Playing Japanese like a Video Game — 71 Comments

  1. Don’t be too worried about not being able to speak/write (when I say “write” in this comment I am referring to being able to type out sentences) , from my experience, as long as your input levels (reading/listening) levels are fairly high, your output can catch up to them fairly quickly once you start practicing.

    I think your idea for having a theme to your posts is pretty cool and I look forward to seeing your progress. That, and we’re in the same major, so there is that making me want to see you succeed too.(笑)

    • Thanks. I was not too worried about my output skills being low, although i still do want to improve on those eventually. There is no point in being able to speak and write without first being able to understand others, so it makes sense they would be lower.

  2. Hey,

    Good for you. I put off RTK for too long–wish I had finished it soon. I am in the midst of my third attempt, but I will be it this time. Going strong at frame 1200. Let’s head off to the promise land.

    • Good luck! RTK is helping me a ton, it sort of demystifies japanese writting and makes it less of a jumble, if you know what I mean.

  3. I’m looking forward to it! What a cute character lol

    RTK takes up a lot of inventory space, and rightly so. Such an important item to have.

    • Thanks, I do like making cute characters in games.

      And yes, RTK is very important, although it taking up so much space may mean I need to get a bag or risk inventory overspill.

  4. Way to go!! I am rooting for you!!! Love the idea very much, I may steal it, lol! がんばれ!(Did I get it right?)

    • I am using video games for my studying. Even if I don’t understand all of them, I can pick out kanji I know and learn new words and sentences. The game I am currently using is mabinogi, a MMORPG. I played the english version, so I know my way around enough that it doesn’t get frusturating, and since it’s an mmo once I learn a bit more I can use it for typing practice with natives!

      And great tip for anki, that could come in handy.

  5. Can’t believe I missed your post, a new fellow adventurer – yay! I’m looking forward to your journey and it’s good to have someone behind me, it pushes me to run faster :)

    Don’t overtake me, I’m warning you!

    • Thanks, your posts were a great inspiration for me. Competition often spurs great achievements, so look out or I’ll soon pass you up!

  6. Great post. Final Fantasy 8 is one of my favorites. I always enjoyed the grinding portion of the game and you lined it up perfectly with JAL’s methods. Sentence mining is comparable to “Card”-ing enemies, or drawing magic. Both have the potential to overpower your characters–or your Japanese ability!

    I especially liked this quote: “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.” I’m going to remember this next time some wild Japanese text is putting me down. Thanks.

    • Thanks, Final Fantasy 8 is one of my favorites too, which is why I choose it. It takes a long time, but progress is noticable if you look for it. Every few weeks I open up a random site and see how much of it I can understand. Even understanding just one word on a page makes me happy, because that’s one more word than I could understand before.

  7. Great post! I love the visual representation of your adventure!

    That is so awesome that your university offers a class that’s taught completely in Japanese. My university needs to take a hint (^_-)

    Jumping into an advanced class can be the greatest push, or the greatest demotivator. It all depends on your passion and dedication to the language (which you have) combined with the interest level in the course materials and trying not to compare yourself too much to your classmates. You may find yourself doubting yourself a lot in the beginning. But the benefit of an online class is that you don’t actually see your classmates, so there’s probably less of a comparison-complex. I only have the experience of jumping into in-person classes. I’ve never taken an online language class.

    • It’s somewhat of a new class I think, and as such the teacher is still working out the kinks. It’s still very fun.

  8. “I’m trying my hardest to go from hermit to socially acceptable human being.”

    Ahahaha, sounds like me. Whenever I go to something, I always end up having fun and am so thankful I pushed myself to go. But I have to push myself, because I’m such a hermit.

    Yay for 牧場物語 references!

    • I’ve loved harvest moon ever since somebody stole my kirby game and replaced it with harvest moon. Not sure why they bothered to replace it after stealing but it was my favorite game for a long time.

      After finals I think I’ll see if I can pick up rune factory in Japanese. Ive heard it was a fun game and I saw it can be played on a English ds cause its not region locked.

      Pushing myself was the best thing I did. If I hadnt began doing that in highschool I wouldn’t know anybody and would probably havent had the guts to move out on my own.

      • I ended up getting Rune Factory 2 and not liking it so much. The heart system is different than in HM and I’m not so into the real-time battles.

        The music is really nice and I love how the characters are voiced. Such a great learning tool, just not for me. I still listen to the music though.

