Category Archives: Diary

Wide Reading in Japanese: An Adventure in Massive Input

Mujin Wakusei Survive: my first massive input anime.
Mujin Wakusei Survive: my first massive-input anime.

I am currently engaged in the Tadoku Read More or Die  Tadoku Wide Reading Contest.

I wasn’t sure about entering at first, but I am finding it very valuable and I am discovering a lot about wide reading. As you may know there is deep or intensive reading, and wide reading. Both are valuable techniques.

The idea of wide reading as I understood it was to read books a little below one’s level without a dictionary. The idea is to read a lot of words. One should understand what one is reading, of course, but not kodawaru over the things one doesn’t understand (choose a lower level text if there are too many of them).

The Tadoku contest broadens the definition of wide reading in ways that helped me to get involved. Anime subtitles, manga and visual novel games are accepted and there is a clever robot that calculates them all into the equivalent of book pages.

I didn’t give myself a target because at first I didn’t even understand the concept of pages, and even if I had, I had no idea what a good or bad estimate would be for me (or anyone, come to that). I was in a tiny bit hesitant about the whole thing.

There were two reasons for my initial hesitancy: 1. I was trying to concentrate on listening, my weakest skill. 2. I am not a reader. I don’t read much in English. Some of the people in this contest read 500+ pages in a few days. I couldn’t do that in English. Certainly not if I had anything else to do, which I do. An English novel (I haven’t read one for years) takes me weeks.

Anyoldhow. When a dear friend and senpai asked me if I was entering the contest (I hadn’t even heard of it) it seemed somehow right despite my misgivings. I thought I might scrape along the bottom of the contest with a visual novel.

It has actually turned out a little differently. I found an anime series I really like (Mujin Wakusei Survive) and am watching it fast by my standards. I will easily be finishing the 52-episode series and needing another one, and I am still watching other anime too. Usually I tend not to read where I can hear, but since I am counting the subtitles toward my total, I have to read everything.

I am prone to kodawaru over my anime. I love them a lot and I want to understand and get everything out of them. I am a bit of a kodawari type at the best of times and hate leaving anything unlooked-up even when I know I ought to. This time I chose an anime I thought I would like but not love, and set it aside as my quick-read anime. It is working really well. I am hovering around the middle ranks of the contest and really quite interested in holding my place there (in my daily Japanese conversations with Cure friends we tend to burst into chants of “Faito, faito, faito!” when we discuss it).

What I am finding is that this approach is far more beneficial than I imagined. I already had some articles planned about the concept of massive input. I am finding that ingesting Japanese a lot faster than I usually do is really having some interesting effects.

One is that I was not expecting the book I am reading to contribute much to the process. I have never been a comfortable book reader and in Japanese I tended to manage not much more than  two pages at a sitting (partly because of my natural slowness with books, and partly due to my tendency to kodawaru and enter words into Anki and such).

In fact, I found I was reading much faster and more smoothly, presumably as a result of going quickly through the anime and reading everything. Rachel, the senpai who started me off in the contest, was not much of a reader in English either, but has become an avid novel reader in Japanese. I don’t see myself becoming a big novel reader. But I guess she didn’t either.

But more importantly, I found words reinforcing much more quickly than I expected. Rachel has never used Anki at all. Her method has been to use massive input to reinforce words without the need for artificial means.

Now people learn differently and I am not giving up Anki just yet (this is a topic in itself which I mean to get to soon), but we have been pondering at what stage those of us who do use Anki should “retire” it.

After all, we are second-Mothertongue speakers and one does not SRS one’s Mothertongue. At some point the training wheels have to come off, unless you regard Japanese as a “foreign language”, which we don’t. And massive input is likely to be the answer.

My main concern has been “how quickly is any given word likely to be reinforced in a timely manner even with much more input?”  What I am finding from this experiment is that the answer is “much more likely than you might imagine”, especially if you are using related material like the same series, though I am finding that my book and anime are also cross-reinforcing.

