quite easy to knit and crochet while watching Anime, and I can listen to Japanese while I am cooking, cleaning, and decorating.

For myself, I find that it is extremely important to use a time management tool, especially busy times.  I continue to use HabitRPG as my tool.  Without such a tool, I find it too easy to get distracted by my 気分 (kibun, or feeling or mood).  As is so clearly illustrated in the kanji, one’s mood is often the spirit (気) of the moment (分).  During busy times, my spirit of the moment is usually stress and nervousness, making it a really bad time to be making decisions about what I should be doing when.  Without a time management tool, I find myself running about in circles feeling busy, but often not really accomplishing anything.  It is quite likely that in the spirit of the moment, my Japanese studies would be the first tasks to get lost.

Instead, with the advice and guidance of my senpai, I made decisions about my goals during this season of busy-ness, which I then recorded on my HabitRPG.  This way the decisions are already made, and I do not have to worry about them while I am stressed and busy.  I can simply follow the schedule that has already been set.

HabitRPG is set up in such a way as to make it quite easy to readjust my schedule during this time.  I chose not to eliminate any of my active study dailies; however, I did make many of them due fewer days of the week.  I increased my daily minimum for passive study tasks, such as Anime watching and listening.  I used the checklist feature to do this.  I also increased my daily minimum for handcrafting (knitting and crocheting).  I have positive Habits of extra watching, listening, and handcrafting.  This makes a nice combination as handcrafting and watching/listening go well together as multitasking activities.  If there are times when I have met my handcrafting requirement but still need to do more watching/listening, I might do extra handcrafting while watching/listening (and vice versa).

Because of the added listening requirement, I spend time listening to Japanese, rather than holiday music in English.  On my HabitRPG, listening to music in English is a reward that I have to pay for.  I considered relaxing that during the holiday season, but I chose not to.  I am working on keeping my mind in Japanese, and the last thing I need is catchy holiday music (in English) crowding out the Japanese.  I have not yet found Japanese holiday music (although I would like to).  I did borrow some holiday music in Swedish from my grandmother, and my spouse found music in Latin for me, which I can listen to if I have met my Japanese listening requirement for the day.  While it is not Japanese, my Japanese is far better than my Swedish (of which, at best, I know a few words and phrases), and I do not know any Latin at all.  As a result, neither of those languages are likely to crowd out Japanese, like English would.

I hope that some of these ideas are helpful, and please feel free to comment on your own strategies for maintaining your studies during busy times, such as the holiday season.

Reading Strategy

I have gotten to the point in my studies where I am learning to read again.  It is an interesting experience learning to read.  To be honest, I do not remember much about learning to read in English.  It is fun and exciting to be learning to read all over again in a new language.

This might seem like a strange thing to say, that I am learning to read.  In a sense, I have been reading all along.  One of the first things one does as a foreign learner is to learn hiragana and katakana, and reading has been a part of my studies all along.  For example, I have been reading Japanese subtitles for Anime since very early in my studies.  Yet, even so, I am only now venturing into the wonderful, magical of books.

In starting to read books, I realized I did need a strategy.  One of the biggest difficulties is that I do not really have the vocabulary I need even for basic children’s books.  It is quite amazing how many words one needs to know.  One of the big dilemmas is what to do when one runs across new or unfamiliar words (particularly if there are a lot of them).  Does one stop and look up words?  The difficulty with that is that it makes reading very slow, and it is hard to really get involved in the story that way.  Yet, without looking up words, it is hard to know what is going on.

I looked for advice online, and there is quite a bit of conflicting advice; however, I did get the idea to highlight new and unfamiliar words to look up later.  This is working really well, I think.  It is helping my understanding and comprehension, even though I have not gotten all that far in looking up new words.  To my surprise, I found out that I actually understood much more when I highlighted unfamiliar words (even without looking them up).

