I Think I’m Learning Japanese, Part II: Learning How to Learn

It’s Thomas again, or, rather: Watashi wa Thomas Typo, yoroshiku onegaishimasu!

That was: I am Thomas Typo, pleased to meet you!

I’ve been working diligently on learning Japanese in time for our trip in April,* and so far it is going well.

Here is an inventory of what I’ve learned so far:

  1. I’ve memorized maybe 50-70% of the hiragana, and a few katakana. A lot of work left to go, but it’s getting there!
  2. I’ve learned some basic phrases for introducing myself, and more importantly how to ask people how to say things in Japanese (so I can practice without going back to English when talking to Lee for practice).
  3. I’ve ditched what isn’t helping me right now, and I’m focusing what I need instead.

Let’s look at number 3 for a little bit. The first time I tried to learn Japanese, I made the mistake of trying to learn using just one method. This was bad. You probably need to use several different apps/books/tools if you aren’t paying for private lessons (which is in my opinion the best way to learn anything**). However, I was beginning to get the opposite problem: by trying to do too much, I wasn’t learning much of anything!

In my case, I turned off the writing module in the Learning Japanese app (which I continue to use and enjoy!). Writing is great, but it isn’t helping me now with my goals — to attain an ability to have basic conversations and to read simple things.

There is also the issue of finding time. I’ve set aside the hours of 9pm-10pm on most days for study (that is when our oldest daughter goes to bed, so it is a good time to study!). However, I realized that I have about an hour per day of commuting in the car to work. I should totally use that for study!

So to do that, I went shopping on Amazon for an audiobook, and found this one: Learn Japanese with Innovative Language’s Proven Language System.

What I purchased was a bundle for ten dollars that included their introductory boot camp, as well as the more in-depth lessons. What I like most about this audiobook is that it is not just a simple phrase-teaching book. They go into great detail on the culture and context of the language, and even have little pop culture quizzes that are quite fun! I feel like this is doing a good job of not just teaching me a language, but helping me to understand the overall culture better.

Here’s an example: there is an easy-to-remember word for “yes” in Japanese, called “hai” (pronounced like our “hi”). This is easy enough, but did you know that Japanese people will say this while listening to another person speak? You might hear a person say “hai, hai” throughout a conversation. In our culture, interjecting this way might be considered rude (imagine someone saying “uh huh” a lot while you talk: you probably don’t like that, and think they are brushing you aside or not paying attention). In Japan, however, it is the opposite: it’s considered weird to not say anything, and saying “hai” (and other interjections) is a way to let the speaker know you are following the conversation. That’s great to know!

That’s it for now — as I keep learning, I’ll keep reporting. I hope my ruminations are helpful and possibly a little inspiring! I can definitely say I’m having a lot of fun studying a second language!

*Obviously not mastering Japanese, but learning enough to feel like I’m not totally lost!

**I admit that I teach private guitar lessons, so I’m biased here!

Daily Audio Bible — iPhone App Review

If you’re like me, you don’t have enough hours in the day to get done all the things you wish you could do. Does that sound familiar?

One thing that’s important to me is increasing my knowledge of the Bible. Don’t worry; this is not a proselytizing post! But it is a post about another resource for practicing languages if you’re open to learning more about the Bible, even if just to study it as literature.

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I Think I’m Learning Japanese

Thomas Typo here.

So over the years since being married to Lee, I’ve wanted to learn Japanese, which is one of the languages she knows. Back in 2008, I purchased Rosetta Stone with the meager tax refund we had. I worked on it pretty dutifully (at least I remember doing that!), but despite using the product consistently for many hours, I really didn’t learn a whole lot outside of random vocabulary (“Watashi wa Thomas Typo desu,” meaning “I am Thomas Typo,” and tamago being “egg” and so forth).

The reason is that Rosetta Stone — while being really cool and slickly marketed — attempts to imitate an immersion environment. That is, they want to dispense with grammar and structure and just have you learn the language “naturally,” like your first language.

Well… yeah. I’m skeptical that approach works. I have an adult mind, and structure helps fast-track learning in a way that pretending to immerse yourself does not. A baby is surrounded by native speakers 24/7. When you consider how long most children take to speak reasonably well (years, despite being *totally* immersed!), is that really the best model for an adult?

Anyway, we have a trip coming up to Japan soon so I was inspired once again to try to learn the language. Since language is a huge part of this blog, I’m going to blog about my progress and review the various educational products I try along the way!

So far, I am using an app called “Easy Japanese,” and I’m pretty excited about my progress! What Lee and I like about it is that it combines vocabulary, grammar, and hiragana/katakana in a holistic fashion in bite-sized lessons. If I’m busy, I could easily get a lesson in that is meaningful in 20 minutes. As I continue to use this app, I’ll let you all know here how useful we find it! It comes free to try, with all lessons combined costing $5.99. Not bad; certainly much cheaper than Rosetta Stone…

I look forward to reporting my progress with Japanese, as well as reviewing all the educational materials I try!