Into The Video Game
Hello everyone, my name is Ninjam and I will be sharing my journey learning Japanese with you from today until I am fluent. I am a 19 year old college student going into computer science and graphic design, and a hardcore gamer who has been playing for years. I began studying Japanese not too long ago, and decided to use the JALUP method to do it.
First, where I am right now:
These are my starting statistics. As you can see I am fairly weak, starting with almost no speaking or writing experience at all. I am at level 5, almost level 6, and just entered the world of Japanese. I have been practicing my reading and writing, but they are still fairly low in the single digit range.
While I cannot understand most of anything I see, I look forward to all the rewards that await as I move forward.
Next, my starting equipment:
While I hope to expand this, right now I have my trusty iPhone, loaded with Japanese music and podcasts, my Remembering the Kanji volume one, which is great for those in between moments when going to class, and my laptop, which is essential for my immersion. I will be upgrading my equipment as I go along.
My first major quest on the horizon is to finish Remembering the Kanji. I am currently at frame 700, and moving fairly quickly. While I am doing this, I am making sure to immerse myself in as much Japanese as I can each day, and add J-E sentences to anki for study.
My mission is clear. I will not give up. Neither will you.
I’ve discovered that the amount of progress that someone can make in merely a month using the methods here on this site are quite amazing. I am no longer as lost when I see natural Japanese text, I have much less of a problem finding out when words end, and can read hiragana/katakana almost perfectly. It’s very motivating to look at a block of natural Japanese text and be able to say that, although I cannot defeat it yet, I can definitely do some scratches to it.
My first scratches on some key basic grammar
My classmates seem to be faring better than I am. (Typo intentional!)
College classes are officially up and started, and I am taking a full 17 credit hours, which means a lot of time spent studying. During my search for classes a few weeks ago, I stumbled upon an entirely online Japanese class and managed to sign up for it, a process made difficult by the fact that my adviser was determined it was some kind of advanced class. The class is rather, different than my high school language classes, in a good way. It is completely online and the teacher provides plenty of drills consisting of native material, and a lot of example sentences. The best thing about the class is that I now have a plethora of sentences from the textbooks and all the online sources my teacher gives me, as well as having tutoring options to take advantage of for output practice!
At around level 8, 300 J-E sentences, and 1023 RTK. It has been much easier than I expected to find understandable Japanese to English sentences, even before I got the textbook for my class. Although my favorite hunting grounds are Japanese Pod 101’s podcasts and the textbook, I’ve also found some while watching anime and even some of the questions on class tests.
J-E carding up the enemies:
I’m already using three books, as there is just something about actually having a book in my hand that makes me feel more like learning. I don’t know what it is, although I suspect it’s connected to my love of libraries and just browsing through the shelves, looking for interesting books.
As you already know from the theme of my posts, I like video games. So to make sure that my Japanese flourishes through this, lately I have taken to playing Japanese indie games published online. A lot of them are free, and although I do not know about their quality, many of them are enjoyable even with little understanding. I am now confident I can recognize “Cure” and “Escape” in Japanese text, which I am confident will have practical uses in real life.
Time to rake up some more Exp.
Watering The Crops
Interacting with Japanese people can be difficult. So, in part of an ongoing effort to take more chances, I signed up for free Japanese tutoring. While this sounds like something that anyone can do, it really was hard for me, due to my peoplephobia, or fear of talking to people (did I mention I skipped the chapter on phobias last semester in Psychology?) I have, for as long as I have known, been afraid of talking to people or doing things like this. And yet, it was probably the best thing I could have done for my Japanese, as now I have private tutoring sessions every week, due to the fact that no one else has showed up.
Along the same tune, I have also been attempting to set myself into some nice routines, a word I have always hated, as to me it always came with the word “chores” or “bedtime”. By routine, I mean I now eat lunch at 11:00 at the food court, not because I eat the food there(I pack my lunch because I am poor) but because a group of exchange students from Japan sit there and eat, and I’m trying my hardest to go from hermit to socially acceptable human being. After lunch I normally go up to the library to do homework and anki reviews, but the main point here is, routines do not have to be boring!
It’s like finding a new training ground in a MMO and starting it. At first, it’s hard, the enemies are stronger, the scenery is unfamiliar, there are other players around and they are all calling you names and saying you are too weak to train there. Everything is different, but eventually you get used to it. You just get used to your new surroundings and you learn from them.