SAMSUNGI think I understand why this is working for me.  When reading in English, I must automatically filter out words I do not know, gleaning the meaning from context from the words that I do know.  In Japanese, that is hard to do.  To begin with, one’s eyes must work completely differently.  Japanese books are written right to left and vertical.  That in itself is an adjustment.  Also, Japanese generally does not put in spaces for words, and it is rather fluid as to where words begin and end.  Furthermore, Japanese grammar and sentence structure is quite different from English.  I think that these differences make it hard to use strategies one naturally uses with English without additional help.

I think that when I highlight words, I can section them off in my mind, and then focus on the words that I do understand.  Before, I would run into unfamiliar words and, whether I looked them up or not, I would start to think that the entire book was too difficult for me.  With the unfamiliar words highlighted, I realized I was actually able to understand a lot of other words and glean the general meaning of what was going on.

When I have gone back later to look up the unfamiliar words, I have checked them off with a pencil.  Then I have read the text again and found that I could fully understand, which was really quite exciting.

Learning as a Child

A few weeks ago, I purchased a first grade reader and kanji workbook from the Japanese supermarket (which is about an hour and a half away from where I live).  I have found that these books are challenging, but possible for me.  Also, I have been using an Anpanman NintendoDS game to help me with my pronunciation, kikitori, and writing skills.  For immersion, I have been using Anime such as Precure, Sailor Moon, and Anpanman.  While I am an adult, I have been letting myself be a child in Japanese as much as possible.

vlcsnap-2014-11-05-19h48m16s72In some ways I am far ahead of a Japanese child entering school, while at the same time, in other ways, I am far, far behind a Japanese child.  For this reason, I think it is still important to use the adult foreign learners’ materials, as I need grammar explanations that Japanese children would not.  After learning the concepts from the textbooks in English, I have been using Japanese children’s material to fill in the gaps and to provide extra practice.

The difference in the materials is quite interesting, I think.  The adult learners’ textbook I used was Genki, and the early vocabulary included things like 国際関係, kokusaikankei (“international relations”), 政治, seiji (“politics”), and 経済, keizai (“economics”).  The children’s learning material started with words such as リス, risu (“squirrel”), どんぐり, donguri (“acorn”), リンゴ, ringo (“apple”).  I have to say that I think that the children’s vocabulary seems a bit more useful.

I am not sure exactly why I am learning Japanese, but it seems important to me to let Japanese change me.  Maybe it would be more accurate to say to allow Japanese to bring out who I really am.  Even though I was born and raised in the West, I was always baffled by the manners and customs of the West.  Yet, the more I learn about Japanese customs and manners, the more sense they make to me in a way that Western culture never did.

I am fortunate enough that I do not need Japanese for a job and I do not have to take any tests, so there is no reason for me to become an adult in Japanese any time soon.  My sensei fully supports and encourages the concept of metaphorically learning to walk before I run.  I am rather enjoying my Japanese childhood, I must say.

Creating an Immersion Environment Using HabitRPG

habit-rpg3As my studies have progressed, I have found that immersion has been a very effective tool.  Using Japanese is a very important supplement to active study.  It can be difficult though.  In many ways, it is so much easier to take the path of least resistance and do things in one’s native language, rather than struggle through with the language one is learning.

In addition to having Dailies of listening to Japanese and watching Anime in Japanese, I have found that Habits and Rewards are also effective tools.  My own HabitRPG is set up such that my entire day is governed by it.  If something is not an activity that is a Daily, a Todo, or a positive Habit, it is something that I have to pay for as a Reward.  While in some ways, this might seem a bit kibishii, it really is quite effective in tipping the scales away from English in favor of Japanese. basic theory is that using Japanese gives me bonuses via positive Habits, and I have to pay to use English using Rewards.  I started this with video games, but I have extended this to other areas as well.  I can play a game for a half of an hour in Japanese for 5 Gold pieces, and I can get one to three “pluses” under my positive Habit of “extra Japanese,” depending on how much Japanese I had to use in the game.  In a role-playing game, such as Dragonquest IX, I can get 3 “pluses” if I have to get through a long plot line or a talk to a lot of people in a town to find out what to do next.  I only get one if I spend the entire time fighting monsters in a dungeon, and I get two “pluses” for anything in between.  To play a game in English, it costs me 30 Gold pieces to play for the same half of an hour, and there are no available rewards for doing so.  So, I can play a game in English if I really want to, but…

