My name is James O., and this is the story of my second attempt at learning Japanese. I first started learning Japanese when I got a Japanese penpal while I was in Junior high school (so maybe around 2002-2003). We eventually ended up losing contact, but before that happened we exchanged CDs. I sent her my favorite Aaliyah CD at the time and she sent me Utada Hikaru First Love. Seeing all the kanji and hiragana but not really knowing anything about it was fascinating to me at the time.
During those days, in my school you could only choose from French, Italian, and Spanish to learn. I started learning Japanese on the side on my own. First I started with hiragana and katakana and then bought myself a kanji dictionary (which I still have as it was my favorite…too bad it is now missing the cover and pages or I’d buy another).
In my early days, I learned by trying to translate songs as much as possible. From there, I graduated into trying to read magazines and interviews for artists that I liked. For listening, I watched dramas continuously. Eventually I was able to follow the blogs of my favorite artists and started using reference materials to study for the JLPT. Around 2007 I scored about a 50% on the Japanese SAT II from self study alone and in college I went on to major in Japanese.
Everything was going great until I took the N2 in 2010. That was the same year they changed it to the new format and I definitely didn’t know what to expect anymore. It was probably the hardest test that I ever took and I ended up second guessing myself a lot. I ended up failing the test, and for some reason felt like it was the end of the world. Forget the fact that I could watch dramas without subtitles and hold my own in a conversation if I felt brave. I let failing the test define me and actually did nothing with Japanese for almost 3 years after that.
Right now I am in the middle of my 2nd attempt.
I realized that I missed the enrichment that learning another language/culture brought to my life and took 2 classes at the local Japan Society in NY to get back into it. Not surprisingly, my skills have definitely decreased.
I didn’t get to study abroad in Japan during school for financial reasons, but after deciding that I missed Japanese and wanted to take it seriously this time around, I applied to go to KCP International Japanese Language School in Japan. I figured that I could fulfill my old dream and stick myself in a situation where I would be forced to learn and better myself. I’m set to leave January 2016 so hopefully this second attempt will be the ultimate success.
As for my advice/encouragement to others…
I think sometimes it is okay to quit/take a break so you can step back and really see what is important to you. I literally stopped everything Japanese for 3 years and then realized that I had missed it or it had always been on my mind. Once I got to that point and said “this is what I want to do” I started throwing myself behind it with full force again. I got a 2nd job to pay for my sabbatical in Japan, I started studying whenever I could, getting back into Japanese music and movies, etc.
Now that I had that time away, I appreciate and enjoy these things so much more. Even if I feel like I lost so much of my Japanese during that break, it is exciting when I find a lot of things I still do know. Sometimes we really just need a moment away. It doesn’t mean it is the end!
And that is my currently in process story!