Learning Japanese

For those of you who don’t know, I happen to have a thing with Japan and its language.

I can’t remember exactly how it all started but I’ve been attracted to this country since I was about 15 years old, and started to learn the basics of the language during lunch breaks in high school. I didn’t get terribly far but I was able to learn both hiragana and katakana, along with some grammar and vocabulary.

I visited Japan for the first time in 2005 with my wife, and I can’t remember how we survived but I do know my meager knowledge hasn’t been of any help then.

But 2 years later, I was lucky enough to get a 6-months internship in Kyoto, and immersion pushed my understanding of the language a few leaps further.

But since, I’ve coasted off the knowledge built then and haven’t really taken the time to study and improve, between the fact that living in Montreal provides few opportunities to flex my nihongo muscle, and my struggle to find a class fitting both my weird in-between level and my schedule.

As a consequence, I finally took it upon myself to go back to studying on my own, with a strict regimen of grammar and daily kanji training, in the hope of being able to chat a bit more fluently with the locals during my upcoming trip to Japan this April (5th trip there!) and to, eventually, be able to read books, play games and do a variety of things that are traditionally off limits to people without a solid base in Japanese.

How I proceed :

  • Twice a week, I spend one full hour at some café to study grammar, mostly. For this, I use a book called “Japanese for Busy People“. No particular reason behind that choice, I just happened to own it, so I went with that one. It’s a touch dated but is rather straight to the point. Note that it doesn’t feature a single kanji, but there are two subsequent books that cover that.
  • Every day, I study kanji for roughly 30 minutes. Since I use my commute to do that, I use an application on my Android phone named “Kanji Study“. It’s a very well-designed app with a comprehensive kanji library, divided into sections corresponding to the JLPT levels, and proposes training courses through flash card-type exercises, multiple choices quizz, writing tests, and so on. Each kanji also has its components explained and a few examples attached. It’s an overall excellent application. Kanji Study also exists on iOS although I haven’t tried that version.

After two weeks of following that program, I can tell the difference, especially when it comes to kanji (I’m still early in the book so I’m going over things I mostly already know). But in order to validate that learning, I try to read more Japanese. So, I try to play games in Japanese, I try to read more carefully any Japanese text coming my way, and I listen to podcasts in Japanese, such as SokoAni, which talks about animation news. Not that I’m particularly fond of the subject matter but it is a guarantee that the hosts will speak an everyday kind of Japanese, along with a few modern idioms unlikely to end up in a textbook, but without being too technical or too formal, as formal speaking in Japanese kind make things more complexe. I’m not there yet.

Wish me luck!



2 thoughts on “Learning Japanese

  1. I’ve also been trying to pick up Japanese since last fall before my 4 months living in Kyoto this spring. Also using the same grammar book, but thanks for the recommendation on a good Kanji app, I’ve been looking for one!

    Although my listening skills were seriously bolstered in Kyoto, when listening to podcasts or watching movies I find my vocabulary obviously far too lacking to follow everything. I just understanding some words here and there. When you listen to podcasts, do you sometimes pause, go back, and try to translate a full sentences? Is it a study exercise for you or just practice in listening?


    1. Hey, thanks for the comment! And you’re right, I try to stop and analyze when I hear a new sentence structure or word. I also try to play more games in Japanese, although I don’t play much at all, lately.
      In my opinion, immersion is the one way to learning efficiently, but you have to be analytical about it.
      Good luck to you in your studying!


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