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Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

With all the travelling I have been doing over the past few months I took a break from studying Japanese.  I don’t go back to school until the 8th July but I need to start preparing now or the class will be incredibly difficult.  This morning I was looking at practice books filled with kanji.  I wrote the kanji but I am having difficultly remembering what it means.  With other subjects I just need to quickly read over the information and it comes back to me, but not Japanese.  I know that I need to practice everyday but I find it hard to be that disciplined.

Since moving to Tokyo I have bought a number of children’s books.  Every now and again I get them out of the cupboard and try to read them.  It’s an incredibly frustrating exercise when I can’t manage to read a book written for a five year old.  One of the problems is that they are written completely in hiragana.  It’s both a good and bad thing.  Good because it does mean I can read the whole book aloud, bad in that I can spend quite a while staring at a simple word like “moon” because I am so used to seeing it written in kanji.  I’m also not expecting the equivalent of “Mr Moon” but I do need to remember that these are books written for small children.

This morning I decided to read “The Very Hungry Caterpillar”.  I loved this book as a child and the Japanese translation looks just like the original.  I wasn’t that hopeful when I opened the book but I could actually read and understand it.  I didn’t know the word for lollipop and was amused that it translates as “licking candy”.  I also didn’t know the word for butterfly but it was fairly easy to work that out from context.  I’m incredibly pleased.  And yes I know it’s a book written for small children but I need to get excited with every achievement in language learning as it’s easy to be overwhelmed with everything that I can’t do.  I can still remember my joy at learning to read books in English and the hours I spent in the library trying to find more books I could read. This morning I want to to find more books that I can read in Japanese.  Long may this feeling continue!

 

 

Word Fear

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

Yesterday’s Japanese class introduced 75 new words.  I know this because I diligently typed them out last night in horror as I watched the list of words I’m supposed to know get longer and longer.  I don’t know how to learn this many new words and if I think too hard about it I panic and don’t believe it is possible. But I do appear to be retaining words.  Much as I dislike having tests on a Friday they are certainly showing me that I am remembering what I have been taught during the week.

The lessons can be boring.  One of my classmates was complaining to me about the speed of the classes as he would like things to move faster.  I wouldn’t.  It is true that it’s tedious listening to 15 people recite in turn the same sentence patterns over and over but this constant repetition does appear to be working.  Things that I used to find very hard in sentences, like selecting the correct particle, are not even things I think about any more.

The classes aren’t completely dull, after all we have a room full of people trying to learn to speak a language.  Between ridiculous role playing and making silly mistakes things can become fun.  My favourite mistake from yesterday was referring to my husband as my prisoner – the joys of lengthening a vowel by mistake.

 

 

Test Day

Friday, October 19th, 2012

Tests make me nervous.  I made a mistake during my test today in my haste to finish the horrible thing and to get rid of the nervous feeling.  I no longer feel nervous, now I just feel stupid.  Getting a question wrong because I don’t know the answer doesn’t bother me in quite the same way as actually knowing the answers and then writing them in the wrong spaces!  Hopefully I still pass.  I did forget how to spell a couple of words in Japanese and I need to come up with a better way to learn these.  I recognise the words when I see or hear them, but I don’t spend a lot of time writing in Japanese.  Typing is much easier as the computer helps by highlighting words if I make a mistake, or I will notice if the correct kanji aren’t available to me.  But typing doesn’t seem to be helping me improve my spelling.

I am getting braver in class.  I argued with my teacher for the first time today.  There was a question on my homework regarding the opening hours of the school, which I answered correctly.  It was marked wrong because the teacher actually wanted information on when I attended school, but that’s not what was asked.  It’s the first time I have tried arguing in Japanese and I wasn’t good at it, but I did get my homework remarked as the teacher did agree that there was nothing in the question about when I attended school and it really did just ask about the building.

I think I’m going to ignore Japanese tomorrow and start to study again on Sunday.

Japanese Study

Tuesday, October 16th, 2012

I’m attempting to work in a coffee shop.  It would be really comfortable if not for the horrendous background music.  It also explains why everyone else who is working by themselves is wearing headphones.  My poor mind is spinning trying to cope with the awful jazz muzak, the announcements from outside the store, and the Herculean task of trying to memorize 100 new Japanese words.  I don’t know much about the etiquette of sitting in the one spot for hours.  I have been watching other people and there are some who have been sitting with one drink for over two hours.  My plan is to buy two drinks over a four hour period and hopefully that will be considered polite.

