Welcome to my journey. This is a new series where I will fully use Adshap’s method until I reach “fluency” and will write here once a week, every Sunday, keeping you posted on my progress. I will do this for as long as it takes.
I am 53 years old, married, my wife is 28 years old and I have a 3 year old son. I am a freelance musician and photographer (all photos used here I personally took), travel a lot, work odd hours, take care of my son 50% of the time, suffer from a chronic lack of sleep, live in a rather small place with my family, work at home when I’m not traveling, don’t live in Japan, and am always short of money.
This makes me the worst candidate imaginable to learn a new language.
In other words – if I can do it, you can do it – and if I can do it, then the JALUP method really works.
I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Japanese for years. My pattern was: study – frustration – stop – s-f-s-s-f-s in an endless loop. This lovely pattern has brought me to level 15 where I’ve been stuck ever since. How about that.
This is going to change as of today. I am sick and tired of not understanding and feeling low about my Japanese, so I decided to do something about it and follow Adshap’s walkthrough, adapting it to my lifestyle and style of learning, and using material that interests me.
The first step was preparing my gear for immersion. I’ve read most of JALUP, which I discovered 2 weeks ago, so I am fairly familiar with his concept. I’ve chosen the Japanese material to start my sentence input phase, and I am now well acquainted with Anki.
The gear I will be using for now:
1. Four ipod shuffles in different colors (red, yellow, green and blue)
2. Three pairs of different headphones (for different situations)
3. Adshap’s modified RTK deck in Anki, slightly modified by me
4. Graded sentence input material
5. A hooded sweatshirt
6. Great Teacher Onizuka (GTO) in Quicktime format, recommended in Adshap’s
drama guide, and a few Japanese DVDs
7. Different timeboxing gadgets, from cheap kitchen timers to apps for the iPhone
8. WorkLog, an app for the iPhone, that is for keeping track of my efforts so I can provide you with exact study times
9. Audacity for simple and straightforward audio editing
I feel something exciting is about to happen. It feels like moving to a new country, getting a new apartment, or starting a new relationship or a new job.
Immersion Calculations and the Quadruple Play
I’ve made it through my first week.
The first thing I’ve noticed is that immersion is not a given. Even if it’s “passive” you have to work for it. You have to put in the hours, develop a habit, making every single minute count, or you’ll never make it past 3 hours. I thought it would be easier – well it’s not. You have to really want it, or it just won’t happen.
There are 24 hours in a day. Subtract 8 hours of sleep (wishful thinking!) and 3 hours of social interaction for family, meetings, and friends. This leaves me with 13 potential hours of immersion, if I listen to Japanese while working and try to keep listening with one ear bud in while talking to people. Finally, subtract 2 hours of active studying – leaves a max of 11 hours of immersion a day, if I really go for it. That’s why I’m using the WorkLog app.
When you start a diet, first thing you have to do is write down everything you eat. It’s an anti-BS process. Find out where you really stand. In my case find out how long I really immerse, how much I really study. Not just wishful thinking. That way I can find out where my weak points are and adjust. Once the habit is solid I believe I can take it more easy, but for now I have to be strict.
I definitively have to get used to this and it’s not that simple. Sometimes my brain just wants silence, especially considering that both my 3 year old son and my wife have a tendency to be on the loud side – not mentioning my mother in law who lives in the same house . . . Should I follow my need for quiet or should I ignore it? Will I get used to the constant talk or will it annoy me after a while?
How about you? How’s your immersion going? Does it get on your nerves sometimes?
Let me talk about my 4 iPod shuffles: Red means short time memory. Green is for long time memory, Yellow is in the middle. Blue is uncategorized random material for fun – anything goes.
The playlists are dynamic and change almost every day. R contains no more than 15 minutes of material. These are the sentences or audio clips I just learned. When I listen to them continuously for an hour, they are played to me 4 to 8 times each. Once I know them well, they move up to Y which contains 30 to 60 minutes of material so I hear each phrase 1 to 2 times an hour. Once I know that material really well it moves to G, which is filled to it’s maximum capacity, enough for about 30 hours of speech.