Really this is just a few notes on my experience so far, so I am not drawing any conclusions or making any suggestions except one that isn’t really new. Massive input really works. Even better than you might think.

A final note that may seem odd. When I am ingesting Japanese fast without looking much up (and mostly doing it in Japanese if I do it at all) I find I am knowing what some words mean without consciously knowing the words. A feeling of “this word must mean this because that is what it sounds like”. Of course, I may be recalling words I have encountered  before but don’t consciously remember. Also sounds and concepts do have a relation in Japanese (more than in other languages, I think, which is perhaps why “onomatopoeia” is so popular in Japanese). Whatever the reason, this is very much how children acquire language. Words just start sounding like what they are.

Continue to this article’s sequel: Massive Input vs Anki→

If you are interested, I have written more about the contest here (in Japanese).

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.

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.

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.

Japanese Miiverse/NNID outside Japan

japanese NNID outside Japan
You SHALL go to the ball… I mean you CAN access Miiverse on a Japanese 3DS outside Japan

Can you sign up for a Japanese NNID outside Japan? Can you be a part of Japanese Miiverse in America or Europe?

That question troubled me for quite a while. My 3DS was purchased in Japan and would only connect to the Japanese eShop. I heard rumors that if one signed up one would not be able to log in because one’s IP was in the wrong region.

That would have been disastrous for me since I am in a place where getting imports is very difficult and my 3DSLL will not play non-Japanese games, physical or digital. So If I lost eShop access I would be up the proverbial gum-tree without a paddle.

It was particularly annoying as, with the introduction of NNIDs to 3DS, Nintendo cut off access to free e-Shop items (such as demos and apps like the children’s ebook reader Honto) for recalcitrant customers who did not register NNIDs.

I did a lot of asking around (there is very little on the subject on the internet). In the end I felt as sure as I was going to get that it was safe and took the plunge.

And I can assure you all that it is safe. I now have a Japan-based NNID. Officially I am in Japan.

(Please note: I cannot confirm that this will work with WiiU).

You actually can choose other countries in the region, I think, so if you wanted to be Korean you could (possibly useful for excusing one’s poor Japanese without making people think one speaks English. However since you want to be working in Japanese I would reccomend sticking to Japan). You can also choose your prefecture. I chose Aichi, which is where I was when I first got the 3DS, and therefore the one the machine was already set to.

Beware though – your initial choices will be locked forever. Not your privacy settings and so forth, but things like your country can never be changed. And your user name can never be changed, so choose it carefully! If you delete your account you will lose all your digital games, so you are really locked into your initial choice.

Fortunately your display name is the name of your Mii and you can still change that at will. But when people view your profile, your user name will always be there.

You also get the choice of setting Miiverse to show worldwide posts or posts for your language only. I set mine to Japanese only. Partly because when I am fooling with Miiverse I also want to be learning. Partly because I really don’t need a lot of clutter from languages I don’t know or am not trying to improve. Partly because there is far too much English-language trivia around anyway. I really don’t need more (and I probably see less than most people!) You can change this setting after sign-up, by the way.

More importantly, in relation to the Japanese-learning methods advocated by this site, it is important to set up as many Japanese-only environments for yourself as possible and Miiverse gives a golden opportunity for a new one.

kawaii pictures Japanese Miiverse
Follow the right folks for kawaii pictures on Japanese Miiverse!

Another important setting that I don’t see a chance to change later is whether you want to connect to Miiverse via PC etc. You do. You definitely do. There is absolutely nothing to lose here as you don’t need to use it if you don’t want to. But you will want to.

If you choose “yes”, you can access the whole of Miiverse via your PC and other web-enabled devices. This means that you can use Rikaichan while browsing posts and writing replies, which is invaluable. Not while making original posts though as this can only be done from your 3DS while playing the game – which restricts original posts on a game to people who own and play it.

You can also access your screenshots posted via your 3DS on the Web version of Miiverse. This finally solves the age-old problem of getting decent screen-shots from a DS as you can then copy and use these (you actually can’t download them in the regular manner but there are obvious ways around that).