My hand is sore from trying to write as I am out of practice. When I write in English I have the handwriting of an aspiring doctor.   My Japanese handwriting is actually easier to read but it’s still not as good as it should be.  I have to hand write my Japanese homework, which is a pity as my I type Japanese so much faster than I write it

(I’ve just looked round to see who was wailing but it’s part of the music.  I wish I had developed the skill that allows me to ignore background music but that usually only happens when I’m reading something really interesting.)

So far this week we have been taught more than 100 new words and I worry that I won’t be able to retain those even with the repetition during class.  I’m incredibly impressed by the amount of grammar we have been taught without anyone mentioning the dreaded word.  I thought that not knowing the exact meaning of things would bother me but with so much to learn I don’t have to time to worry about that.  I was reciting a conversation dialogue to Marty today and he asked me how on earth we had been taught a particular complex form of the verb.  I just laughed.  We weren’t taught anything about verb forms, just how to say a particular thing in conversation.

There is going to be a test on Friday of everything we have been taught to date.  I’m not sure how that will go, but it will be interesting to see how much I am retaining.

Learning Japanese in Japanese

Thursday, October 11th, 2012

I am just home from my third day of Japanese lessons.  It’s tiring and quite different from any class I have taken before.  All my other teachers spoke English and translated things into English.  But there is no English spoken in these classes.  Not only that, the first rule of the classroom is that you are not allowed to speak English in it.  (It’s Japan, as you can imagine there are lots of classroom rules.)  We were given one page of translated vocabulary at the start so that we would understand the classroom instructions given to us by the teacher, things like “please read” or “please say aloud”.  The textbooks are also only written in Japanese.

I found the concept of no English horrifying at first, but it’s actually quite interesting.  The lessons are incredibly structured as everything has to be built on what you just learnt.  There is a lot of miming and talking about things you can see, the sort of thing you might have to do it you were actually in Japan trying to interact.  Most of my conversations with people in Japan are about the physical world.  You want to buy something or go somewhere or you want to try on a dress.  Normally you don’t have conversations about the structure of a sentence, something that was very important in my previous lessons.  So important that I had to buy books on English grammar to try to work out what was meant when my teacher told me that something was an “indirect object marker” or that the verb was in “causative passive”.  I had to learn more English before I could learn Japanese!

There is no discussion of grammar in my new class as we don’t know the Japanese words to be able to describe that.  I don’t think there ever will be as I really can’t imagine my teacher miming “indirect object” or coming up with examples that make it obvious to the class that that is thing she is talking about.  Instead there are pictures of objects, acted out scenes on DVD, and miming.  We are learning grammar, but we are learning it without having endless discussions about particles and the correct one to use.  Instead there is repetition and conversation.   It’s stressful, as you have to role play and take part, and it is also boring as you hear the same things over and over again.

I was ranting to Marty last night about the conversations and how tired I was of hearing them.  Mind you, I was able to repeat every single one of the dialogues we had been using in class.  You have to concentrate on them as you know that you will be made act them out and you get to hear everyone else in the class do the same thing.  Boring or not I may actually have found a way to improve my ability to speak Japanese.

Japanese Lessons

Sunday, October 9th, 2011

I haven’t had a Japanese lesson this year.  I’ve been away from Japan more than I’ve been in it making it difficult to keep a teacher or to attend a language school.  I may have tried harder to resolve that issue if I had been enjoying the language, but when I thought about Japanese I was filled with feelings of dislike.  And although I have the ability to force myself to learn I was worried that I would never enjoy the language again.

This morning I was sorting through some of my things when I came across a box of kanji flashcards.  Instead of putting these to the side I felt curiosity, I wanted to know how many kanji I could still remember.  I started to sort them into order and went through the first 100 cards.  I could read 99 of the 100 cards and I made a silly mistake with the one I got wrong.  I’m now curious about the rest of the box.  It’s a great feeling, long may it continue!

Conversation Error

Monday, October 19th, 2009

I survived three hours of Japanese conversation classes on Saturday.  I wasn’t particularly good at this but I wasn’t completely terrible either.  My favourite mistake was:

Teacher: Have you ever had the experience of being on a diet?

Me: Yes, I have.

Teacher: Why did you do this?