Why do I use this method instead of a regular iPod? I have the iPods clipped to my jeans, I grab my headphones and hit play. That’s it. No scrolling, no fumbling, no searching for playlists, no wondering what I should listen to. I pick a color and immerse, end of story.
My immersion is one single click away. I like that.
I have three pairs of headphones: AKG K 430, Ultimate Ears and the regular iPod headphones from which I cut off one earbud. The AKG and UE both have great audio quality and they shield off outside noise, which enables me to listen to low sound levels. I don’t want to be deaf when I finally understand what people say . . . The “half headphone” is good for keeping a low profile. Wear a hoodie and you can listen to Japanese without anyone noticing.
It’s entertaining to being able to listen to Japanese whenever a real life conversation is less than exciting. I’m already able to go multitasking – I can listen to and interact with my wife, friends, sales clerk, and listen to Japanese at the same time – a very useful feature. And it sort of makes me feel special. I live in my own “secret world” while still interacting with the outside world: I hang out with Natsuko, Kiyoe and Ichiro while chatting with Thomas, Fred and Susan.
I had a very busy week. I managed to do 48h 54m of Japanese. Immersion: 31h 29m, Anki: 5h, active studying: 10h 25m, and drama: 2h.
Dramas definitively need more attention. And as you can tell from these numbers, I’m nowhere near the available 11 hrs a day.
Keeping Pace And The Power Of Fun
My first big change has already happened. I now realize that during my pre-JALUP phase my Japanese studies were indeed studies. It was work, worry, frustration, ego, ambition, and self-consciousness. It kind of reminded me of my school days many years ago.
Instead it should have been fun, laughter, enjoyment, fascination, love, interest, suspense, and playfulness. There is nothing wrong with ambition and studying, but fun and enjoyment should be at the very core of my studies. Nobody is forcing me to do anything. This is my free will. Why should I give myself a hard time? No wonder I quit so many times.
I feel it’s going in the right direction now. I trashed my old books, trashed the RTK Kanji that are not necessary, trashed the stuff I’m not interested in, and am going for the stuff that brings me enjoyment. I also trashed Core 2000 for the time being. Maybe I’ll get back to it, maybe not, but right now I’m not craving it. Let’s face it: I will never work in a Japanese company. I’m not that kind of guy. Why should I listen to office situations where a 部長 (section manager) tells a 会員 (employee) to make copies of some documents? What interests me in this situation? Nothing. And nobody will ever ask me to make copies. I’m my own boss.
For me the right thing now is Jpod 101. I find their lessons entertaining. The lengthy English explanations and discussions are rather boring at times, so I just import each lesson into Audacity and blast through it until I hear something that interests me.
I edit the dialog, deleting the noisy phone sounds, ambient intros and endings, and the constant spamming to visit their page. Sometimes I shorten the pauses between sentences (easily done with Audacity) and am left with hundreds of dialogs in polite and/or casual Japanese. They sound natural to me, and I enjoy listening to them. I drag and drop the audio recordings into my playlists and copy and paste the sentences I’m interested in from the lesson pdfs into Anki. It’s all become a routine, and I’m enjoying the process. There’s around 1000 lessons I can listen to, enough for the rest of the year.
I’ve been thinking about how to document my progress. I believe that listening to me speak on this series is important. I could tell you how much progress I was making (like the uber-ultra-super-learners from various J-forums), but without actual proof it would be boring and useless.
The best documentation is a video of me talking to a Japanese person, 1 on 1.
I will look for someone in my city and I will ask the person if she or he would be willing to chat with me on a video every two months. This would be the ultimate living proof of my capabilities and hopefully of my progress. I will tell the person to speak naturally as if she/he were talking to another Japanese person. I will try to understand and respond, and you will clearly see where I stand.
But for now I made a recording of me speaking and where I stand right now. I can clearly hear that my accent stinks, but nevertheless, I humbly present to you the status of my spoken Japanese. どうぞよろしくお願いします。May I never sound like this again:
Now that you’ve had your share of laughs at my expense, lets see what I did this week: Audio: 23h19m, Movies: 3h15m, Anki: 2h13m, Studies: 6h23m for a total of 35h10m. I was traveling quite a bit and worked with groups of 80 youths, making it impossible to listen during work. However, when I traveled by car I listened to Japanese all the time.
