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My Japanese Studies2018.08.02


Dear readers,
How are you? August is here! I hope you have something nice planned for the holidays.
 
Since this is an English conversation school, I’m often talking with students about their English progress and studying methods. But I know that some people are curious about my Japanese studies too. So today I thought I’d write a little about my own language-learning efforts!
 
I’ve been studying Japanese since about four years ago. But I started out very slowly! I initially started learning because I wanted to take an optional language class at university. Studying a language alongside philosophy was refreshing for me, as memorising vocabulary and kanji and practicing conversation exercises different parts of the brain than thinking analytically about philosophy does. When I first started studying, I had class for two hours per week.
 
After one year of studying Japanese as a side class at university, I ended up moving to Japan to study abroad for a year! That’s when my studies became more serious! While in Tokyo I had about five hours of Japanese classes every week, and of course I used Japanese every day in my daily life. A lot of people expect that if you live in a country for a year, you’ll become fluent naturally. But that’s not true at all! I was often frustrated that I still couldn’t have conversations with people easily even with five hours of classes per week and using Japanese every day. Sometimes with my Japanese friends, I got too tired of not knowing the right vocabulary and used English instead. In hindsight, I wish I had pushed myself a bit harder to converse more in Japanese.
 
There are many unique obstacles in learning Japanese. The first and most obvious one is Kanji. Even if I knew a lot of vocabulary and grammar, I still couldn’t read well, which made (and still makes) navigating society difficult. When I first moved to Japan I only knew about 50 kanji. After my year abroad I knew about 300, and now I know about 400. It’s still not enough! Another obstacle is polite Japanese, or Keigo. In any other language, one of the first things you learn is how to understand shop staff when you go abroad to that country. But beginner and lower intermediate Japanese doesn’t teach Keigo, and so for a long time I had no idea what shop staff were saying to me. I could speak to them, but their replies were so confusing! Now that I know how to understand (some) Keigo, I can finally make sense of shop/restaurant/public service staff. But it was very difficult before!
 
When I got back to the UK, I returned to taking only about two hours of classes per week. Strangely, I felt that my Japanese got a lot better during this period after my year abroad. I realised that this may be because, even though I was learning so much, vocabulary and grammar points take a long time to sink into our brains. For me there is about a half year delay between learning something and being able to use it naturally in conversation. When I reviewed and consolidated what I had learnt, I became more confident.
 
And now here I am! About five years after I first started learning. After arriving in Hitachi, I actually didn’t study for a long time (about four/five months). But after giving my students so much advice about how to improve their English, I finally resolved to take my own advice and start studying seriously again! I bought some textbooks, and I’m happy with my progress so far. My weakest areas are vocabulary and kanji, so I’ve been learning at least twenty kanji or at least twenty words every week through my textbooks. If I have some productive mornings I can make it forty!
 
You might think that I have plenty of chance to use my Japanese now, but actually because I only use English at work I don’t speak Japanese very often. I only speak Japanese if I meet with a Japanese friend or with strangers while shopping etc. I’d love to get more chance to do conversation practice because I think that’s the best way to learn!
 
Anyway, I’ll keep working hard at Japanese while you work hard at English! Let’s do our best together, and maybe one day, either outside of school or at the speech contest in September, you’ll get the chance to hear some of what I learnt!
 
Have a good week, and again try not to melt!
 
All the best,
Sarah
 

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