Welcome to 2022! Happy New Year! Did you spend a fun Eve? Managed to enjoy the first sunrise of the new year? It has been over a week since then, so it is high time I decided on my 2022 resolutions. As I have already published my JLPT road map for N2, I took that extra time to deeply think about my resolutions on purpose. Exam prep is one thing, but what other goals should I pursue this year? Time to find out.
N2 ROAD MAP
Before we move onto non-JLPT topics, an additional explanation on my road map should be given. Although I did elaborate on the details of my study plan, when I re-read it, I noticed that I did not pay much attention to several issues, so I will be doing that now.
One of them is why the core of my studies will be wrapped up by August and then later only reviewed. There’s a simple reason for that: JLPT registration begins mid-August. In case the December exam gets cancelled yet again, so as not to get discouraged, I want to have the entire material covered already. To my mind, it would be easier for me to resume my studies later when I can just review what I already know rather than having some leftovers to go over.
What is more, I have been observing other people’s experience with said cancellation over the last 2 years and what I have gathered is that the revelation is disheartening and could be detrimental to the studies. Being afraid I might fall victim to the very same feeling (and end up taking a break as a result), I prefer to stick to a tougher studying regime before I get to know whether the exam is organised this year at all. This is especially true because the next examination opportunity for me would be in Dec 2023 (as I have mentioned before, I cannot sit the July session due to work obligations, unfortunately), so I will have over a year for necessary drills anyway.
Don’t worry, I am sure the possible cancellation will NOT influence my enjoyment of authentic materials, just JLPT resources and that serious prep mode. After all, when I took N3, I did take a two-year-long break from textbook studying. Yet, that did not stop me from enjoying Japanese games and reading materials in the meantime (which I show on my Instagram account if you’re interested; since my preparation has already started, I post my day-to-day study sessions there, too). Those are my usual free time activities and have been since I was a child so I am unable to stay away from them for too long either way.
As I have mentioned above, JLPT prep books are not the only books I will be having fun with this year. I am a firm believer of the fact that language studying not only comes from textbooks but mostly from one’s exposure to authentic materials. I myself am a product of such attitude: my English proficiency has mostly come from my indulgence in authentic materials, so I am doing the same thing for my Japanese studies, too. After all, if it had worked for me before, why not trust it again?
As for the specific titles I wish to tick off in 2022, here is the list:
Ore Monogatari (13 vols),
Btooom!! (27 vols; currently at vol 6),
Chihayafuru (47 vols at the moment; currently at vol 12),
HP3 (currently at 50% mark),
Zettai Kaikyuu Gakuen (the otome game I played back in November; I have ⅖ routes left),
Error Salvation (an otome game I got for Christmas).
Those are the core items I hope to complete before the year ends. I can and most likely will (given the fact that I am pretty spontaneous when it comes to my reading/watching/listening choices) put additional publications on this list. I do not usually make plans when it comes to films or TV series to watch, however. I just follow my gut instinct and wishes I have at the time. For instance, right now I am re-watching Ao no Exorcist – simply because I stumbled upon it on Netflix and felt like watching it again after 10 years.
I am pretty active on GoodReads. I follow my progress of not only the Japanese titles but also English and Polish ones. I also cover textbooks progress – honestly, if I can find something there, I add it to my account. I have been using this service for a few years now and it does motivate me to read and study more. I love updating my status.
Last year, I opted for 100 titles read and I DID achieve it! Heck, I even went overboard, having 151 titles read under my belt. Initially, it was all about the number, but for the past 2 years I have been distributing that number into 3 categories:
Books (in Polish or English),
Manga (in Polish or English).