I’ll try to do better next week. Not enough movies and not enough Anki just yet. The truth is, I’m hooked on the Sopranos and I have to finish it. I’m at season 5 of 6 and when this is finished, I will never watch a movie/drama in English again. The kind of passion I have had for the Sopranos is what I should have for Japanese movies. Unfortunately when you don’t understand it can be hard to get hooked. Sometimes I feel I will never understand . . .
After discussing it over with Adshap, we decided to less frequently update the JALUP Adventurers, Coco’s Journey series. With this change, I will be putting a lot more action, reflection, and punch into each post, rather than having it spread out every week. Please keep in mind though that my journey has not changed at all. I will still be going all out just like I have been from day 1 and fully utilizing the JALUP method to Japanese mastery. The only difference will be that it will now be chronicled anywhere from once every two to four weeks depending on how things develop.
But now on to the actual post!
I may be mistaken, but I have the impression that my immersion world is showing first results. It seems to me that I understand more than ever before. Interestingly, English – or rather German in my case, is slowly fading. I listen to the phrases and I understand what I hear. Remember, though, that I am using material that I have listened to, read and understood at least once, before it has entered my immersion realm. But still, it is a step forward: I am understanding material that I am not translating.
I didn’t mention it before, but Japanese is my fourth language. I am fluent in German, French and English, but my mother tongue is German. Well actually, no, it’s not because both my parents talked to me in French, but I grew up in a German speaking area. Interestingly, I am learning Japanese through English, since all the good learning material is in English.
Saori has suggested I add reading material to my studies. I have been following her advice by adding Level 3 of theGraded Readers by White Rabbit Press. The readers come with a CD and full ふりがな (which is kind of useless when you have the CD). I tip-ex the furigana and read along while listening to the audio. I enjoy it very much. Thank you, Saori. I didn’t do much of it this week, because I had to travel by car a lot, but I can see it will be an interesting addition to my studies.
Good news: I found a Japanese woman, Makiko, who’s willing to work with me on this project. She very much liked my idea of recording my progress every two months. She’s in Japan right now, but in 2 weeks she will be back and we’ll start our recording project.
Also, I asked her if she could read books to me so I can record them and she liked that idea. First thing I’ll do is have her read “Kitchen” by Banana Yoshimoto (キッチン、 吉本ばなな) to me. I will then read along with the recording, maybe first reading it in German once, so I know what it’s all about, and then concentrate on the original text and the recording. Really looking forward to that.
My results of the week. Immersion: 24h9m, Anki: 6h22m, Studies: 10h9m, Reading: 0h39m for a total of 41h18m.
On The Road, Stick To Plan B
It’s been a while since I last updated my progress. I’ve finally decided that the best period to update on JALUP is once a month. When you’re on a long journey, change happens slowly, and once a month seems like a good frequency to keep my readers up to date, while still sticking to a regular schedule.
The weeks since my last post have been really, really mad. Adversity and distractions have hit me with full power, and sticking to a plan, any plan, has been very difficult.
Which is a good thing, because it has taught me a few things – when life gets rough, one has to adapt, and if there’s no plan B, then the journey may very well just end.
Which, in my case, is not an option.
I am sure that all of you have encountered situations when you were tempted to just “wait until things cool off”. Thoughts like “I’ll start again when I have the time” or “next week I will work on my Anki reviews, which are in the thousands by now, and slowly work my way back to zero”, or “after midterm I will restart my immersion, I just don’t have the brain capacity right now…”
Tomorrow? In a week? In a month? In 6 months???
Or maybe never????
Thing is, one day turns into three days, one week becomes a month, three months, six months and before you now it, your dream is gone before it even began. Have you been there before? I have – and it’s no laughing matter.
Back to my life. I was on the road, had two music projects as a composer and player (one of them was finished yesterday night and I drove back to my home town all night), my son was sick twice, then my wife, then me, and we had to find a new place into which we will move in September.
Keeping up with my Japanese studies was extremely difficult, and I almost gave up.
