Japanese: My Life-Changing Journey, Three Years In
Around September or October 2015, I saw a post on the Duolingo forum about features Duolingo could integrate to assist with learning Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. Reading through that got me interested in learning one of those languages. They seemed so intriguing, and I thought it would be a fun challenge. Up until then, I had only casually learnt languages on Duolingo, which I often switched as my interests changed, so I wanted to try seriously committing to learning a language. I did a little research, eventually settled on Japanese, and found a tutor I could learn with over Skype. During my first lesson, I learned some basic phrases and started to tackle hiragana.
Fast forward three years. I'm in college as a Japanese major. I placed into Intermediate Japanese 1 despite having mostly self-studyed. I just spent four weeks on a language program in Tokyo over the summer, and the summer before that I spent two weeks at a Japanese immersion summer camp in Minnesota of all places. Most of the media I consume these days, be it TV, music, or print, is in Japanese. My goal for the future is to live and work in Japan, possibly as an English teacher.
Yesterday marked three years since my Japanese lesson. I had no idea how much I would come to love the language and culture, and how much it would shape my goals for the future. Japanese has given me a passion to pursue, a calling in life.
Am I fluent? Dear god, no, I'm still a long way off from that. However, with ~1,000 words and ~1,000 kanji under my belt, I have a good foundation. If I had to quantify my progress so far, I could probably pass the N5 level, maybe N4 if I'm lucky. I have high hopes that one day, maybe in a year or two, I'll achieve fluency, but I still have a lot of work to do until I get there.
Japanese has become so much more than a hobby for me. If you went back three years and told me just how much it would change my life, I don't think I would have believed you. Even now it's still a little hard to believe. One casual, on-a-whim decision three years ago has completely changed the course of my life, and I couldn't be happier about it.
As someone who's sort of just started trying his best with a new language, this post was very inspiring and nice to read. :) I wish you good luck in your future towards becoming an English teacher in Japan!
What a great post! I can so relate to your experience. It first happened to me with French. I became so caught up with everything French and dreamed of moving to France. Some people even suggested that maybe I talk too much about it, my enthusiasm was so high. I'm still that way, but then it happened with German, and now with Mandarin Chinese! I just absolutely love these three languages and the countries and cultures connected with them.
Wow, that's impressive! I definitely talk about Japan too much, so I know the feeling. As much as I'd love to learn other languages after I'm more comfortable with Japanese, I'm kinda worried I won't connect with anything else as much, but hopefully if it can happen to you multiple times, it can happen to me multiple times!
If you do not consider it too personal, I am curious about your country of origin and how your culture and Japanese culture compared during your trip to Tokyo.
In a few weeks I'm going to Vietnam for six months and will be living and traveling with local native speakers. I had a sneak preview here in US with the local Vietnamese community. I have read that when going from one culture to another you get a kind of culture shock adjusting. Did you experience that in your trip at all?
No problem! I'm from the US, so there were quite a few differences, but it wasn't that big of a deal for me. I watch a lot of vlogs by westerners living in Japan, so I had a very good idea what Japan and Japanese culture would be like. I felt pretty prepared, so that eliminated most of the potential for culture shock. I'm also not very outgoing or loud and try to be polite whenever I can, so there were honestly some times when Japanese culture felt a bit more natural to me than American culture. There were some difficult things, of course. While I do try to be polite even in the US, I still more-or-less say what's on my mind; I just try to phrase it nicely. In Japan, though, that level of bluntness can sometimes come across as rude, so it's much harder to get what you're trying to say across. You sorta have to dance around it. Other than that, it was mostly minor stuff, like having to carry around cash all the time (most of which will inevitably become a mountain of coins), trying to remember to stand on the left side of the sidewalk, etc.
Of course, I imagine Vietnamese culture is pretty different from Japanese culture, but if you do your research like I did, you'll probably be able to avoid any culture shock. Hope you have a nice trip!
Thanks for posting this @TheEeveeLord. I found it super neat that you already know what you want to do and are working towards it!
Thanks! Of course, I still have quite a while to go until graduation, so who knows how my goals might change, but I feel like my love for Japan is gonna stick for the foreseeable future.
It is amazing how sometimes seemingly insignificant moments can lead one down an unexpected and yet rewarding path, good luck on all that you wish to achieve!
Tell me about it, I can't even imagine what my life would be like if I hadn't started learning it. Probably would be a fair bit more boring, though.
Congrats!! I love Japanese culture, I was in Japan for a semester abroad it was great.
That's amazing! Do you mind telling me a bit about what it was like? I'm seriously considering studying abroad there sometime before I graduate and would like to get a better idea of what it's like.
The one and only Usagiboy7 called my post amazing...
That's it, my life has peaked, it's all downhill from here.
Thanks btw :)
Aww, don't be silly.
It really is a cool story though. I like reading stories of those small events that end up having a huge, unexpected impact. And personal stories in general on Duolingo just make me feel like it's all worth it. Yanno? :)
Definitely agree. It helps me remember that by learning the language I'm connecting to other people and forming an understanding of them (which we could all benefit from in these troubling times). It's easy to forget that when you're struggling with grammar or vocabulary, but seeing people's stories helps me remember why I'm learning the language and why it's important to me.
