Mito Diaries #3: Learning Japanese
Learning a new language is tough - like really, really tough. I don’t know how it happened, but it did. After 8 months in Japan, I was fortunate enough to pass the JLPT N2. I hope that by sharing my story, you’d be able to pick up some useful tips for yourself!
My Secret Weapon
Before coming to Japan, I only memorized Hiragana and Katakana. I also knew basic stuff like, "yes", "no", "please", "thank you", and most importantly, "where is the toilet??
Thankfully, I had the privilege of staying with a Japanese family, which really helped speed up my learning process. Besides attending church on Sundays and occasional calls back home, I was entirely surrounded by the Japanese language.
My host mum was incredible supportive and patient, and she would always encourage me to ask questions and make mistakes. She was the one who equipped me with my secret weapon - an electronic dictionary.
She would also make me practice writing Hiragana and Katakana so that my handwriting would be on point (I am actually very grateful for this).
Anyway, I was carrying the electronic dictionary everywhere in my first 7 months in Japan - shamelessly typing out what I wanted to say and asking others to type out what they wanted to say. Mind you, this was at a time where dictionary apps in smartphones were not yet popular. You could probably do with just an app on your smartphone now.
Letting go of this electronic dictionary from my everyday life was a big thing for me. It felt like I graduated from my training wheels. Finally, I could understand what was happening around me - without subtitles! This is perhaps the most rewarding thing of learning a language. #Ineednosubtitles.
But, this was not only thing that got me through.
No Shortcuts: 6 hours/day, 5 days/week
Attending a Japanese high school sounds like a dream for many anime enthusiasts. For me, it did feel like I was living the anime dream - except that everything was in Japanese.
My Japanese language ability was not up to the level where I could understand even an ounce of what they were learning in class. Needless to say, I was bored. So, I decided to spend my time studying Japanese. This meant that I had six hours a day, five days a week to study Japanese.
What I Studied
I started with these first and finished the series in two months. These books gave a solid foundation of the basics. It was not too challenging and they were given in manageable bite-sized pieces.
- 日本語総まとめ N3 Grammar & Vocabulary
I wanted to challenge myself so I started with N3 and spent about three months learning with these two books.
- 日本語総まとめ N2 Grammar & Vocabulary
When I felt comfortable with N3, I went ahead and tried out N2. I also spent about three months on these.
- Official practice tests
When my exam date drew closer, I tried out the N2 level official practice test. These tests mimic the actual exam itself in terms of difficulty level so it is highly recommended to try them out.
Disclaimer: I am somewhat fluent in Chinese, so picking up kanjis at the N2/N3 level were not too difficult (though N1 kanjis are no joke). Throughout my whole Japanese language learning journey, I mainly used the "日本語総まとめ" series because I loved how easy it was to follow along. This is my personal recommendation, though I am sure there are other great books out there as well!
In a nutshell: There are no shortcuts to learning a language, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t make your language learning journey fun!
Tips On How To Make It Fun
- Sing a song in Japanese
It’s funny how we can remember song lyrics more than words in a textbook. If you’re feeling creative, you could also write a song with all the vocabulary you’d need to know and sing it in your head during the exam! A cheat sheet that’s essentially not cheating ;)
- Write a story in Japanese
When I was studying for my N1 exam, the grammar and vocabulary were so tough I needed a better way of learning it, so I decided to write a love story out of it! My teacher probably had more fun reading it than I did writing it. All in all, I think doing this allowed me to pass N1.
- Watch your favorite anime in Japanese... without subtitles
This could also be your goal. Not only will this train your listening skills, but you can also pick up local slangs that are commonly used in the streets but are not taught in textbooks. Nothing beats being able to speak like your favorite anime character huh?
What Is Your WHY?
Ultimately, what drove me to N2 was my WHY. Without Japanese language skills, I would not be able to communicate with my family, my friends, the cashier at the store, etc. It was the frustration of not being understood that drove me to great lengths to achieve this.
Your WHY will be the one pushing you to continue when you feel like giving up.
The more frustrated you are, the more you would want to move forward. It should annoy you if you’re not progressing, but when you get there... treat yourself!
My host parents brought me to Disneyland hehe.
Thank you for reading!
If you haven’t already, please check out my previous article
Comment below if you have any questions, and I’ll be sure to get back to you.
It has been a pleasure for me to share about my student exchange days with you. This article marks the end of Mito Diaries.
Thank you for your support until the end! <3
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