This blog and my plan B kept me on track, not every day, but most of the days. When me and my family were sick, things got really rough, and when I was in the final stages of my projects with rehearsals all day and lots of composing and programming, it just wasn’t possible. But I always got back into it, if only by sticking to my plan B.
Plan B is this: keep going under any circumstances, even if it’s just for five minutes a day. Never, never ever let the flame die. Do one single thing, but do it. Be it Anki reviews or immersion, anything that gives you any kind of positive feeling, just do it. Love watching movies? Watch 5 minutes of a Japanese movie. Feel good after Anki reviews? Do 10 minutes. You go to the gym, you have to commute? At least listen to your mp3 player while doing it. Invest 5 minutes to keep the flame burning. Then, when things cool off, slowly go back to normal.
Sounds really obvious, does it? If it is so obvious – how come people get fat, or give up playing the piano, karate-do, studying Japanese, going to the gym?
My advice is: Write down your goals for each week, if your week starts on Monday, then write down your goals on Sunday. Make a list of clear, achievable and realistic goals for your coming week. Carry your list with you at all times and read it at least three times a day. This will remind you to stay on track. Don’t beat yourself up by trying to achieve the impossible. Take the other route: feel good about yourself by achieving small goals.
If your week is rough, the list may look something like this:
1. 5 min sentence reviews a day
2. 5 min Kanji reviews a day
3. 20 minutes immersion a day
4. Read one page of the graded readers in one week
This looks like nothing, but if you stick to it while things are rough, you will feel good about yourself and you will keep the flame burning. And when the time is right you can get right back into it.
I am back home now. My family is well. I am exhausted, but happy, and I am ready to slowly expand my weekly goal list until I am back to normal.
My Mission Reaffirmed
Another month has passed and I must admit that it has not been easy. Still on the road, still struggling with everyday stuff.
Why does life not go from A to B in a straight line? Why does Japanese learning not go from A to B in a straight line? It would make things much, much easier. We wish things would evolve in a straight line, but they just never go where we expect them to go.
To put it plainly: I was feeling lonely. No one to talk to, no one to correct me, no close person around me speaking Japanese, only a huge mountain of things I should learn. Sort of like learning to ride a bike on an exercise bike in the basement. Riding and riding, working on good form and pushing your VO2max – but never feeling the wind, never smelling the pine trees of the forest you imagine you’re riding in.
Enter Maiko (麻衣子)
Finally, after weeks and weeks of trying to establish a date where we could meet, we finally got together. You could argue that I didn’t want it badly enough for it to happen sooner, and maybe you’re even right about that. Maybe I was scared of meeting her. I don’t know. The important thing, though, is that we met.
She was very nice but quite tough. She only spoke Japanese to me. There was not a single word of German (my native language) from the start of our encounter. She completely understood what I was looking for. In fact, she came well prepared.
Do you remember? I contacted her through Facebook (remembering her name from an old “Japanese Lessons” ad she put up two years ago), and asked her if she’d be willing to check my progress once a month or every two months while also reading some books to me.
Anyway, I had a copy of “Kitchen”, both in Japanese and in German, and to make things easier for me, I first asked her to read to me. Truth is, I asked her to read so I didn’t have to speak and wouldn’t feel embarrassed in front of her. She agreed and read half the book to me, before we took a break. I really enjoyed listening to her, I tried to read along and understand what was going on. I guess I got around 15% of it.
Here’s an excerpt for you to listen to.
Then, before I could safely end the “lesson” without losing face, she suddenly said: “now let’s see where you stand. I’ve prepared a few questions I’d like you to answer.”
I put the microphone in front of my mouth and started to fumble with the words and sentences, it was terrible. 恥ずかしかった。本当に。I really felt bad and down on myself, and was really depressed for the rest of the evening and the day after. I was ready to quit for good.
Have you been there before? Do you know that feeling? You’re supposed to be smart, witty and quick – instead you’re reduced to long pauses, lot’s of aahs and etou’s, sounding like an idiot while you try to find a few of the words you still remember as your brain goes into panic mode. Heck, she asked me where I’ve been in Japan and I even didn’t remember that. All I needed to do was name a couple of cool places like “Hagi” or “Kouyasan” to get the conversation somewhere but even this didn’t work. I couldn’t come up with the name Hagi. I was left with Tokyo, which is kind of pathetic.
