Looking Back: 2014

This is my 2014 Japanese review. Really I should have written this in August or September, because that’s when my language study suddenly took off and flourished. I could feel myself improving everyday, and was happy to sacrifice other pursuits in order to spend more time studying. I started watching Jdramas  without subs, though, I’m afraid, not my favorite one and none of my anime simulcast.

 

The instigator of all that new found momentum was Kawaii Japanese. in the beginning of August I read their post about HabitRPG and joined without blinking. I participated in their Japanese subtitle challenge, winning the first one and completely failing the second (but still attempting it, which was worth something). For the challenge I watched Nonbiri with Japanese subs open in a window next to it, and paused to enter sentences into Anki whenever there was one that seemed eligible.

This was basically every minute.

And entering the sentences meant breaking them down, word by word.

 

I have never watched a show so slowly before.

 

I didn’t translate the sentences into English on the cards, oh no. I went hardcore and made them JPN>JPN. Nonbiri turned out to be a good show to do this for. The girls all had a different way of talking, which meant I was exposed to various styles of Japanese (as a language with varying forms, mostly based on politeness, such variation is important). Not only that, it’s a rural, slice-of-life comedy, so the sentences I translated were often short and somewhat funny, while still containing those ubiquitous phrases that pop-up everywhere once you know them.

Here’s an example of one of my cards:

Front : まさか ウイルス感染で登場人物全滅とは

Back:

ウイルス→ ”バイワス”
感染(かんせん)→病気 (ウイルス方)

登場人物(とうじょうじんぶつ)→映画と本の中に人たち。

全滅(ぜんめつ)→全部死ぬ。人も。所も。世界も。

(Ah, going through these reminded me how fun it was, but also how completely unhelpful my cards would be to other people. I went a little out there on some of my “definitions!”)
That being said, the show made me want roll my eyes in a bad way, though I’m willing to consider that this might just have been the process, which took forever. As soon as the second competition was over I ditched it. In fact, as soon as the competition was over Nanowrimo was upon us, and as soon as that was over the holidays were here, and, basically, I did nothing but the bare minimum – put a podcast on in the background, listened to some songs, watched my (subbed) anime, and read 精霊の守人.

 

Ah, Moribito (守人), where do I began? Moribito has long been one of my favorite anime, I watched it over two years ago when Crunchyroll first put it up, and immediately re-watched with my brother. And then they took it offline and I couldn’t watch it anymore. Last summer I bought the light novel off of Amazon. It was ridiculously cheap for an imported item, about $11, and considering that it’s 340 pages of words, words, words definitely more bang for your buck than a manga (sorry Natsume). I dived into the book and, despite being completely over my head in incomprehensible kanji, found I could keep up with the story well enough thanks to the furigana and my familiarity with the plot and characters. I might not know exactly what was going on in detail, but I understood just enough to know where in the story people were. And then there were the times when I understood whole sentences. Magic.

 

Don’t let the past tense fool you, I’m still in the middle of this book. I’ve been “reading” it with minimal lookup since July. At first my reasoning was that reading near a computer is impractical. But with my iPhone loaded with imiwa this is no longer a valid excuse and I’m forced to admit that it just goes completely against my boar-headed nature to pause in the middle of reading. Looking up one word leads to looking up another, and soon I’m no longer reading, just word collecting (more on this in another post). Still, even with minimal word lookup, my reading ability has skyrocketed. From understanding unconnected sentences like, “チャグムの目がまるくなった,” to being able to follow conversations. To everyone out there studying: take heart and force yourself to stay exposed to multiple media even if it seems totally beyond you. Your mind was designed to learn language, you just have to give it enough materials. I really think that watching shows without subs reinforced my reading skills. It’s almost like I can imagine how the conversation sounds now even if I don’t know exactly what they’re saying.

Okay, we’re almost done. In 2014 I started cleaning out my podcast library. This has been done with far less enthusiasms than my other learning methods. A few years ago I went on a wild spree and downloaded something like thirty likely looking podcasts. I subscribed to some of these, but only listened to a few, and those only rarely. The result is that I had over 600 podcasts episodes waiting for me in August. I have taken that number down to about 550 . . . . My goal is to whittle that down to 0 (as best I can, some of them are still updating) and then delete them all and keep only my four or five favorites. I already know what the first four subscriptions will be: MHN (Music Hyper Market), Sound LIbrary, Kikudrama, and Udon Chururchuru. I have a few contenders for fifth place, and might end up with a sixth if I ever get the hang of listening.

 

So, there’s 2014 in review, with a bit of a sneak peek into my 2015 plans. I spent more effort than usual in August and September and the result is visible enough to make me want to up my game a bit this year. Next time I post I’ll show you how I’m planning on using technology to make the most out of 守人. Until then,  またね!

