I’m Back and Ready to Kick Butt in 2018!

Happy New Year, friends!

Yes, I’m finally back. Our trip to Japan was incredible, and I do plan to post about it soon, but for now I want to jump into the “fresh new year full of possibilities” Zeitgeist and resume blogging.

The blog has been quiet, but my life has not! I went to Japan after a twelve-year absence, took a trip home to Michigan and Ohio with a side road trip to Tennessee, continued volunteering, moved again (the photo above is the view from our new home), and continued to think, “I really need to get back to blogging!” pretty much every day. Well, here I am!

I’ve also been doing a lot of reflecting on my goals for my work, my family, and my life in general. Going back to Japan after twelve years reignited my motivation to master Japanese. To be honest, I really haven’t improved my Japanese skills in all that time, I don’t think; in fact, I’m sure I’ve forgotten a lot because I haven’t kept myself immersed in the language. Even on the short trip we took, so much came back to me. I especially realized this when we visited my former host parents and お母さん (Okaasan – “Mother”) mentioned getting out the おつまみ (otsumami – “snacks”) for us to share. If you had asked me one minute prior to that what the word for “snacks” was, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you, even though I knew I’d known it when I lived in Japan. Suddenly it was back in my brain, hopefully to stay!

I desperately want to live in Japan again, but until that opportunity comes, there’s no better time in history to be able to enjoy and learn through Japanese media, which are more available than ever thanks to the internet. In addition, we currently live in the Bay Area of California, a land replete with Japanese markets and bookstores (at least compared to where I’m from!) where I can easily procure Japanese books, food products, and free regional magazines in Japanese, not to mention a decent number of local Japanese people with whom I could speak in person. I really have no excuse to stay in my upper-intermediate rut. Being able to function in Japanese is not good enough — I want to be awesome at it!

With that goal in mind, I’ve joined a kanji-learning site called WaniKani (not a paid endorsement — I wish!). In fact, I’m about to pull the trigger on joining the lifetime membership to the site while their annual sale is still on. Only the first three (out of 60) levels are free, and I’ll soon be finishing the third level. Obviously I like it enough to pay a couple hundred dollars for lifetime.

Out of the 300 or so kanji and vocabulary words I’ve unlocked so far, I already knew almost all of them already (this site teaches kanji in a slightly different order than other books I’ve used), but I’m taking the long view here. Even if it takes me six months or longer to get to mostly-new content, if I know 2000+ kanji and thousands more words in a couple years, it’s worth it! I’ve had many books and found many websites, yet I haven’t been motivated because the goal seems too large. WaniKani’s teaching methods (to be discussed in detail in future posts) and gamification have me motivated to finish it all, while the other books and sites have not. I’ve been in a rut for too long and I think this is my key to being able to pass the JLPT N1 in two or three years.

When I tutor Japanese, I realize how much knowledge I have that I take for granted, and I certainly have a lot to offer beginner and low-intermediate students. I’ve gleaned a ton from all my studies and living and working in Japan, but I haven’t had the motivation to push myself to that higher level. Having the goal of finishing WaniKani will get me there. I’ll be writing much more about this process as I go.

To switch gears, I’m also working on an online TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate, “just to have the piece of paper” as I’m known to say. I’ll be writing about my progress with that as well. I’m already through 11 modules out of 27 or so. It’s supposed to be a 160-hour course, but with my prior experience and knowledge, I think it’ll take me much less time.

Finally, I’m strongly considering becoming certified as a Spanish medical interpreter. I’ll go into detail about how and why in future posts.

As you can see, I have plenty of goals on my plate, long- and short-term, and I plan to use the blog to keep myself accountable and share my experiences for anyone who may be interested in similar pursuits. In addition, I’m always open to tutoring English, Spanish, and Japanese, online or in person.

I hope your 2018 is starting off well, and that you’re just as excited about what’s in store for your year!


¡Prospero año nuevo! Espero que logren sus deseos este año y que 2018 sea un gran éxito para todos.

I Need to Choose a Goal!

There’s a lot I’d like to do with this blog in the future. Something I’d like to use it for is to document my own language studies, with the eventual goals of passing certain exams. My college degree is in Spanish and Japanese, but I’d like to go far beyond what I learned in college. Someday I’d like to go to grad school if I can make it work with all my other responsibilities, but there are other things I can do to show my linguistic qualifications.

In high school, I took the AP Spanish Language exam and became the first person from my high school to earn a score of 5, which is the highest possible. As far as I know, I’m still the only person to have done that in my high school. I was pretty proud of that and I received 5 college credits for it.

Recently I’ve become interested in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, or CEFR. You can find more info about it here. As with any test, you can find sample versions on the internet, and when I tried a sample for the Spanish C2 exam (the highest level), I passed it. Of course, that’s no guarantee I’d pass the real thing. So at some point in the future, I’d like to attempt this test and document my studies for it.

Maybe I’ll even attempt to improve my French skills to the point where I could try one of the tests! I think I read French pretty well and I have no problem reading French for my day job or when we visited Paris or when I see it on product packaging, but my other skills are lacking when it comes to French. I’ve come across some resources about French that I’ll blog about eventually.

The CEFR is for European languages, but the standard test for Japanese is the JLPT, the Japanese-Language Proficiency Test. Years ago, when I started studying Japanese, there were four levels of this test, with N1 being the toughest and N4 the easiest. At my university, in order to be able to graduate with a Japanese minor as I did, we had to be able to pass an old sample version of the N3 test, which I did easily.  This was after I did the 9-month work/study program in Japan, but before I participated in the JET Program, which requires a 4-year degree. So I’d had one year of high school Japanese, almost a year of working and studying in Japan, and several college classes to get me to that point.

During JET, I was chosen to study Japanese at the Japan Foundation near Osaka for a short time during summer break. There weren’t very many participants, but many of those in my class were planning on taking the N2 level of the JLPT. I didn’t plan on taking it because I lacked confidence in my kanji skills. Kanji are the Chinese characters used in Japan, for anyone who isn’t familiar with Japanese.

The other issue was that although I was confident I could have passed the N3 test, at the time there was a huge gulf between the N3 test and the N2 test and I didn’t want to bother with N3, only N2. You had to know a ton more kanji and vocabulary to get up to the N2 level. The difference between N4 and N3, or N2 and N1, was much more manageable. Because of this, a few years ago they renumbered the levels and added a level in between the old N3 and N2, so now there are 5 levels with more of an even spread between them.

But if I want to take the time and effort to do the real JLPT exam, I think I’d want to go all the way and go for N1. That’s pretty much the standard for foreigners who want to work in Japan in jobs that aren’t English teaching. Some employers will accept N2, but N1 is the best and it’s what I’d want to go for! Of course, that would require a lot of study and effort, and the fact that I’m not living in Japan anymore would make it that much more challenging. On the plus side, it’s never been easier to access Japanese media (and friends), so I could choose to surround myself with it as much as possible.

We (my husband, our kids, my mom, and I) have bought our plane tickets to go to Japan in April, which we’re really excited about! That makes me want to study Japanese more. But on the other hand, being there for just over a week will not get me ready to take a challenging test. I’m thinking I may study Japanese until the trip so I can enjoy it as much as possible, and then switch to Spanish. I’m much more confident in my ability to pass the C2 Spanish exam on short notice. Once I pass the C2 exam, I can set a longer-term goal of the JLPT. Then… maybe French? Someday?