So the project we have where we choose a skill, and using the powers of technology both refine and document, is one that I am majorly pumped about. This is the excuse I have waited ages for to motivate me to get back up on the unwieldily steed that is Japanese.
To preface, back in 2005 I moved with my then girlfriend, now wife, to her homeland of Japan. I had taken one class, Japanese 100 from the UofR, and naively thought that vaguely knowing how to read two of the three character sets, and how to introduce myself would be adequate. What a rube I was! I was lucky enough to get into the JET Programme, a govt. based English teaching gig in Prefectural Junior and Senior High Schools, and was placed on an island to the south of Osaka, where, would you believe, no one spoke English? This was a huge culture shock, and I soon found myself looking for any other foreigners that had also come on the Jet Programme to associate with, and holing myself up in my shoebox of an apartment the rest of the time.
Faced with the enormity of the language, I learned to adapt with body language and passively making others try their damnedest to understand my English spoke in a Japanese accent. (I know, it’s super embarrassing!) After one year on the island, I relocated to Kyoto, where happily most people could understand English, and when that failed, my wife convened on my behalf.
Needless to say, every time I return to Japan with my wife and our children, I again adopt the feeling of being the village idiot, where I can’t hold down even the most simple of conversations with friends and family. And over the past 6 years, since we’ve been back in Regina, any need to use Japanese has all but vanished, so any proficiency I had acquired has gone up in smoke.
Since we are heading back to visit again over the xmas holidays, (and after rereading what I have just written!) I do not want to spend the week staring into space while others have conversations around me. I’d like to have a solid conversation with my friends who were so accommodating to me that first year I lived in Japan. Language truly is an asset, and without it, it’s like suddenly not having ears or a tongue; you are dying inside wanting to understand and to be understood.
I have decided that the best way to measure my proficiency will be to take the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT). This test is the accredited benchmark for Japanese language acquisition. There are five levels, with N5 being a basic understanding of Japanese, and the N1 being fluent/master of the language. Initially I believed I would try for the N4, but after having my brain melt looking through the depth of the N5, I have reconsidered. The N5 is more than enough, given the timeline I have, and the sorely lacking base in Japanese.
Over this past week I have been scouring the net, looking for the best tools to assist me in my challenge. Many websites I went to highly recommended both Quizlet and Anki, which are virtual flashcard programs. Anki looks to be the better option as it is an app I can put on my iPhone, which will help to fill in those spare minutes waiting for your coffee to brew, or to replace the time I would waste on Facebook or Reddit.
I also have found a great resource on the JLPT itself, with kanji, grammar, and expression lists. While they don’t offer lessons on the site, having an understand of what will be on the test itself is super helpful. For lessons, I will likely be looking for Genki Japanese I and II, both seemingly the best starter texts currently available. Many websites also recommend saturation through podcasts and both reading and watching manga/anime. Japaneselevelup.com has a good media list for newbs, so that will help.
There’s a lot more to reference, but at this point, the above are all I think I’ll need to get started. I’m aiming to study 1-2 hours a day, not consecutively, but when I can steal the time away from my already busy schedule. The JLPT N5 official test date is December 7th, but the closest location is Edmonton, so it’s unlikely I will be able to make it over there. Instead I plan on having a Japanese friend administer last years N5 to me.
Here’s to a busy start! Now to remember what all the Japanese character sets stand for!