I have extended this to many other areas.  I now have to pay to watch any television or videos in English or with English subtitles (even if it is with my spouse, who is not studying Japanese), while at the same time having a Daily requiring a minimum amount of Japanese Anime watching, with positive Habit of extra Anime.  I also have to pay to listen music in English or to talk or chat in English with my Nihongo senpai (who are also dear friends).  I actually recently had to raise the price of talking in English with my Nihongo senpai because I got into some rather bad habits surrounding that.

In order for this to work well, I think it is important to keep the Habits and Rewards very specific, and decide what they really entail.  For example, I first started with a negative Habit of unnecessary English, but that did not work at all.  What is “unnecessary”?  Creating costs for specific defined uses of English was far more effective, at least for me.  The ability to create a combination of bonuses for Japanese and costs for English has really helped me to ganbaru in Japanese, much more than I would do otherwise.

Japanese Deep Cave Adventurers’ Guild: Beginner’s Immersion Challenge – Level Up

During the month of August, the Japanese Deep Cave Adventurers’ Guild sponsored its first challenge, the Beginner’s Immersion Challenge.  About a dozen people signed up for the challenge, and everyone did very well.*  We will be hosting that challenge again during the month of September.   The prize for the winner of the Beginner’s Challenge will again be 1 Gem.

Additionally, in September, the Guild will host an additional, level up challenge.  This challenge will be similar to the Beginner’s Challenge, but will take it to the next level.  The details of this challenge are as follows:


Watch 3 episodes of Anime during the month, slowly, using Japanese subtitles.  Cure Dolly wrote a very good article about using Anime to study Japanese which can be found here.


The Daily for this challenge will be the same as for the Beginner’s Immersion Challenge, listening to a story or anime episode in Japanese.


In addition to the daily of listening to Japanese, there will be a Habit of extra listening.  For this level up challenge, one can listen to as many stories or episodes in a day as one likes, and they will all count towards the challenge.

As with the Beginner’s Immersion Challenge, writing tasks on HabitRPG in Japanese will also be a positive habit for bonuses, and which will count toward the challenge.  Changing a task from English to Japanese will count towards this Habit.  It will also count if one edits a previously written task from incorrect Japanese to correct Japanese.

Reward (not exactly a “reward”):

As this is a level-up challenge, we will be taking another step towards making HabitRPG an immersion environment.  In the level up challenge, participants will still be allowed to write their tasks in English if they wish; however, for this challenge there will be a cost to it.  This challenge will include a “reward” of 5 GP to write a new task in English.  Of course, this only applies to tasks that are written by the participant, and not to tasks that come from other HabitRPG Challenges.

Here is what the challenge will look like on HabitRPG:

初心者の集中訓練の挑戦 -レベルアップ


日本語の字幕でアニメを1話見る (“Watch one episode of Anime, using Japanese subtitles”) (x3)


日本語を聞く (“Listen to Japanese”)


+   余分な日本語の聞いている (Extra Japanese listening)

+  日本語で新しいHabitRPGの用事を書く (“Write new HabitRPG task using Japanese”)


5GP  英語で新しいHabitRPGの用事を書く (“Write new HabitRPG task using English”)

The winner of the Level Up Challenge will receive 2 Gems.

Both Challenges will start on September 6, 2014 and end on October 6, 2014.

Good luck!



*If you signed up for the challenge in August, there should be a broken megaphone on the tag for the challenge.  When you click the megaphone, it should allow you to remove the tasks from the August challenge, if you would like.  If you are participating in either one of the September challenges, it is probably a good idea to remove the tasks from the August challenge, so as not to have the tasks doubled on your lists.