Me: Because I wanted to get shorter.

Which explains why the only people shorter than me in my family are under the age of 10.

Level Check

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

I have been trying to find ways to improve my Japanese.  I have lessons twice a week but these are mainly to teach me reading, writing, and grammar.  My conversation skills are terrible and I know I need to find more people to talk to.  I don’t think that private lessons will be that useful for gaining conversation skills so I’ve joined a language school and I start group lessons on Saturday morning.

Before I could sign up for  a class the language school wanted me to take a level check.  I’ve never had a level check before.  As I’m starting a conversation class I imagined it would involve a conversation.  The teacher came into the room, told me her name, looked at a piece of paper, and started to ask questions.  She asked, “Can you eat natto?”.  I looked at her strangely and she asked the question again.  This is not how I expected the conversation to start.  But I answered, “No, I don’t think it tastes good”.  And the teacher sat and looked at me.  I had no idea what she was expecting.  I said in English, “You said, can you eat natto”.  She said in Japanese, “yes, can eat”.  It was then I realised that she wanted me to respond with either “Yes, I can eat natto”, or “No, I can’t eat natto”.

I wasn’t there for a conversation, I was there for a grammar check.  By the time I worked out how I was supposed to be answering questions the check was nearly over.  It didn’t go well.  Not only did I misunderstand about the grammar but I didn’t even have answers to some of the questions in English.  I don’t know what I want for Christmas, I don’t have a favourite type of food, and I can’t explain what I like about Belfast in three simple statements.  I thought it was a conversation.  In a conversation you try to answer truthfully.  In a grammar check you make things up and make sure that you use the correct grammar.  She didn’t want to know what I want for Christmas.  She doesn’t want to be told, “I don’t know” or “I haven’t thought about it yet”.  She just wanted to see if I could say something like, “I want a necklace for Christmas”.  The fact that I really wouldn’t like a necklace isn’t important.  Next time I am having a level check I should really ask which level.

Learning Kanji

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

My teacher told me this morning that I need to learn another 52 kanji before the exam in early December.  She believes that I can learn 4 per lesson.  4 doesn’t sound like a lot but today we worked really hard and it took 30 minutes per kanji.  Each kanji can have more than one way to pronounce it and more than one meaning.  As well as understanding it I need to be able to draw it.  Some are simple like “katana 刀”, or complicated like “kazu 数”.

The 4 kanji took up my whole lesson.  This gave me no time to work on the other parts of the exam and, given that kanji is only 25% of what I need to know, this is not going to be a winning strategy.

The other problem with learning Japanese through kanji is that they are not always relevant to my daily life, making them difficult to remember.  Today I spent 30 minutes discussing Japanese swords.  We didn’t have problems when discussing katana, the Japanese swords, but my teacher’s English is not good enough for her to know the difference between daggers, blades, and knifes.  This means getting out dictionaries and trying to find sentences that adequately describe the meaning.  Sometimes these sentences lead us off on strange tangents.  At one point she said, “Robin Hood used this instead of a sword”.  And I’m left trying to work out the connection between Samurai swords and the weapons that Robin Hood might have used.  The word she was looking for was dagger.

We also spent much too long trying to work out what “meitou” means.  The direct translation is “famous sword”.  But what is a famous sword?  I thought it was something like “Excalibur”.  A sword that had a name or was used by a great warrior.  My teacher believes that it is a sword created by a famous sword master.  Whatever it actually is it’s not a word I’m going to be using very often if ever.  I can remember it today, as it irritated me, but I will have forgotten it two weeks from now.

I know I need to learn kanji but I wish that they were taught in a different order.  Today’s lesson reminded me much too much of the Eddie Izzard sketch on how French is taught in UK  schools.  Only the Japanese equivalent of, “the monkey is on the branch” is, “the Budhist monk wore black robes”.

Time to Study

Saturday, October 3rd, 2009

I need to start studying Japanese again.  I haven’t had that many lessons in the past couple of months but that’s about to change.  I have an exam in December. This isn’t something I want to do but Marty got the application form and filled  it in for me.  My Japanese teacher also thinks it’s a good idea but I’m not convinced.  I only know 50% of the vocabulary and about 60% of the kanji.  I have been too frightened to even look at the required grammar list.  The pass mark for the exam is around 65% and I would fail if I had to sit this tomorrow.  I wish I found it easier to learn Japanese.