  9. Good luck with socializing with the Japanese students!
    I too am in college currently and we have a good deal of exchange students this semester.
    I was also super nervous and worried about talking to them, especially trying to do so in Japanese. But I forced myself to go to my school’s Japanese Association program and ended up becoming very good friends with most of them. Although I try not to speak TOO much Japanese to them, because the point of them being here is to learn English, but by becoming friends with them I can try my Japanese here and there and often through facebook and texting. It also gives me contacts for when I go to Japan.
    Although you may have worries and be nervous, I think you should definitely give it a try.
    Like Rachel said, I too ended up having lots of fun getting to know them and such, and am very happy I gave myself the push and did it even though I wasn’t sure.

    • My main problem this semester has actually been time and energy. I took so many classes I have to walk to school at 6 am and not leave until 4pm.

      Everything takes baby steps. Next semester is booked too but I will try to make room for our schools clubs. I’ll hopefully be more fit and able to walk back at night to socialize.

      • Ninjam, I have been reading all your posts and I just wanted to say that I LOVE how you used actual “video game” pictures to really make alive the idea that learning Japanese is like a video game. Seeing the Fire Emblem one and this Maplestory one sort’ve put a new perspective for me, idk, maybe it’s just the image reinforcement of seeing “nihongo” on an orange mushroom, etc, that made the idea of learning less scary!!!

        I’ll be rooting for you!!!!!!!

        • Thanks! I have been slowly learning just how similar learning a new language is to playing video games. I am still at a fairly low level, but as long as I keep training I’ll continue to improve.

  10. Nice entry, I love the Monty Python quote in your profile too. That phrase should be used as some kind of benchmark in language proficiency

    • Yep! The Monty Python quote was the first sentence I ever learned in Japanese actually. A friend who started learning before me was showing us it.

  11. Link’s Awakening!!!!!

    If there is any single game that rules over my childhood it’s definitely that one.

    Keep up the good work.
    Though I’m not sure that “fighting” a LOT more kanji is quite the thing to do. You definitely need to finish RTK first, and review it, but not necessarily do more than that. The stories are the easiest way to learn and remember how to draw the kanji the first time around, but those stories are also not meant to last forever. For many kanji you’ll eventually just know them, and the stories will then fade away.

    • That’s mostly what I was going for when I said I would fight a lot more kanji. I needed to catch up on a huge pile of review before I felt ready to resume learning new cards.

      And links awakening is very fun. I remember playing the oracle games along with it.

  12. Your post speaks truth! It’s so true that with the right environment, Japanese becomes inescapable. There’s no excuse for not studying Japanese with such an environment, but even if you wanted to slack off, it’s quite impossible! That’s why that environment is so important.

    • I was somewhat forced to stop studying for a few days due to finals. I would spend 9+ hours a day studying those days, not very fun. I passed all my classes but my only contact with Japanese contact was with my phone, setting alarms, navigating, ect.
      Right after finals were over, I slept for 14 hours and woke up at something like 5am, and began reviews right then.

      • Finals are rough and it’s understandable. During my finals, my only retreat from the stress was reading manga on the shuttle bus to school and before class began.

  13. Lately I’ve felt like playing video games instead of studying, but my 3DS is region locked so slacking off still involves a fair amount of Japanese.

    • I only have a regular DS with a few games for long car trips or bored moments in school. I save different games and websites onto my phone for mobile immersion. Lately I’ve been reading the Japanese Mabinogi wiki because of new content that is coming out soon.

      It’s hard work, but my experience with the game let me quickly learn a lot of important vocab from the game.

  14. Great article, I can definitely relate to everything your saying. Often it feels like I am going so slow, but when I look back on how far I have come, it has really been pretty fast.

    • Thanks. I often find it useful to look at what I can do when I get demotivated. I may not feel like I am learning much, but it compounds over time and grows, and is a lot more than any individual day of work can show.

    • Yep, it just takes a lot of time for things to build up. Might as well read and study until it builds up enough that I can respond in Japanese!

  15. Working in daycare, I’ve noticed that when you’re with a child every day for a year, it’s hard to notice how they’ve grown and remember what they were like when they were little. Yet when I’m away on a two week vacation and I come back, they look so much bigger than me and can do all these things they couldn’t before.

    This is how it is! It’s hard to notice how your Japanese has improved until someone who hasn’t heard your Japanese in a while tells you or you look back on what you could do or things you’ve produced (like a blog entry) years ago and realize you’re a lot more capable now than you were then.