The only good thing that I could think about at the time was that this will make me look even more like a hero if I ever make it to “fluency.” I will make sure to upload the recording then, but for now you’ll have to do without it.
Two days later I recovered from my shock. After all, I hadn’t spoken to a Japanese person since October 2009. The only person I spoke to was myself, and I didn’t understand what I was saying. So, instead of giving up, I started to get ambitious. I was ready to take some serious action.
I will follow the JALUP method and I will be the only student she ever met who will speak to her fluently after 2 years. I will impress her like she’s never been impressed before. I will enjoy speaking and chatting. I will enjoy watching movies. I will enjoy reading books. I will enjoy an entire new world that will open itself to me.
I started by mailing Maiko my exact goals for the month. They are: 1) go through Adshap’s RTK deck at a pace of 100 a day, 2) listen to 4 hours of Japanese every day, 3) watch 4 movies without subtitles per week, 4) work on my vocab for 20 min a day, and 5) listen to her キッチン recording once a day while reading along.
I am now a member of the Japanese iTunes store, have 12000 yen credit and have software to convert rented movies to movies I can keep forever. The rental is roughly 200-400 yen per movie, so I’m all set. Soon I will have a large movie collection without having to buy them at Amazon.co.jp and ship them here for a ridiculous amount of money!
I am ready to start impressing 麻衣子。Watch out!
The Dreaded Break
I haven’t posted in a while. The unfortunate truth is . . . I took a break. A long break . . . The same type of break that led to 2-3-years of slacking in the past. The same type of break which results in letting everything go and which is to blame for me staying at the stubborn level 15 for so long.
They say that three things are the most stressful in life: death of a loved one, divorce, and moving. Luckily, I was spared #1 and #2 for now, but I did move on September 1st, and it required lengthy renovations by me. It is a beautiful place but was pretty run down, requiring a lot of work and dedication from me.
On top of that, someone offered me a new project which paid for an entire year’s rent, so I had to do that too: compose, produce and record the music for 45 short films. Deadline: September 27th. I am fast, but this is not something I do overnight.
Somehow I couldn’t handle all the stress, so the Japanese had to go.
And in it’s place was this:
This is no excuse. Before moving, I was completely on track with my Japanese progress:
– I finished the RTK JALUP deck
– I watched an abundance of movies (25 since my last post), which is my favorite way to stay immersed. My favorites were: 天然コケッコー , ニライカナイからの手紙 and ツレがうつになりまして (which was very slow and sad, but somehow I could relate to it, me being depressed from time to time)
I discovered a flaw in my approach
I have the tendency to avoid something completely if I feel that I’m not doing it properly. If I don’t do my reviews for 5-6 days I start to avoid Anki. I even start to “forget” my cell phone at home. And then it gets worse and worse and I can’t motivate myself to go back to it. I think my tendency to be perfect is to blame for that behavior. I want to be perfect and when I’m not (in my eyes) I move away from what I’m trying to do completely. This is an area I desperately need to work on if I want to improve in Japanese.
When it comes to studying Japanese, I will never be perfect. I have to live with the fact that I suck and that I will suck for a while to come. I will suck when I speak, I will suck when I read, I will suck when I listen and I will suck when I watch movies. I will make a fool of myself when I speak to a Japanese person and well – I’ll have to live with it and take it with humor.
Same with time management. I have to accept that there will be times, like last month, where I have to take it easy. Where not everything will be perfect, because my world can’t always revolve around Japanese. And it’s OK. I’ll do more next month. I’ll do as much as I can when I can. October, November and December are fine. I will make up the lost time. I will give my best for the rest of the year and into the next.
Thank you, dear readers, for being here, because you make a difference. Without you I may have stopped. I am back in the game now, and tomorrow morning I will open Anki for the first time in a month and I will look at the 1000+ (or more?!) reviews waiting for me and I will tackle them, one by one. I will kill the beast, be back to my daily reviews, and back into Japanese. I will not let a major setback stop me. You watch. I’ll return even more powerful than before.