July Notes

また会う、everyone. It has been a nice whille since I last sat down and looked at where my Japanese studies are. Registration for the JLPT opens up near the end of August and I have to decided whether I take level four again (80% chance of passing) or jump into level three ( 100% of tears). Last time I was relived to confirm that I really was more invested in having a set goal to look forward to than I was in passing said goal, and though this truth brings me mixed feelings it does fire me up to try something new and challenging instead of something, well, old and challenging. Why attack the opponent you’ve already lost to if you  can lose to a brand new opponent instead?

Funnily enough, I just beat Ni no Kuni yesterday. I was thrilled, (despite realizing that I now owe the world a review for it) but the happiest part of the whole thing, besides the beautiful animation and ending credit song, was that I now get to re-start on DQIX. I have startled myself by actually missing this game, and today I happily dived into it for the first time in months. Yes, this is a game I’ve already “beaten,” but there’s still so much more to do. Baddies to best, caves to conquer, jobs to juggle, and, dearest to my heart, recipes to be realized. Compared to Ni no Kuni it has less text, especially now that the plot is over, so I’m going to have to be extra diligent in looking up words in order to count it as studying.

The other cool thing that I did this summer? Discover some great Japanese songs. I’ve collected a small, small number in iTunes over the years, but even among these I have a hard time thinking of them as songs I like rather than songs that are Japanese. But somehow I stumbled across ToHo’s channel and so found Japanese versions of the gorgeous Les Miserables songs. Youtube then suggested I listen to 小さな恋の歌, which I offically love to peices. I even went so far as to translate the first two verses and the chorus. Song translation is one of my many good ideas that I have yet to fully intialize, so this was a major step forward. As if this wasn’t enough, I found some awesome music on Spotify too. Of course, I really, really dislike Spotify becasue it insists on playing the most explicit commercials possible, and, uh, no. I like feeling all self-righteous about getting things for free legally while supporting the artist, but I will totally quit you each and everytime you play that ad. All that to say, I don’t listen to Spotify much becasue, despite its increasingly delicious variety of songs, I can’t relax whille it’s on. However, like I said there are a lot of good songs on it. Some artist I enjoy are Miyako Hasegawa, All That Jazz, and Mint Julep (who is actually already a staple on my iPod).

Reading-wise I haven’t made any new progress. Of course I’ve been picking up Natsume and reading a few panels here and there, but I know the stories a little too well for me to sit down with it and read them for real, and I’m not sure how useful it is as a study aide. I’d like to get a different manga series, like maybe Youtsuba!, but honestly, I have so many other sources of Japanese fiction avaiable I feel kind of bad about purchasing one more.

As for listening, Summer was a dry month for me as far as anime went. I did watch a procedural cop show on Viki without any subs at all – and discovered the ubiquity of the police procedural trumps even culture – but the only anime I watched consistently was Chihayafuru, and yes, I was naughty and left the subs on. The new wave of shows has just started in Japan and I’m hopping to find at least two enjoyable enough to watch. Of course, if it’s too enjoyable I’ll end up watching it with subs anyway – maybe I should be hoping for something bland with good animation?

All-in-all I’m passivly-giddy about my Japanese progression. I’m not really studying it at the moment by even the loosest definition of the word, but I’m still constantly being exposed to it and it’s exciting to see myself become more and more comfortable with it in general. My main goals are, as always, to increase my vocabulary becasue I have a terrible memory and a bad habit of just nodding and moving on if I don’t understand something (this spils over into all areas of my life. It’s a habit I got into when I was quite a new reader and it has morphed into a kind of patient-apathy towards ignorance). My goals have shifted slightly in that I suddenly find myself wanting to know more about grammar, and of course as my vocab increases my need to study kanji increases too. I plan on using imabi for all three of these goals, and I have started as any good procrastinator would by making an Anki deck out of the first few posts and then forgetting about it completely. Yes, I expect great things for autumn.

JLPT for Fun

December 2nd was the JLPT. I’ve taken it before, back when there were only four levels, and failed it pretty impressively. I remember going to Chuck E.  Cheese (my “clique” in high school was really into the dance pad*) and knitting while my friends studied. It wasn’t until talking to one of the other “testees” that I realized this was over five years ago.

Okay, seven.

It’s kind of cool to know that I have lived long enough to start something half-heartedly, let it flag nearly out of existence, and then revive it with pure and mindless determination. It’d be cooler if I had felt confident enough to take something higher than the N4, but as my results haven’t come back in yet I can’t even say for sure that the N4 was the right level. The testing was fun, though. Goodness, I have missed tests. There were quite a few places where I had no idea what the question was, let alone the answer, but these were balanced out by times where the answer was so blindingly obvious I had to blink a few times to make sure I was reading it right. And of course the environment was a lot of fun too. Dozens and dozens of people my age, mixed with nine-year olds and a few gray beards. There was one study group of children, and they gathered in the hall with their sensei. The first of them to arrive were these completely Anglican blond girls, with their parents and younger sister and a whole host of lunch boxes and electronic gaming devices. Then the Japanese moms started coming with their kids. Seeing the girls I had felt an almost jealous pang of regret, because by my competitive way of thinking they were ahead of me, but for some reason when I found out that the rest of their class was composed of kids with Japanese speaking parents I felt much better*. I’m not sure exactly why this comforted me, maybe it made me realize that we all have different resources to tap into. I know that mine haven’t even begun to dry up yet, so why should I worry about another’s?