    • I may not have worked in a daycare, but after my family moved back I distinctly noticed all of my siblings grew and that I could no longer tease them for being short.
      In particular, my 12 year old sister and her friends seem to have somehow doubled in size without me noticing.

      It is a nice feeling to know that I am making progress even when it doesn’t feel like it at all.

    • Oops, I said “they look so much bigger than me.” I don’t know how that happened. They just look bigger, but they are still toddlers. Not bigger than me.

      • You were probably trying to say something like “they look so much bigger to me”, which was actually how I read your comment until you pointed out the mistake.
        But thanks for pointing it out, ’cause the mental image of you being surrounded by these giant toddlers is hilarious.

  16. Hey man good to see you posting again, and that you haven’t given up! I can relate to what you’re saying about how it feels like you’re not progressing at all, despite studying hard every day. I read a book a while back called “Mastery” by George Leonard where he talks about something he calls the mastery curve, and how it’s natural to make progress in quick bursts and then reach a plateau. Here’s graphic from the book:
    I think once you realize that your progress is not going to be a steadily rising line, and that in fact you’re going to spend the majority of the time at a plateau, things become a lot easier.

    • I think I can relate to the mastery curve somewhat in other areas too. I spent a full 1/4 of my high school career(taking up mostly all my last 2 years worth of electives..) in a vocational school learning how to repair computers and how networking works. In those two years things progressed so slowly, but by the end of it I knew a ton.

      Then I started learning computer science at college and was shocked by how much I didn’t know. I can tear apart a computer and rebuild it in minutes and placed in districts for the tests on how everything works, but felt like I only learned a fraction of what is out there.

      I am going to look up that book later at the library, see if I can find it. It looks interesting.

  17. This is a really good article.
    There are a few lines I find just brilliant:
    “the point is, it takes a lot of time before it does anything at all.”
    “I always felt it was going so slow, but at the same time I was learning so much.”
    “it has no effect until later”
    these just do such a great concise job at describing why the intermediate stages are hard.

    My favorite of these lines is probably the last one: “it has no effect until later”. And perhaps the one thing I would object about this article is your conclusion that “This makes studying feel very pointless”. I’d even say it’s almost the reverse: since it’s not really possible for studying to have full immediate effects it’s easy to think at first that it isn’t working properly, but when you start noticing that the “full effect” come later on that validates the whole method and allows you to fret less about the here and now.

    And the funny thing is that this keeps happening even after your Japanese is pretty decent, but your just stop caring:
    It’s not that rare for me to be reading a novel and come across a word which I know is in Anki, but for which I either can’t remember the reading properly, or maybe I have a thin grasp on the meaning. Back when I was first starting to read this would have seemed like such a huge deal (probably because the less words you know the more you depend on them to figure out the text), but by now I just think “oh, well, guess this word isn’t ready yet” and move on.

    • The part where I said it made studying feel pointless was more before I discovered that it is sort of delayed. Before each failed review felt like I was learning nothing, but now I know there just the ones that need a little more time to stick. I would get extremely demotivated because it felt like I was learning nothing at all in the short term. Once I began to get used to the time it took to learn things I was able to relax a bit more and just enjoy the process of learning.

      • Yeah, I actually thought you probably meant something like that, but your wording reads differently. I’d maybe have said instead “This makes studying feel very pointless in the beginning”, because once you do realize that it is working after all (just in a way different from what you expected), the whole thing feels a lot better.
        And before you know it you’ll find you can do something you really wanted to do, and that just makes the whole process much more enjoyable.

        • Sorry about the unclear wording then. I was rather demotivated because I could see very little progress in real-world application, mostly playing games and reading manga and stuff, but after I figured out that things were just taking a while to sink in I sort of relaxed and could see the progress easier.

          I can’t wait until I am able to do the stuff I want to do. Ill get there eventually as long as I keep at it.

  18. Hey Ninjam,

    great article, definitely the kind of thing it helps to be reminded of periodically. My experience with Anki has been different than yours (for me, missing a card 5 days in a row is a pretty strong indicator that I’ll keep missing it until it leeches out) but the important thing is that each word that does stick and each structure I see repeatedly even if I don’t know that it’s a structure gets me a little closer to where I’m going. Now and then I’ll realize something like the number of tweets I can understand has jumped from zero to 10%, but it happened so gradually it doesn’t even feel like an accomplishment.