Back In Action
Let me tell you: getting back in the game after taking a break is 10 times more demanding than playing the game all along. This was a tough lesson for me, but I am happy to say that I made it back. There were lots of psychological obstacles holding me back, and since I was missing the positive force of routines and habits, I had to stem the whole thing myself.
The power of positive habits can’t be underestimated. Without them you depend on willpower and momentary willingness to study / immerse. It’s too easy to leave the headphones in the backpack and just go on daydreaming. And when you don’t feel like studying, you just do something else.
But – things are now going really, really well.
Sometimes a restart is a good thing. I reset my sentence and RTK Jalup deck. Bam! Back to zero. This was very liberating and had the immediate effect of me getting back into it.
The sentence deck is now set to “show new cards in reverse order started”, which means that the most recent cards show up first. This is good, because I lost connection to many of my older sentences, and by using the new ones first, I’m connected to the stuff I’m listening right now. If I add less sentences than I have in my “New Cards/Day” tab, the older cards get added until, eventually, I’ll have all the sentences back. Feels very fresh.
The RTK Jalup deck is now set to 50 new cards a day, and I’m done in a few minutes because I already know most of them. I feel like a hero, on top of things, which is exactly what I needed. I don’t care if it takes until the end of November, because I’m happily learning sentences and doing RTK on the side.
I am so happy I reset my decks. If you’re stalled, you should give it a try. Or start a whole new deck and get rid of the old one. It’s more radical, but moving forward is key here, not collecting stuff. Of course, you should take my advice with a grain of salt, as I am not an expert yet. All I can do is tell you how I feel and how things are going for me at the present stage in my journey. And I don’t have 5000 sentences in my deck. Things probably look very different with 5000 cards.
I got back into movies, too. I watched about 15 movies, my favorites were モテキ and 惑星のかけら. Really liked モテキ a lot. Romantic, funny, crazy, energetic. I watched it 5 times, a few scenes over and over again. Also listened to the extracted audio a lot and I ordered the Drama prequel and the whole manga series, which arrived with the mail today. Yes. Yes – I now am officially a fan. And I’ve go a crush on 長澤まさみ.
Can you ask for more motivation?
As for a lighter movie, I liked ロボジ, funny stuff. Especially the beginning is great and draws you right in.
I’m starting to love Japanese cinema. I’m dying to understand them better, I can see that watching movies fills me with desire to understand all of it, and I think this is what Adshap is talking about again and again. At the moment it ismy ticket to mastering the language. When watching movies you sort of start a relationship with the people in the movies, you’re taking part in their lives, and naturally, you want to understand what they’re saying. Adshap is totally right: this movie-audio-immersion-thing really works! and it’s so much more fun than listening to thousands of boring short sentences from iKnow or KO2001.
Some advice on movie sound extraction: I use Audacity, drag and drop the movie file into it, which automatically extracts the audio. Then I quickly go through the movie and delete all ambient noise and music with no speech. It’s a process that takes a few minutes, but it’s well worth the effort. You’ll be happy you did it once you start listening on your immersion player. Then I heavily compress the file: take the compressor plugin and set the threshold to -30 to -40 dB and klick “make up gain for 0dB” try “compress based on Peaks” and see what it does for you, maybe it’s a bit extreme, but give it a try. Then export to mp3. What it does, is level the movie so it’s never too loud nor too soft. It can be really bothersome if you hear too much or too little of your movie. You’ll find you’re constantly fumbling with the volume, but the process I describe here really takes care of this once and for all.
I am still using the JPod101 lessons, but I find them sometimes too slow and too long: take this example (used with the kind permission of JPod101). It’s a typical example of a Jpod101 lesson, intermediate level. There’s a lot of English, ambient sounds, and often the speakers talk slowly so you can understand their explanations. It may well work for many learners, but I want as much natural, normally spoken Japanese as possible. Enter Audacity again.
I use Audacity’s two most helpful features: “Change Tempo” and “Truncate Silence”. While listening to the lesson, I delete every English word which isn’t absolutely necessary and every noise that doesn’t add something meaningful. (nothing more annoying than a blasting phone ring while you have your headphones set to loud, the “もし、もし after the ring is enough for me to realize someone is on the phone) Then I speed up the tempo between +4% and +12%, depending on the speed of the speech. After that I truncate all the silent parts between the sentences. My settings are: min. silence duration: 200msec, max. silence duration: 1000msec, silence compression 4:1, threshold for silence: -25dB. Both these functions are used on the entire file in one go. At the end I have a nice edited file which suits my needs perfectly.