The results for the JLPT don’t come out until the end of February, but I’ll be starting back up with my studies before then. I really would like to beat DQ9 before March so that  I can start on 二ノ国. And Anki, and, and, and . . . .

But that’s all later. After Christmas. For now, I’m taking a short break. No anime, no DS – only the books and music that  I would probably be interested in anyway. I’m looking forward to starting January with renewed vigor. Watch out grammar, here I come!

________________ Socks off _____________________

*My clique being composed of my mom, my sister, my best-friend-since-forever, and so on. At one point in my life our familys went to Chuck E. Cheese every week. We were on a first name basis with the manager, and when I heard them playing  “kiss me” on the radio a few months ago I nearly caused a traffic incident. The orange arrow, the green arrow!

** When the Japanese moms started coming in you could almost feel the rest of the room straining to catch their words. The very air seemed to scream “Real Life Example!”

Define “Study”

If you’ve been reading this blog’s back posts, or if, say, you actually know me in the physical world, I’ve probably mentioned the fact that I study Japanese. Or rather, that I don’t study Japanese as much as I’d like.

Japanese was my foreign language in college, and I spent six months in Japan (which I took basically zero advantage of), but my Japanese skills are still at the “beginner/intermediate” stage. That is, they were. Then I realized that my brother actually had manged to smarmy up to convince my sister to send him her DS. In my mind DS = Japanese Immersion Study Method. I immediately started spending shocking amounts of time researching DS games (immersive? not so much). I also finally downloaded Anki, and picked up the manga I had bought during Christmas, ditching the sticky notes and translation and just reading it straight up. I was already watching anime (Natsume Yujinchou at the time, but now season four is over. Sob).

Anki lasted until my game arrived and then I no longer had twenty minutes to spare for flashcards. It was good while it lasted though, because even now I’m recognizing kanji from the Heising deck I downloaded. Now every time Natsume visits a swamp in my manga I do a little happy dance – I get to recognize both swamp (沼) and seduction (召), which are two words I don’t often think of together. The downside is that the Heising deck doesn’t come with any readings, and some of the key words it picks for the kanji are, as you’ve probably already realized, real head scratchers (decameron for 旬 is my favorite), but it has exposed me to a lot of kanji and that in itself is enough. I also downloaded a Japanese  grammar deck, which threw me off completely at first, as I tried to answer it in polite, classroom Japanese. As useful as these decks were (and will be when I start them up again), both of these decks annoyed me like nothing else. I hate losing, and it appears memory is not a game I’m ever going to win an award for. It took me five days to finally get the kanji for “page” right, and then I failed it again the very next time Anki showed it (i.e. the very next day). Looking at my flashcards started leaving a bitter taste in my mouth, like cheap, burnt joe thrown back in the cold of a winter’s dawn as you trudge outside to shovel your car out of a two foot snow drift, knowing every other person in the house is sleeping at the moment, and will still be sleeping in an hours time because they stayed up all night partying while you were trying to get some shut-eye so you could function at your job.

Man, I hate to lose.

Luckily, you can’t really lose at  a video game. Not a linear one like Dragon Quest IX, anyway. You either progress or you wander around lost, but you don’t lose. Every time I come to a boss fight I die, but that doesn’t seem to bother the game at all. People tell me important things in the game and I just nod and smile and select “はい” as if I know what they’re saying. When I get really stuck (i.e. whenever the game wants me to do something in order to progress) I just go online and use a walkthrough. I rather wish the ones I’m finding would tell me a little more of what I was doing, instead of just saying “go to the north house and talk to X,” but oh well. I’m actually learning quite a lot while playing this game. My katakana, which was always really bad, is now passable as a skill (though the names they use for villagers and towns in this game have too many vowels). On top of this, I’m actually learning vocabulary and kanji. For instance, I know three kanji for “village” now, and the word for “goblin” that is used for monster attacks. I can recognize stuff versus equipment, and know defense and spells. Magic and curse and shield. Experience, defeat, inn . . . . Maybe not useful or applicable in real life, but if I ever run into a Japanese gamer I’ll be able to carry on a passable conversation – vocab-wise at least.

Best of all, there are the odd sentences where I understand everything they say without having to look any of it up. And every now and then, when I do look up a word or two, it’s like being able to see fae, that distant country that is really all around us, only on a different plane.* Whether I come across these gems in my manga or my game, they make me want to keep going, to try harder, to fall, and fall, and fall as proof that I’m moving. My life is a never ending distraction, so my Japanese might be pushed aside a little here and there, but I’m never going to be able to push it out entirely. Not when I haven’t restored peace to the villages yet.

 

 

_____________________ Foot Notes _______________________________

* If you prefer sci-fi over fantasy you can read fae as something Out of Phase or, perhaps, in the forth dimension – though I’m not sure if even Japanese is that mind-bending.