Risking Graduation to Study Japanese

I had two weeks of self-study under my belt thanks to a beginner textbook containing nothing but romaji and a simple kana workbook. I was starting to like this Japanese thing. Maybe I’ll even go to Japan. It was time to do what anyone who wanted to become serious about studying Japanese did; take a class.

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My desire to study Japanese was rising rapidly. If I really wanted to get good at Japanese, a class was a requirement. I didn’t know any other way. Studying on my own was a hobby, but a class turns that into something more.

It was my final semester of university, so I had one last chance to get into a Japanese university course. One glaring problem; Japanese 101 wasn’t offered. Japanese 102 was all that was available.

For 3.5 years, I had considered taking a Japanese course while in school. But the transition from “I like Japanese things, so wouldn’t it be cool to study Japanese” to “I’m going to actually learn Japanese” was a slow one for me. A class had always scared me off. It’s going to be filled with people who are good at foreign languages, or already know Japanese, and I’ll be some outsider. And the language courses met 4 days a week, at 8am!

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It was my last chance to remove any regrets I might have (or already did). However, there I was staring down the course requirements.

Previously taken Japanese 101

That’s it. I was out. Except for 2 words next to it.

Or equivalent

I wasn’t a risk-taker when it came to school, but was now faced with a dilemma. I could exaggerate my “or equivalent” skills to try to work my way into this class. I knew that my light 2 weeks of romaji self-studying would not come close to a replacement for an entire semester of university level Japanese. I already had a fear of taking a Japanese course, but jumping into the deep end without knowing how to swim?

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Just do it! Right? This is the normal courageous thought one might have. But I had one lingering worry. If I took Japanese 102, and didn’t pass it, I wouldn’t get 4 credits. Since it was my final semester, I absolutely needed these 4 credits or I wouldn’t graduate on time. That was a big deal. How would I get to Japan afterwards if I couldn’t graduate?!

While I hadn’t made up my mind, at least I could try attending the first class, and see how it went.

I nervously walked into a noisy room of everyone talking with each other. Since they had almost all taken Japanese 101 together from the previous semester they all knew each other. Most of the class was Asian, and at the time, I had an incorrect perception that Asian languages were all similar to each other, so everyone already had a huge advantage. The teacher started talking.

“Let’s check to see if you have forgotten any Japanese over the winter break, and whether you’re ready for Japanese 102. Go around the room and introduce yourself.”

I breathed a sigh of relief, as I expected the entire class to be conducted in Japanese. One by one everyone went around the room speaking in what sounded like super fluent Japanese to me. I could barely put a sentence together. Actually I couldn’t. I remembered two things:

“My name is Adam.”
“I like sushi.”

One of these was a lie. But that was my introduction.

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After an hour of introduction torture, and a semester overview, my mind was blank. I went up to the teacher after class. I told her I had previously studied some Japanese, but it wasn’t a good course (the Adam 2-week course) and I didn’t remember much. I asked her if it would be okay to join the class despite my lack of ability. She agreed, and told me to review the first 6 chapters of the textbook they used before starting. Japanese 102 would go from chapter 7-12.

Could I do it? Who knew? But I had come this far. I was going all in.

My adventure began… as the absolute worst student in the class. I could barely read kana, knew 0 kanji, couldn’t follow any discussions, and slowed down the entire class whenever I was called on. When I was partnered up with another student for conversation practice, I could feel the disappointment. When I was called to the blackboard to write out a kanji or word, I felt embarrassed.

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My task was simple: catch up on the first 6 chapters of the textbook while continuing with the next 6 that the class was going through. I needed discipline. In the final semester before graduation, most seniors want to relax, and enjoy their last memories with their friends. But this was my choice. I studied Japanese every day, more than anything I had studied during university. In addition to the 4 classes a week, and my other busy schedule, I put everything into studying Japanese.

To keep everything organized, I recorded my “daily Japanese study hours” to make sure I was leading myself to success. I still have those records to this date to remind myself of my first challenge.

Here’s what my fist 2 weeks looked like (in addition to my classes):

Year: 2005 (All active hours)

Class starts:

1/24 – 5.25
1/25 – 6.75
1/26 – 6
1/27 – 2.25
1/28 – 5.25
1/29 – 6.25
1/30 – 4.25
1/31 – 4
2/1 – 3.75
2/2 – 5
2/3 – 3.25
2/4 – 1.25
2/5 – 3.25
2/6 – 1.5
2/7 – 3
2/8 – 3
2/9 – 3

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Frustration, worry, and self-doubt filled up these first 2 weeks.

Week 3

I discovered Japanese classes go slowly. I didn’t know this until after I had finished playing catch-up. Some people that take a language in school don’t take it seriously. But often it is the class just doesn’t have as high expectations as it probably should.

By week 3, I was no longer the worst in the class. I was understanding things.  My enjoyment rate went up. My embarrassment was fading.

Week 5

I was completely caught up and at the same level as everyone else.