So – good luck with Miiverse. See you there!

(I am kinokononingyou by the way!)

Dolly on Twitter

Cure Dolly on Twitter

NOTE: I am afraid this article is now out of date. I no longer have a Twitter account associated with my English language identity, even in Japanese.

If you would like to practise Japanese with me, I have a Japanese Twitter account. Feel free to  follow me or tweet me (in Japanese).

The current Trend words on Twitter  are ★ありがとう、★大丈夫(daijoubu)★大好き(daisuki)、★お願いします(onegai shimasu) ★楽しみ(tanoshimi) ★お疲れ様(otsukaresama). I wonder what the English ones are. Rather different I would guess/

Holiday Japanese – Anpanman and Puzzle and Dragons Z

Adorable Doremi-hime - unknown outside Japan!
Doremi-hime – unknown outside Japan!

I have been having fun with Japanese over the holiday. I received the wonderful present of Pazudora (Puzzle and Dragons) Z and have been watching a lot of Anpanman – especially the Christmas Special movies.

These two activities have one notable thing in common – they barely exist in English. While there is a Wikipedia article, there is very little other online information on Anpanman and very few, if any, translations exist. Many charming and wonderful characters seem to be completely unknown outside Japan. For example, you won’t find a picture of Doremi-hime (from アンパンマンとクリスマスの星 – Anpanman and the Star of Christmas and other movies and episodes.)

Similarly Pazudora, which is a huge phenomenon in Japan – earning its maker, GungHo, several million dollars a day (really!) is virtually unknown outside Japan.

Pazudora is a cute and complex RPG, like Pokemon so there is a lot of text and a lot to learn about the monsters themselves. But unlike Pokemon, there is no “cheating”. The keitai version exists in the US, but that is very different from the Z-version, the Nintendo 3DS RPG.

So if you want to understand the game and know your monster collection intimately, you have to read a lot of Japanese and you can’t sneak away for a quick info-break on an English-language site. And this is such a good game that it is well worth doing. It really compels you to play.

Gung-Ho’s president – true to the company’s name – has said his aim is to sell more games than Nintendo by the time he retires. Not very likely, but this company is serious about games and has done a really good job on PazudoraZ. Famitsu’s four reviewers gave it 9/10 each – 9:9:9:9 from Famitsu is a huge accolade in Japan. The game sold through most of its initial shipment on the first day.

I don’t have Pokemon X yet (it will be X, as my Japanese-game-playing friend has Y) but Pazudora is splendid training in learning a game’s complexities in Japanese.

My recent bout of Anpanman-watching has been a reberu-appu for me, as I have been watching intensively in Japanese without subtitles (I usually use Japanese subtitles). Kikitori (hear-catching or “listening  comprehension”) is currently a problem for me and I often have to play the same fraction of dialog four or five times. But I am getting faster. I remember when a half-hour show with Japanese subtitles took me hours. Now it is much faster. Some things I just can’t get in Anpanman, presumably because I simply don’t know the words. But I can definitely follow the shows and know most of what is going on.

And they really are worth watching. I have cried several times during the Christmas (and other) movies. They are pure, warm-hearted and deeply touching shows of a kind that one doesn’t find in the West. Anpanman is hugely popular in Japan (you see Anpanman products of one kind or another just about every shop you go in) and has been for years. I would guess it is never coming to the West, so experiencing these beautiful shows is one of the benefits of learning Japanese.

kururu-pazudoraPazudora may eventually come to the West (though the US keitai version is very far from achieving the runaway success it has had in Japan, so they may not bother). It is another unique and truly wonderful experience that, at the time of writing, can only be enjoyed in Japanese.

I’ll leave you with my favorite team-member, クルル Kururu, from PazudoraZ. She is currently my team leader and has the leader-skill called inori (prayer) which heals a small but substantial amount of the team’s life every turn.

She also gives my Japanese a few more hit-points every turn!