Check out the difference to the file you just listened to. Before it was 15m 07s and now it’s 4m 22s. I get the same level of information, but in one third of the time. It doesn’t take long to do that. For a 15m lesson I spend maybe 25 minutes, so it takes just 10 minutes more than just listening to it, and the benefits are obvious.
If you made it through the long post – thank you for staying with me, and I hope you can put some of my advice to work.
Passion. Fire. Thirst. Desire. Like raging waters.
I know those emotions well from the days I studied at Berklee College of Music. Passion for music. All fired up when playing and practicing. The unquenchable thirst to play well. The burning desire to get better.
It all came from listening to other people play. The stars out there, the good students, the brilliant teachers.
Practicing scales and such was OK, but I felt no passion. The fire was alight when I heard other people, when I listened to LP’s and tapes (CD’s and MP3’s didn’t exist back then). I had the first generation Sony Walkman and I had a Miles Davis tape on endless loop. For days and days. Always. Miles Davis “Four ‘n More” and “My Funny Valentine”. I could sing along every solo, every note.
And here I am again: the Walkman has become an iPod, the tape has become an MP3 file and the Jazz kept the J but the azz became apanese. Real people speaking real Japanese. Would I have listened to a tape with scales and arpeggios? I don’t think so. Would it have improved my playing? I doubt it. And would it have put me on fire? No.
Grammar compares well to music theory. It came after people talked and after music was being played and composed. It’s a quest for understanding the unexplainable. But it helps and I should not leave it unstudied. I definitively haven’t done enough grammar, reading and speaking. I have to start focusing on these issues starting in January. It’s easy to get obsessed with vocab and sentences and hide behind them.
Lately I’ve been using Skritter and I really like it a lot. It has helped me bridge Heisig to the real world. I’ve started doing Heisig in Skritter while going through the “Basic Kanji Book” 1 and 2 at the same time, and it has really helped me tremendously. I now don’t separate the two concepts, and since Skritter automatically adds the pronunciation to Heisig, everything falls nicely together. But – as I said, it’s easy to get obsessed with it and forget the other important fields: speaking, immersion, grammar, reading. I painfully experienced this when I had my last lesson with Maiko. First we watched a movie together and after that she asked me some questions about it, and, as last time, I went into panic mode and couldn’t say a single coherent sentence. It felt as if I hadn’t improved an ounce since starting with JALUP.
A lot has been talked and written about learning plateaus, stagnation, and progress. I won’t get into these subjects again. People far more proficient than me have done their share.
What I would like to talk about, though, is how one perceives or judges his own progress. There are numbers on the JALUP site. Level up numbers. They help, but, as you all know you can fluctuate from 15 to 25 and back in a split second, depending on how much sleep you had, how self conscious you are at a certain moment, who you’re talking to and how long you’ve been hanging out with Japanese speakers on a given night. (Have you experienced that feeling of exhaustion when your brain suddenly goes into overload and you just want to go to sleep and are thinking “What am I doing here???”)
I think my Japanese has improved a lot lately, but I don’t feel it just yet. And, as you can see from the lesson with Maiko, it still painfully shows. I still think that my learning of vocabulary is very slow, and I sometimes wonder if it’s my age which makes it hard for me to learn. But then I realize that I know lots of words I didn’t know 3 months ago and somehow it’s feels as if they came from nowhere. I guess there’s some progress somewhere.
My plan of action next month will be: speaking, shadowing, continue immersion and Kanji as much as possible and doing a little grammar every day. And I’ll try to meet Maiko more often so I can overcome my speaking inhibition.
Coco’s final post of his series was on 01/05/2013. This doesn’t mean he finished learning Japanese or gave up. He just decided to continue the rest of his journey without chronicling it. He thanks everyone for reading and staying with him over the months and hopes that your journey will be as amazing as his has been.
Want to follow another adventurer? Try Ninjam’s Mission.