With a routine set up, I no longer have to remind myself to do my reviews, or write my posts. I go to the library and it just, happens. Studying another language is all about consistency. It doesn’t matter if you only learn a single new word every day and do reviews, as long as you are doing something, growth is inevitable. It’s just like farming. You have to water the plants every day or they will wilt and die. Missing a day here and there is inevitable, and perfectly acceptable, but forget to water for a week and suddenly you have a field full of dead potatoes.
I spent most of the month on reviews, as I have for the longest time been feeling like I was falling behind. Although I added very few new sentences (150) and more new kanji (300), I now feel more ready to press ahead, knowing that I will be less likely to forget what I am learning now with the information securely in my head.
Now back to the farm . . .
One Enemy At A Time
If I am the main character, and my power is Japanese, then what is my enemy, and how do I get stronger? Those are questions that I find myself asking while playing games often, along with variants such as “can I punch this?” and “if I punch this, will it punch me back?”
There are only so many words and expressions you can see. There are a finite number of kanji, kana, words, and grammar structures out there in common use, and you have all the time in the world to learn them. The sooner you stop stressing out about knowing everything now, the sooner you can get to exposing yourself to the language without worries. Each new word you learn is one less word you need to learn and one more small step closer to Japanese awesomeness.
In Japanese, always start with the friendlier looking bosses.
You won’t know everything. Accept that. You don’t know everything in your own language. The goal is to learn as much as a Japanese person knows. I visualize it as fighting the boss from FFVII with 1 million hp. At my current level, while I’m only doing 1 damage strikes, as my character grows so does my attack damage. 1 word down? Go for the next. Each one gets easier to learn by connecting them to the previous words I have studied. 1 million hp may be a lot, but this boss has no time limit.
In the beginning, learning Japanese is a long chain of various fetch quests.
As Adshap has suggested, I liken Anki reviews and formal study to grinding weaker monsters. Kill 500 of them and you level up. Reading material made for natives is like fighting a boss. Sure, that boss will give you the same exp as killing those 500 monsters, but if you are level 1 and trying to kill a level 50 boss, you are going to come to a halt. A game that had only grinding would turn boring fast, but so would a game where everything you fought killed you in a single hit (unless you had the 30-lives code from Contra.) Even ultra difficult games give you some weak monsters to kill a bit before throwing you to the super powered wolves.
Even regular enemies can sometimes give you trouble.
My adversary is not native material, but Japanese itself. I must become one with my enemy, learn from it, and absorb it. Every bit of Japanese I defeat causes my own Japanese to become stronger and I’m more able to handle bigger, stronger Japanese, until eventually I win. The key here is that if I don’t meet with the enemy, or use my powers, nothing is going to happen. To become a hero, I have to slaughter the mushrooms and work my way up to the dragons.
Finals week is coming up again, and I realized today as I opened Anki for the first time in 4 days that I could not quit Japanese even if I had wanted to. It’s glued to me now, like a little blue fairy who constantly calls to me while I am doing other activities, telling me to return to my mission no matter where I am or what I am doing. It may be annoying at points, but it will constantly keep me on track to defeat Ganondorf learn Japanese.
I open my “games” folder on my computer, and 90% of it is in Japanese. I opened up a folder of PDFs to read and a good third were Japanese manga and children’s books. My desktop has 4 folders of categorized study material, dictionaries, and various links to websites in Japanese. I may not understand a good portion of my games and books, but repeated exposure combined with my vocabulary learning has made everything an adventure.
I get happy when I see and recognize a new word that I learned the other day in a game I was playing. I have a niceselection of movies in Japanese, and when I go to check my calls on my phone I realize that the language settings have been in Japanese for the last 5 months. The fairy is everywhere on my computer, no matter what I am doing it’s there, telling me to look and listen.
At this point, quitting Japanese is impossible. There are weeks like this one when I am too swarmed by homework and studying that I may not learn much new material. But to study for my chemistry final I have to browse through a plethora of Japanese-named documents to find my notes, meaning even doing something completely unrelated is exposing me to Japanese. To check the time or set an alarm on my phone requires that I do it in Japanese, and has for a long time. It’s like how in a game, everyone in the town will be talking about the next calamity, urging you on to stop the moon from falling or whatever it is that needs done. Those townspeople are my phone and my computer.
