My Current Japanese Study Process

So, now that you know my background with the Japanese language it is time to share what my current methodology is for learning and studying Japanese.

Truthfully, my method is a constantly moving target. I tend to adjust things slightly from week to week or month to month. So, this is really just a snap shot of what I’m doing as of this moment. Next week it will likely change. In fact, it will definitely change because my Japanese 201 class at Kapi’olani Community College starts up on Monday.

Which probably leads to the question, “Why are you taking a Japanese 201 class?”

Let me circle back to that in a moment.

First, a lot of my method for learning Japanese stems from following the Refold method created by Matt (of Matt vs. Japan fame) who endorses an immersion-based approach to language learning.

Given my experience in the language and my current level I’m probably around the 2nd or 3rd stage of his Refold system. Also, I have specific goals with the language too, which dictate a slightly adjusted approach. And, finally, I’m just sort of set in my ways sometimes so I tend to prefer a live input/output environment to pick up new vocabulary and grammar.

A lot of my current process is focused around two things:

  1. Sessions with various iTalki teachers
  2. Self-Study through various tools.

Let’s look at each in more detail:

iTalki Sessions

Since July 26th, which is when my mom and sister went back to California, I started an intensive series of booking sessions with iTalki teachers. I’ve had 44 sessions/calls in the past 21 days. That is more than 2 a day! One of the things I’ve been doing is evaluating the various teachers and seeing which ones are a good fit and which ones are able to help me with specific parts of my Japanese progress.

Right now I have a few specific teachers who help me as follows:

  • “F”: Helps me with writing. The posts I’ve been doing on this blog are reviewed by her and we go through them each and she helps me understand how to use Japanese in a written format (vs. a spoken format, which is a bit different). We currently meet twice a week, which means I have to create at least 2 blog posts a week in Japanese.
  • “M”: Helps me with pitch accent. We will pick out a small paragraph and she will work with me on my intonation and accent to improve how I speak. We meet once a week.
  • “H”: Helps me with listening and vocabulary. Each week we watch an episode of a Netflix Japanese drama and review vocabulary and any sentence patterns I’m not familiar with. We’re currently watching “Alice in Borderland”, which I’ve seen before, but didn’t really focus on the Japanese language at the time. I use the Netflix chrome plugin to create and tag specific vocabulary and sentences from the subtitles. I try to watch at least 5 times before our sessions: first, just the audio, second, with subtitles to identify those words and phrases and figure out the meanings, and then the other three times is to improve the fluency of my listening. We meet once a week.
  • “Y”: Helps me with my conversation and homework. Actually, this tutor is just pretty fun to talk to. But I’m going to have her quiz me on any materials from my upcoming Japanese 201 class as well, including a handout I received from the teacher of materials that were covered in the first year — just to make sure I’m up to speed. We meet once a week.
  • “N”: Helps me with specific topic work. We select a topic that I often have to talk about (work, life, family, hobbies, etc.) and he helps me make my delivery more natural and fluent. We meet once a week.

Those are my five core teachers that I meet with. The other sessions have been set up to try out new teachers and just get in a lot of conversation practice. I’ve booked up quite a few more iTalki sessions this last week before school starts to give it one last big push before I taper off.

I have 14 or 15 more sessions, which will bring me up to around 60 iTalki sessions in one month. Once the semester starts next week I won’t have as much time and will focus more on just these 5 teachers for the time being.

Self Study

Besides iTalki I also do a few other things to progress my Japanese skills:

