My name is Michael. I’m 27 years old and I’m currently in a master’s program for data science. I like playing video games (I’ll play you in Smash Bros. any time) and guitar as well as studying Japanese. I’ve been a Japanese Level Up reader for a while now, which actually inspired me to create my own Japanese learner site. This is my story.
I’ve been studying for about six or seven years, starting in the fall of 2011 when I went to study abroad in Japan. I was 20 years old at the time and I flew over without studying any Japanese beforehand. Thankfully, Japanese people understand you if your miming skills are top notch.
I began because taking Japanese was required of the study abroad program. I had always wanted to go to Japan to travel and go sightseeing, but I never had an interest in the language. That all changed when I took a Japanese class. It was a lot of fun. We used Genki as the textbook. We memorized hiragana and exciting phrases like, “good morning,” and, “thank you.” I think one of the writers of Genki was even my professor.
3 months: Speak comfortably with Japanese natives in very basic conversations.
6 months: Knew enough hiragana, katakana and kanji to read simple online articles.
1 year: My love of learning Japanese grew tremendously, and I had learned all the fundamental grammar patterns.
2 years: Took the JLPT N2 and I passed :)
3 years+: My intense studying calmed down a bit while I focused on my career. I still made time though, and eventually passed the JLPT N1. I was absolutely ecstatic.
Best and Worst Moments
After passing the JLPT N1, I felt directionless with my Japanese. I knew my Japanese could still get better, but I didn’t know how to measure myself. Where do you go after passing the hardest Japanese test? Luckily, I was able to find some new and interesting Japanese apps that made me want to study again, like WaniKani and FluentU.
I remember very specifically on the N1 test that there was a question that I wouldn’t have been able to answer if I hadn’t watched Shokugeki no Soma (Food Wars). It was a vocabulary question about ありふれた物 and I learned it from the show’s ridiculously catchy theme song.
I was told by a couple friends of mine that anime wouldn’t come in handy for Japanese and that anime nerds were somehow bad/uncool for their interests. I’d always been opposed to this view so when I saw this question on the test I just smiled and thought back to these mistaken friends.
I wish wasn’t so stubborn and just bought textbooks/apps. I had always admired people who self-study like Khatzumoto from AJATT, so I wanted to learn from as much of an immersive environment as possible. There were times when it worked and there were times where it didn’t.
What I didn’t realize was that there were people who had become fluent in Japanese before, and they were selling their techniques, grammar explanations and handy apps to make it easy. I should’ve been more open. Learning Japanese doesn’t have to be hard.
Learning Japanese showed me that I can do anything if I work hard enough, and that matters a lot to me. I never truly thought I would be able to speak Japanese, so my level today gives me great confidence in a way I’d never felt before.
Don’t be stubborn. When you need for help, ask for it. It’ll save you years and tears.