Although no true hero would be lazy and do something because it is easy, it would be more work for me to stop learning Japanese than it would be for me to continue. I have reached the point where it would be easier to catch up on a week of Anki reviews than to give up on it and possibly never learn how to read half of my games. I would have to find a large amount of entirely new entertainment to replace practically all of my games, movies, books, and manga, a collection I spent months gathering and a lot of money buying.
My weak point now is kanji. For a while now I have been focusing on catching my vocabulary up to my kanji level, and now my vocabulary is better and I can understand more, but the kanji are getting mixed up. I stopped adding new cards and slacked on my RTK, despite being close to the end. I must train my kanji harder, and stronger, probably by fighting a lot more of them.
I just have to keep working at it. If I take things one moblin at a time I’ll eventually reach the next stage.
Sometimes it feels like learning Japanese is like raising a child. You feed it for a long long time while it sits there and acts adorable, and then one day you make it take out the garbage and… Wait, I think I’m lost here. Anyway, the point is, it takes a lot of time before it does anything at all.
Ever since I began learning Japanese I always felt it was going so slow, but at the same time I was learning so much.
If I compare what I know now to even a week ago I feel like I know so much more, but every time I study I don’t feel like I am learning much. A part of this, I think, is that the language itself needs time to sit.
Every new sentence and phrase, every kanji review I do, it has no effect until later. This makes studying feel very pointless, and is why the biggest tips you find from learners in the advanced stages is to just keep going, even if you do just a little each day.
Using anki reveals valuable wisdom fail the same card 5 or 6 days in a row, and then on the 7th day I somehow magically know it, and continue getting them right for much longer. It is the same regardless of if I am studying sentences or kanji. It’s like my brain will not comprehend things until I see them a lot, so studying sessions feel useless because I know I won’t remember anything well for a solid week straight.
This problem is really bad if you already have a hectic life schedule, such as having to move while simultaneously starting your first job and having to prepare for college starting up again soon.
If things get easier the more you study, then why does it seem so bad in the moment?
Why can I see my progress looking back so easily, but study and study and not feel like I am getting anywhere?
I think part of it is that there is more to learning Japanese than just learning the words and grammar and kanji and putting them all together. It seems like there are patterns in written Japanese, many you can see, countless you cannot see, but your brain can if you see enough Japanese. The Japanese is there in my mind, but is dormant until it is activated later on in the journey.
If your brain is picking out patterns as you read and listen to Japanese, then that would explain a lot to me. Like why textbooks are a good start, and why they become useless so quickly, and how I somehow magically became able to recognize where the words end after a few months of study.
It’s like I’m playing a really long game of Minecraft, where every block I place and monster I slay does not have an immediate effect, but over time they build into an amazing world. Building up starting from very little is something I decided to try with my Japanese..
Every piece of Japanese I see makes me more and more used to it. The Japanese I am learning now just needs time to sink in and sort itself out before I actually know it, so I might as well enjoy the process.
Only You Can Build Your Japanese Up
Progress works the same no matter where you are, and it is really easy to understand. You do something and see the results. Then you take the results, and repeat doing something until you are happy with the final results. You kill one monster and get stronger with the sword. You kill another and learn how to decapitate things. You learn how to say “this is a cat” and can now say “this is a dog” with minimal effort. It’s just taking what you already know and adding to it.
With a language it’s no different, no matter how vast it seems. I am no rocket scientist, but surely that is very similar. You take what you know about basic science and hypothesis and everything, advance to physics, and finally learn rocket stuff. It sounds so simple, why doesn’t everyone do it!?
It should be easy to just learn and learn and learn, you don’t even have to move all that much. It’s just taking things in another language and learning what they mean. So why do so few people learn a foreign language to proficiency?
Because it’s hard. Why do today what you can do tomorrow. It’s also unreasonably difficult for teachers because everyone is different. Despite your best efforts, some people will come in knowing more than others, and others will come in behind. It’s inevitable with the way things work now.
The easiest thing to do is just to do something simple that you don’t have to think much. Like data entry, or being an NPC. NPC’s don’t have to work; they just ask the hero to do everything for them. What an easy life, not having to learn to understand another language.
The problem with this is the hero is not always there. There are things you want to do, manga to read, anime to watch, but there’s no hero to come translate it for you.
What is the solution?
For most people, it’s the simple way of doing nothing. If the game is not translated, it must not be that fun. After all, if it was any good someone would have picked it up to translate right?
