How I Keep up my Japanese While Traveling on a Long Vacation

When you get into a smooth Japanese study groove, you like it to stay that way. You’ve found what pace and schedule works for you and you’ve kept up with this for weeks and months. Then comes a vacation. Not the kind where you do nothing and just are being lazy without studying Japanese. The kind where you are travelling. You know, enjoying the world (besides Japan). Yeah, technically you could just not study for the week or so you may be away. But you usually face two problems.

1. It isn’t great for your Japanese. Especially if you are in your beginner to intermediate levels. Some people never come back to Japanese after a long break.

2. Many people who care deeply about their Japanese ability feel guilt and a bit uneasy. You’ve made Japanese such a big part of your life, yet you will be “slacking” for quite an extended period of time.

You don’t want to have to worry about your Japanese declining while you are on a beautiful tropical island somewhere.

Travel 1

Or do you?

So I wanted to provide you some of my tactics that I’ve developed over years of travelling:

1. Flight:

This is the perfect time to catch up on a backlog of Anki reviews. I used to purposefully focus on other Japanese studying and let Anki reviews build up if I knew I had a trip coming up.

I also use the lengthy flight time to give myself a nice dosage of Japanese movies, TV, manga, video games, etc. Variety in what you engage in is key, because repetition of too much of any one thing can get you tired.

When you arrive, feel good knowing that you just put in a ridiculous amount of time (especially if you are on a 10+ hour flight) into your Japanese.

And of course, this is multiplied by two since there is also a flight back.

2. Mini Immersion Mornings & Nights

You still have to get ready to go outside and get ready to go to bed. Get that immersion ipod on while getting ready. How about some Anki in the bathroom? Read a little manga before going to sleep to relax.

3. Japanese Guidebook

Japan produces some of the most amazing guidebooks you could ever possibly imagine. If you’ve never used a Japanese guidebook, you don’t realize how crappy your own country’s guidebooks are.

Detailed, but easy to follow. Portable, thin, and light. Colorful and full of relevant pictures and maps and plan ideas. No unnecessary history lessons. In Japan there is so much competition when it comes to guidebooks that if it is not a work of art in itself, no one will use it. What, you didn’t know the Japanese people loved to travel?

Using the guidebook means you are technically studying Japanese wherever you are going. And since Japanese guidebooks are mostly visual, even if your level isn’t that high, you can probably still make use of it.

My favorite guidebook: ララチッタ. Here’s what it looks like on the inside.

Travel 3

4. Waiting Time

No one likes spending time waiting on long lines to gain admission into various venues. You see nothing new while waiting and you may become a bit impatient. Pull out some reading material or get out some portable Anki reviews.

5. Additional In-Country Travel Time

You may be excited to look out the window at first, but when the scenery becomes repetitive, or it becomes non-existent, make use of this downtime.

6. Audio Guided Tour

When you go to major tourist destinations, you often have the option of receiving a set of headphones and a little device that narrates what you are seeing as you explore a sightseeing spot. The Japanese version is usually available.

7. Pamphlets

Similar to audio guided tours, there are usually free (or cheap) pamphlets in Japanese at the major sightseeing spots.

 8. Camera

Most cameras can be set to Japanese language mode (especially Japanese-brand cameras). While I’m sure you don’t spend a lot of time going through your camera options, you might as well add a tiny bit of interaction of Japanese with something that you will probably frequently be using throughout your trip.

9. Talk With Japanese Tourists

We all sometimes like to talk with fellow tourists when we come across them. Sometimes ask them to take a picture of us. Maybe ask them how to get somewhere. Might as well talk in Japanese.

Enjoy Your Vacation

This is the most important. But allow Japanese to maintain a low profile and be your non-intrusive sidekick. When you get back, you may be surprised at your reignited passion.

What strategy do you use to maintain your Japanese while you travel?

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Founder of Jalup. Spends most of his time absorbing and spreading thrilling information about learning Japanese.


How I Keep up my Japanese While Traveling on a Long Vacation — 4 Comments

  1. I’m on vacation and would just add that it’s tougher when you’re taking care of a three-year-old boy the whole time!

    One thing that helped me out (in addition to the good tips mentioned in this post) is that I quit adding new cards into Anki a couple weeks before leaving and even studied a bit ahead.

    My thinking on this was like driving, where you want to slow down going into a curve and then accelerate through it. I’m still in the middle of my vacation now, but am glad I took it easy going into the curve and actually wish I slowed down sooner.

    Anyway, the thing that helped me the most at the start of the trip? Flying from Asia into the past. That time zone difference was as needed as it was appreciated!

  2. Every since I started learning Japanese, I would sort of not be as happy I guess, when my parents and I would go on vacations, because always in the back of my mind I would be like “Man, I could be spending these plethora of hours doing Japanese, but I’m sitting at a beach, man!”

    Luckily this summer I’m going to Japan :D
    I’m going to have to be doing all the interpreting for my parents, and I am confident in my Japanese ability, but I still am feeling nervous.

  3. I actually took a long vacation a month or two back, and I used a lot of these ideas. Since I didn’t have a smartphone, I bought an Android tablet and Anki’d every day, loaded a few books on it and a few gigabytes of Japanese podcasts and music. Obviously, I wasn’t able to spend as much time in the language as I usually do, especially as I had my big family along with me, but I was happy. :)

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