Week 9

I was blowing past everyone else.

Week 14 (the end of the semester)

I was the most active speaker in the class, won the class speech contest, and ultimately ended up with an A. I was so far ahead that around week 12 I bought and started the next textbook in the series and was going through it on my own.

In 4 months, I went from worrying if I would graduate to kicking ass.

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This isn’t to brag. I wanted to tell this story to show that if you find yourself passionate for Japanese, you can accomplish it no matter how high you set your challenges. You can go way past the pace someone tells you is possible. You can take risks.

As for classes… they go slow. Even if you decide to take classes in college, you should by all means go ahead of their pacing. While I have mixed feelings on whether classes are good or bad, what I did here set the tone for how I would approach Japanese. I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything.

Don’t hold yourself back. If you want this bad enough, do it by any and all means possible. Put yourself in a situation that you aren’t comfortable with. Prove others wrong. Prove yourself wrong.



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Adam

Adam

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

Comments

Risking Graduation to Study Japanese — 20 Comments

  1. I enjoyed the Japanese classes I took in college because not only did it help set a great foundation in Japanese but it also allowed me to meet great people who are still great friends 10 years later, create awesome new memories, along with giving me something to look forward each day. My day started at 8am with Japanese so it was the best way to start my day. Also, Japanese homework gave me a nice mental break (it only took 5 minutes to do anyway) from my chemistry major homework as well as well… bumping up my overall GPA when it came down to graduation. It’s nice getting all As in a class that gives you 5/4/3 hours of credit (freshmen, junior, senior level).

    My only regret though was that I didn’t read manga back then or watch anime or listen to music or watch tv. I just studied the language. If I were to go back I would definitely engage much more with native material.

  2. On a related but different note I’ve just started my postgrad which doesn’t involve any Japanese language classes and I’m largely finding myself with too much work to study Japanese much (I watch stuff and read in my down time but rarely get to add anything to Anki/review stuff)

    I’m keeping going by telling myself two things:
    1) My degree is to help me get to Japan so in the long run it’s in my interest to give it priority.
    2) I’m at level 60, and reaching the magic 65 over the next 12 months is not a crazy goal at all (though don’t get me wrong I’d prefer to do it in less)

    I guess it’s about focusing on the end goal and just keeping going. I’m going to try and take some conversation classes while I’m here- I think even an hour a week that is dedicated to doing some Japanese is important for me (plus speaking is the part that needs the most work anyway)

    • If your postgrad degree is going to get you to Japan then it definitely counts as working towards your Japanese goal.

      No matter how busy you get you can always find a way to stick Japanese in somewhere. Sounds like you’ll get where you want to be!

  3. I took Japanese 101 through 104 at the local city college in my first three years of high school, but I’d like to still take Japanese or Korean classes when I get to college. My level is in the low to mid 40s, and depending on the school I go to, I most likely won’t need the language credit. Would Japanese classes be worth it, or should I stick to Korean?

    • Well first you want to be able to immediately skip to a higher level. So make sure that is possible.

      As to whether classes are worth it at a higher level, it depends on how you use them, what the teacher is like, what the other students are like, and how you combine it with your own self-study.

      I’ve talked with some people who enjoyed higher level classes and others who hated them. It’s at least worth a try to see what you might be able to gain out of them.

  4. That’s quite an awesome story to share honestly! I just started a new job and it’s very demanding so I’m always too exhausted to do anything (at least, until I get used to it)… so I’ve started getting up a bit earlier in the morning so I can do a bit of japanese BEFORE I get exhausted… Of course I am not getting a lot of japanese exposure, but I’m getting a bit of everything at least! I just have to make sure that as I get used to the job, I start stepping back up my japanese game too!

    • Yes, it’s always better to do Japanese before you get tired (though in an upcoming post I’m going to talk about the benefits of doing it even when you are tired).

      • Sometimes doing it when I am tired is the only way I can make progress. During the September Anki 0 challenge, it was “do it when I was tired or fail the challenge”. It is much less fun to do it when tired, and quite harder, but it always feels good when completed. I am curious about the benefits you might talk about. I imagine it is going to be somewhere along the lines of, “if you can study Japanese when tired, you can speak Japanese when tired”… We’ll see :’)

      • Looking forward to it! Of course if I have to do it when I’m tired, I will, but as of right now I prefer to do it in the morning haha

  5. I started studying Japanese in the fall when it was too late to take the first semester class. Instead, I immediately went for the study abroad program for the summer. That gave me 8 months to study before ever taking a Japanese course. On the study abroad, there were other students that had been taking the 100 level courses during that same time. It was nice to see that I was better than all of them despite the lack of classes.

    After the summer, I took the normal 200 level course for a year. They were actually frustrating because I couldn’t show my skills very often. And it was impossible to get better than an A- on anything because of all the deductions you would get. This last year of university, I’m not taking any classes because they weren’t doing much for me.

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