It’s flawed thinking, but it works, and it requires very little effort. Now, this is fine for most people, as not everyone needs comprehension in another language. No matter how much the educational system demands I learn French or Spanish, I really don’t need them to function. But what about those who do have a need to learn a language, whether it be for survival or for recreation?
The second solution is to toughen up and do things yourself. No hero to kill 400 rats? Better get myself a sword. Much harder in the long run, but more rewarding. Not only are the rats gone, but now you know how to kill them in the future. And possibly, since I killed so many rats, a bear can’t be that much more difficult, right?
It may have taken me a good chunk of my time, but I worked my way through the rats (J-E sentences), and the slimes(RTK deck), and even began fighting the bears(J-J cards). It was hard work, but I don’t want to wait for a hero to come and make me comprehend everything, especially if the hero may not even exist. I don’t want to have to wait for someone to tell me what everything means, because I’m not an NPC. I will take the hard path.
The hard path is always the more rewarding. Start small, and build your way up. There are ways to make things easier, you can spend your time studying sword techniques and buying incredibly overpowered beam weapons, but at the end of the day, you still have to do the work.
4 Years Later
Hello everyone! My name is Ninjam, and I return from the void! Four years ago I started one of the first masters in the making stories (before that was a thing) here on Jalup, but left it on a bit of a cliffhanger. I decided I wanted to come back and give a followup of what exactly happened to me and give some reflections about my lengthy Japanese journey.
Since my last post I have graduated college and started a graduate program, moved twice, gotten engaged (to someone who accuses me of cheating in Soul Caliber), and started working in writing. I went from being unable to figure out where words ended in my first post to starting on full J-J sentence cards in my last, and I’ve had a lot of time to hone my skills since then.
In the beginning, progress rules all. Every new word and sentence is a step closer to your dream. You want to share your progress with the world. It’s fun, exciting, and new. But then the way you measure progress changes. The bosses are still there, but they are not insurmountable. The mini-bosses are there, but they are manageable. And all the other enemies below them? A piece of cake. That’s how Japanese has become for me.
In the years since I started studying, I never managed to go full-immersion. There was just too much to do for me. Like most of you I had obligations, friends, family, schoolwork, and much more. And I personally decided that for me, that’s okay.
Instead I read manga on breaks at school. I went out of my way to choose “Japanese” when playing Pokemon X and Y. I forced myself to go out and meet Japanese students and talk to them after class, despite being painfully shy otherwise. I booted up what must be hundreds of games and visual novels at night. And I always made sure to keep up with Anki reviews and added new cards.
I failed sometimes. A game became a drag with too many unknown words. A visual novel was too dense in text. I only understood snippets of what I saw and got bored an hour in. I stopped doing Anki reviews for a few days. I once didn’t add new cards for a month.
But my knowledge kept rising. I set my goals. Although they are low, they are persistent. I can now play visual novels for hours without getting bored. I can read almost any manga I get my hands on, with little problems. Most conversations are easily within reach with my vocabulary allowing me to not only understand, but also to reply. I’m still getting better, but it’s been a long, slow process for me.
I’m somewhere between intermediate and advanced. The grind has become less of a grind, and native materials become more and more accessible every day that passes.
Progress is still made, but it’s hard to get much more than a roll of the eyes when you tell someone you only understand three percent more compared to your reading ability the previous month. It doesn’t sound special.
If you keep trying you will win, as long as you’re trying the right things. Figure out what you want to do, and do it. It doesn’t matter how. Read a book. Look at some flashcards. Try to figure out what an option does in a video game (make sure it doesn’t delete your saved game). All of it helps. All of it is improving you. Trial and error and looking up unknowns in the dictionary is all part of the process. Just keep at it.
A language takes time, energy, and effort, but persistence will get you there. Nothing is going to be handed to you on a silver platter. Nothing good ever is. It would be no fun if the best sword in the game was handed to you for free. It breaks the game when that happens.
I’m not where I want to be yet, and I have continued at a slow pace, but I will keep at it. Here’s my main piece of advice: it gets easier. Native material gets less frustrating to consume. Books seem less scary. Kanji becomes your friend. Words become your allies. It might take you a year. It might take you five. As long as you never give up you can win. As a great man once said, “You can win, you feel great, you… can… do… this!”
Good Luck & 頑張ってください!
A regular college student that plays more games than is recommended. Studies Japanese between classes and after-school.