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!

明けましておめでとうございます。今年もよろしくお願いします!

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

I Think I’m Learning Japanese: Thoughts From Our Japan Trip

Hey everyone! Thomas here. Lee and I have been meaning to write more posts, but we had a big trip to Japan last month, and between planning for that, and recovery (we tend to take vacations where you need vacations from the vacation, hah!), we’ve been just chilling here.

For myself, I don’t have a huge post to make really, but I just wanted to share my experiences having learned a tiny bit of Japanese, then going to Japan, and what I plan to do with it! So here goes.

What my knowledge was, before the trip:

I “sort of” knew most hiragana, but I didn’t really know much katakana, and only the tiniest bit of Kanji. Super limited! I think I read one shinkansen (bullet train) sign once. Yay!

Speaking and comprehending:

Limited to what I would call “tourist Japanese.” Introducing myself and so forth. I did know how to say I liked something, so proved useful.

How this played out on the trip:

It was the opposite of what you’d expect. You’d think that my very limited Japanese would be of most help in short, common situations day-to-day, while our time spent with Lee’s Japanese friends in deeper, longer conversation would basically eliminate me from the conversational mix! In reality, the opposite was true. When we would walk around Tokyo, Niigata, Kyoto, Osaka, and Hiroshima (the cities we visited, all lovely!), you need to know how to say and understand something *immediately.* So I would clam up, and let Lee do the work here (who is far, far more advanced than I).

However, when we visited Lee’s friends, I could sit back and just listen, and I was able to pick out various things. At minimum, I could discern the general topics of conversations, which was nice (this, I think, was the result of studying enough of the language to at least have a since of its rhythm and flow; in other words, my ear was somewhat tuned to it). It also gave me the opportunity to speak the few sentences and thoughts that I could: basically, whenever the conversation moved to a place where I had a thought I could express, I said something (probably much to everyone’s amusement). Usually I was expressing things like “I like bean paste,” which is “watashi wa an suki desu.” Or, to write this properly: 私は好きです。

Mostly, though, I was really inspired. I just loved visiting Japan! I could feel my love of the country blossom in particular when we were in Osaka, which I have decided is my favorite Japanese city. Osaka is every bit the glowing, modern metropolis, but it has a slightly gritty, down to earth feeling, which I like! This is also reflected in the people, who have a reputation of being more gregarious and fun loving.

So because of this, I have decided on a mid-term goal: To study for and pass the JLPT N5, which is the Japanese Language Proficiency Test. N5 is the easiest level, but it would not be a trivial accomplishment. It would represent a sort of “bare minimum” to get by as a non-native speaker of Japanese, which might sound easy, but we’re talking something like 800 words of vocabulary here (which sounds scary until you realize simple things like “1” (ichi) count in this).

The test is in December, but I still have a lot of work to do! I’ll keep everyone updated on my progress here.

-Thomas

“Thank You Day” and the Good and Bad of Japanese Customer Service

In Japan, today is “Thank You Day.” Today is 3/9 — well, it still is here in California, anyway.

Numbers in Japanese have several possible pronunciations, so there’s a lot of wordplay based on that. Business phone numbers will often reflect the business’ service in some way by combining the pronunciations of the numbers in a way that makes a phrase relating to the business. This page has a lot of examples.

Today is “Thank You Day” in Japan because one way to pronounce the numbers 3 and 9 is “san kyu,” or “thank you.” Isn’t that cute? The above picture explains it. It’s from the Facebook page 今日は何の日, which means “What Day Is Today.” The little sign says, “いつも見てくれてありがとうございます,” which means “Thank you for always looking (at this page/site).”


I saw a listing for a freelance job editing mystery shopper narratives and decided to apply. The application requires a short writing sample about a good or bad customer service experience, so I’m going to include it right here and let my writing do double duty! I don’t know if the job will be right for my circumstances, but it won’t hurt to write a short entry, as follows:

Continue reading ““Thank You Day” and the Good and Bad of Japanese Customer Service”

Language Links

Whoops, got distracted by a bunch of stuff at home today (Saturdays tend to be a “catch up” day around here; particularly for chores that get missed during the busy week).* So Language Links comes a bit later in the day. Enjoy! -Thomas

*And, um, yeah, taxes. Ugh.

Grammar skills in babies not inherent, but learned.

Via Sierra Sun Times.

Preserving Nebraska’s Original Spoken Language.

Via KMTV.

From the blogosphere:

Amazing Brooklyn Coffee Shop

Via This Is The Place I Was Telling You About.

Lee likes tea, and I like coffee. I think we’d both love the decor in this place. Reminds me of Paris!

Paris Travel Guide.

Via Cup of Jo. Our travel manifesto is “do whatever,” as just being in a cool place is enough. But it’s nice to have ideas!

Getting past the intermediate plateau.

Ideas for progressing past intermediate language mastery.

Via The Polyglot Dream.