I have started learning Japanese and Korean and i think its fun reading this really inspires me to keep learning further into it X3 ありがとうございました！ 감사합니다!
Glad to hear that! Good luck, I hope you have as much fun with Japanese as I have had!
Actually if your vocab is at 1,000 words & a 1,000 kanji you can skip right to trying N2 on the JLPT. No need to do the ones below your ability. Save the time and money.
Edit: double checked the N2 requirements and I may be overly optimistic in my suggestion. JLPT guidelines suggest around 1,000 kanji and 6,000 words for N2. To pass the test you need 90 points overall. You need to pass each section: grammar/vocab, listening, & reading. Passing a section means scoring at least 19, out of 60, points. So it’s doable but might be pushing your current abilities.
It also depends on which 1,000 kanji one learns. If someone has learned 1,000 and none of them are featured in that test, it would be a fast fail.
You make a good point about skipping ahead to save money if one is qualified for a higher level test.
I'm learning with James W. Heisig's Remembering the Kanji which is definitely not a frequency-based approach, so I know some pretty random and not always useful Kanji as part of my 1000. It also focuses more on being able recognize and write the kanji than on pronouncing them. It teaches the meaning and stroke order, but not the readings or vocabulary, so might not work too well for JLPT study, but it definitely works well on getting the Jōyō Kanji and their meanings into your head. Then I just learn their readings when I come across vocabulary that uses them.
As I understand it, the Heisig books focus on the 2-3,000 most frequent kanji. So theoretically, assuming you’re working on the books from 1st-3rd, those first two volumes will be very useful and you’ll see those kanji a lot. The third perhaps a bit less so. But you’re not finding that to be the case so far? It’s good to connect meaning to form. What about the writing, aside from a memory enhancer, are you finding useful?
Remembering the Kanji 1 covers 2200 kanji (the 2136 Jōyō Kanji and a few others), yes, but I'm only halfway through it, and the order within the book isn't by frequency. I've learnt 懲 (penal) and 徳 (benevolence), but 甘 (sweet) and 新 (new) are still many chapters away, despite the latter two probably being more common in everyday life.
Volume 2 deals with the readings of the kanji in volume 1. I've always learned readings more easily through vocabulary rather than in isolation, and since some readings are pretty rare (目 can be read with the onyomi ぼく, but I've never seen it used, at least not yet), learning the readings this way acquaints me with the more common readings first and the more rare ones later.
Volume 3 serves as a combination of volume 1 and 2 for an additional 800 non-Jōyō kanji that are still fairly common. I may use the volume one part in the future, but I don't seriously plan on it now. Much like kanji readings, some are rarer than others, so maybe this odd group of uncommon kanji will be better learnt as needed.
All in all, volume 1 is working great. The mnemonic method presented helps keep the kanji in my head, and being able to remember the stroke order really makes me feel like I know the kanji. It's pretty easy to recognize a kanji, but it's a bit harder to then pull it out of your brain and put it on paper.
Edit: so, I just checked on my Japanese dictionary app, and of the over 1000 entries with 目、 only 15 have the reading as ぼく。 Furthermore, all these entries are really just the same compound (面目、めんぼく) with various affixes or verbs. Definitely not worth learning ぼく as a reading outside of the context of this word.
Either way, I'm not sure if taking any level of the JLPT is on my radar at the moment. I'm not completely against the JLPT or its equivalents in other languages, but from my point of view they're a little silly. I'm learning the language to connect with culture and people, not to get some official record that says "you know this much of this language." It would be nice to quantify how much I know, but based on what you just said, there are ways to cheat the system. There's no way I actually deserve to pass N2 at the moment, regardless if I could pull it off. It just wouldn't be an fair and accurate representation of my knowledge. I don't even really think I'd deserve N3 right now, I still have quite a way to go.
Maybe one day I'll take it (especially if I need it for a non-English-teaching job), but right now I'm happy just working through my textbooks and practicing with native speakers whenever I can.
That’s great. Whatever motivates you to keep going works.
I misunderstood your initial comment concerning N5 & N4, I though you were indicating a desire to take the JLPT. Completely understand where you are coming in regards to taking it. I’ve friends who’ve taken it for personal or work reasons. Plenty of friends haven’t taken it. One of them learned Japanese through listening and speaking to the locals and now he runs his own bar/amusement casino in Osaka.
your reason for learning/studing Japanese is so much more reasonable than mine, good job! (and have fun^u^)
I firmly believe that there's no such thing as an unreasonable reason to learn a language. I just started because I though "eh, could be fun." Doesn't matter what it is, as long as it gets you started.
I'm new on this website and already learned so much. Now I know that I have purpose to study, to reach another level in my life. I'm already multilingual (English, Georgian, Russian (medium level)) but now this is not enough for me. I don't know you personally, but whoever you are from now you are my inspiration. :)
Thank You - ありがとうございます
Hats off to the OP. This is a great accomplishment, and we all know this is only the beginning for you! To infinity and beyond ;)) Have some lingots.