    On a tangential note, I suspect if you ever actually wrote a Japanese learning game/visual novel featuring Japanes-chan you’d make enough money to buy the Skytree :)

    • I do have a few cards that just don’t stick, but overall it seems like I just need to see the cards repeatedly to get things to work well. The gradualness is sort of nice, but at the same time annoying. You have to look back to see progress, which is probably one reason the one Japanese class went at a snails pace. I got to go over everything on the final, but because the teacher taught so little I was docked points for using words and kanji we had not yet learned. (A full semester for 100 kanji!)

      And I would loose all that money in a heartbeat from copyright violations cause I am fairly sure princess maker 5 is copyrighted. I was going to edit the name to Japanese, but the way it was reminded me of those old-school games where my name would so often be cut short due to the 6 or 7 character limit.

      • あ、ごめん! I thought these were original illustrations. So I guess I need to complement you on selecting great material to highlight your points, rather than on creating it :)

        (I admit I hadn’t heard of the Princess Maker series. From the name and the look of the game I was not expecting it to be a Gainax production!)

        Your experience with Anki seems to be the more common one. But for me, of the cards that I failed five or more times in the first two weeks, about 50% eventually leech out. Although that means 50% do eventually stick, which is more than I expected! It’s worse for my monolingual deck though, but I’m drifting off topic…

        • I first heard of the Princess Maker series, ironically, from a book in the library. I remembered reading about it in a print version of the web comic Megatokyo, and thought to try it out a while ago. There was an attempt at an official translation and distribution of the second game, but the company went bankrupt so any translations that exist are fan-made.

          I never really bothered to think too much about the statistics for anki as I assumed the program would work everything out in the end. I think I am sitting at a nice… 80% to 90% or so overall retention. Which seems pretty bad, but my immersion mostly consists of a hour or so of playing games in Japanese, and I have pretty poor memory overall, so I expect it to climb, especially as my Kanji cards mature.

          • Just want to point out that your retention rate on mature cards should be around 90%. You should never be concerned at all about your retention rate on new cards at all. For various reasons some cards just won’t stick and there’s never a good reason to try and force it.

            • Maybe I’m overthinking this, but it seems to me there is some value in estimating how many cards are reaching maturity, which Anki reports in a kind of coarse way as the fraction of a deck that’s leeched out. I guess this isn’t a big deal under a Khatzian “add a lot, delete a lot” approach and if cards are easy and quick to make. If cards take considerable effort to make or review and a large fraction end up leeching out I think I’d want an early warning so I could re-evaluate the card format and general approach.

  19. Hahaha, I was just telling my friend today that I don’t want to play Terraria with him because I’d rather do Japanese things instead. It’s actually been months since I last touched this game. Maybe there’s a Japanese patch available now…

  20. I loved this article and loved the references to gaming and learning Japanese. It helped give me courage to continue on my Japanese journey! I would have loved the read how the rest of his journey went and if he reached “fluency.”

  21. Thanks for sharing. Glad you kept at it. Being able to read manga for fun is something I hope to do some day.

  22. I just read your old post that chronicles your journey before reading this one, It’s been very inspiring and I can relate so much because I love videogames too and we have similar tastes for jrpgs. I just finished the first 250 cards on jalup intermediate (and the whole RTK) and I’m about to start the second quarter. Right now j-j studying is getting as smooth as I remember while on jalup beginner and I have almost completely removed the need for English definitions. My only problem right now (and this may sound weird) is that, after 3 years of studying japanese, I forgot why I am studying it. I am trying different things right now, like watching some anime and playing some games but none of it really motivate me into studing more, I don’t feel that burning passion of learning Japanese like I once had. I am still studying at the same pace as always, just because I believe I might find that motivation once again. Can you recommend some good games/ manga I might enjoy at my current level?

  23. Thank you for sharing how you didn’t at first know where words ended. I am five months in and when I work on reading material, even “beginner” manga, it is so frustrating not to know where words end. I’m wanting it to happen too fast, I think. Being such a good reader in English for so long has made me forget the years it took to master my native language. (And I don’t have a mother reading to me every night, like I had learning English. The hours that woman put in!) I am inspired to think that, even at my current slow pace, I can get somewhere functional, like conversations or J-J or reading manga. I just need to remember: It’s about the journey, eh? ?

  24. I love your statement about your goals: Although they are low, they are persistent. This made me relax and see that I can have “low goals” but as long as I follow them, I will see progress, and a little progress ever day is better than none. Sometimes setting high goals scares me away and I give up too quickly. Thanks for this wisdom in a beautifully written post.

    • I’m with you on the low goals, Candace. It is a relief to feel I can move at a snail’s pace and that is fine. I will still “get there.”

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