  • Kanji with WaniKani: I wish this thing had been around when I was younger. It is a great way to finally learn all the Kanji I’ve been avoiding for so long. Based on those who have come before me, within a year or two, you can get through their 60 levels which brings you almost through all the Joyo Kanji, N1 of the JLPT, and mostly literate with magazines or newspapers. I’m still relatively new (only starting Level 5 this week), but so far I’m really happy with the progress I’m seeing. We’ll see how I feel when I’m in the thick of it at level 25. lol.
  • Listening Immersion: Whenever I have down time or am driving the car, I put in a Japanese language podcast. Most recently I’ve been checking out 水曜日ミニマリスト which is pretty good. I’ve also been recording some of my sessions with the iTalki teachers to listen and review my pronunciation and remember what was taught/learned. Listening to my own Japanese is pretty painful, but it is a great way to see where I need adjustment.
  • Media Immersion: I’ve been consuming content in Japanese. I watch some Japanese YouTubers (mostly related to minimalism or language learning), TV shows, and some anime series. I will either do it with no subtitles or with Japanese subtitles, and only switch to English if I’m really stumped or just need to relax my brain for a bit.
  • Reading: I’ve picked up some light manga to read through. しろくまカフェis a good one (and has an anime too). I also picked up a few issues of ドラえもん and 僕のヒーローアカデミー. よつばと!is also a good one with easy-to-read Japanese. I’ve also ordered a few books in Japanese that I already have in English, like “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying” by Marie Kondo, and “Goodbye, Things” by Fumio Sasaki.
  • Grammar: I’ve been going through Tae Kim’s grammar book just to make sure I’m not glossing over any essential basics. I also have been watching specific videos from the Japanese Ammo YouTube channel for any grammar points I’m not clear on. I picked up a few grammar books as well that I try to refer to if there is anything I come across that I’m not sure about, such as the difference between のに and なのに and ので and なので and なのか, etc. You know … all those annoying sentence connectors that seem very similar. lol.

So, those are the main parts of my self-study. There are also a few random Japanese stores here in Honolulu, and whenever I go to them I try to use my Japanese. It doesn’t happen often though, and there aren’t any Japanese tourists in Japan these days so not much time to practice except through iTalki. =(

Japanese 201

But, as I mentioned, I have Japanese 201 starting next week, and you’re probably wondering why I decided to take the class.

Well, there are a few reasons:

  • It has been so long since I’ve been in a formal Japanese class (not counting the conversation class I took at UHWO a few semesters back) that I sort of miss that environment. Granted, this is an online class. But it is synchronous so I’ll at least technically be “in” a class with other people. I sort of miss having people to share this experience with. Language learning can be an isolating experience.
  • The class is Monday to Thursday from 8:00 AM to 8:55 AM, which means that it will simultaneously force me to get up at a reasonable hour, and also give me daily exposure to the Japanese language first thing in the morning. I’m basically paying for a Japanese-language wake-up call. #bonus
  • On a whim I took a Japanese language placement test at KCC back in June and it almost put me in the Japanese 202 level class, but I missed by 3%. So, since I was placed at this level I figured it’d be fun to take the class.
  • I’m not really in the class as much for the vocabulary or kanji learning (but that will be nice) but I’m mostly interested in a more structured grammar instruction. In my daily conversation and practice I find my grammar is not quite at the level of my general fluency, and I think that having better grammar will improve my ability to communicate. I mean, I can communicate now, but I can tell I’m making some pretty obvious grammar errors. I’d like to clean those up.
  • I never got past the Japanese 201 level back when I took classes in college in 1992. So, I want to make it through second year Japanese just to prove to myself that I can. I actually flunked out of one of my Japanese classes (I think it was 202) which I’ve always felt annoyed with.

There are also benefits of having a live teacher to work with and ask questions of on a regular basis. And they are general aware of opportunities to practice and improve one’s Japanese that the general public doesn’t hear about. So, this is also sort of a networking thing. I’ve actually met the teacher before and he invited me to check out a Japanese 202 class for one day back when I worked at KCC. He’s very nice so I’m looking forward to seeing how he is teaching the class.

Plus, I’m very interested in how a synchronous online university language class will be run, mostly from a pedagogical perspective.

So, there you have it. My current Japanese study method. I’ve definitely noticed some improvement in my overall fluency and understanding. That period where I hit the wall was really interesting because after taking a 2 day break to let my brain rest, when I started up again I noticed a definitely jump in my level. Not a HUGE jump, but a jump nonetheless. Very neat.

One final push, and then I can relax into a more comfortable study pace. Maybe at the end of the year I’ll post up a progress video.

Or maybe that will be too cringy …. We’ll see.