As for the Japanese titles, anything goes: mangas, books, textbooks, guidebooks and so on. As for the other two, only English and Polish versions count. The reason for such division is because Polish is my mother tongue and I am a C2 speaker of English (according to the CEFR scale), meaning I am proficient and thus no longer perceive consuming English materials as ‘studying’ but as pure entertainment. I do enjoy my Japanese reads but, with exception of rare cases, I still perceive them as a ‘chore’. Of course, when I finally do make myself sit down with a book or a game, I get pulled into the contents and might forget that it’s actually Japanese. However, my brain does remind me of that fact after a varied period of time – with a headache and/or a vertigo-like sensation. With Polish and English titles such a ‘system overheat’ does not occur and that is why I treat them as a separate category.
As such, my plan this year is to read 100 books again, in the following ratio:
40 Japanese titles,
LESS SOCIAL MEDIA
This point concerns YouTube in particular. To be honest, I waste a lot of time scrolling shorts as well as listening to Reddit reads while I could read more audiobooks or valuable podcasts instead. I mean, Reddit threads are sometimes useful in terms of research for writing ideas (e.g. r/relationships or r/maliciouscompliance threads, to name but a few) but I can listen to it for HOURS on end, especially if I am doing house chores at the same time.
Unfortunately, because of my job, I cannot escape social media for good – not that I want to, either. My work intertwines with Facebook so I need it at hand. However, I do realise that my excessive meme consumption and mindless scrolling has been eating up my free time way too often. How many times have I found myself taking my phone at 8 pm and finally checking the time 3 hours of YouTube later? I am not saying that needs to stop entirely but it definitely needs to get under control and be reduced as a result.
I honestly still have no idea how I will go about this but I do not worry much. I have already noticed that having shifted my focus to new compulsory tasks, such as sitting down with Japanese textbooks or writing in my diary makes me not grab the phone and zone out. Putting the phone away when I am preparing for bed is another issue, though… My sleep patterns have been a major issue as well since my job has no regular working hours. But as I have said, it is okay if I do not have a plan for that yet: I am working on it.
If you share similar struggles, realise this: sometimes you do not need a thorough plan beforehand. Testing things out ‘in the battlefield’, so to speak, is also a proper way of trying to find the best solution to your problems. The most important thing is the realisation that there IS a problem that needs to be dealt with.
WHAT ABOUT NANOWRIMO?
As much as I would love to do the NaNo challenge (especially since I have not really done it last year), I had to draw a line here: one major obligation at a time. This year is oriented for JLPT N2, so I will not be doing NaNoWriMo in 2022. Regardless, I will try to fit writing into my schedule: for instance, I still write daily in my Hobonichi Original (the one meant for writing ideas). I have found additional time for blogging, too – the result of which you could have noticed over the past few weeks of posting. I do know, however, that I am not very good at following several goals at once. This is why the heaviest focus will be on my N2 preparations and writing will be only a side activity.
Considering all that, I have to admit that this year I have surely set more goals than, say, last year when I was very lenient on myself. I am honestly relieved that I made that decision to move on towards the N2 level. For the past year, I felt as if I was simply spinning my wheels – even though I had spent time enjoying Japanese materials. As the need to better myself gradually got stronger and stronger, I felt more and more ready for the next challenge. I hope I will be granted the opportunity to prove myself in December. Wish me lu— no, wait. Do NOT wish me luck. Even the Japanese know it – you do not wish somebody luck before a test, you ask them to DO THEIR BEST (がんばってください). Wish me motivation. Wish me strength. Wish me SUCCESS.
This is my final post this year. I hope you all have a great New Year’s celebration and see you in 2022! 🥳🎉
A couple of days ago I pondered about the negative aspects of the passing year so this time I tried to find a few good things I can say about 2021. Because it wasn’t entirely as bad as I’d thought.
1. BACK TO POOL
The pandemic, but not only that (I hadn’t had an exercise routine for years even before that) really took a toll on my physical fitness. Being on the heavier side and having turned 30 didn’t ease my worries at all, despite daily walks with my dogs which has given me at least SOME regular exercise. But I had enough panting when climbing the stairs and cutting the walks short because I couldn’t keep up the pace. I knew hitting the gym wouldn’t work – I have never liked it.
‘What sports do I like doing then?’ I asked myself. ‘Swimming, cyclingandstepaeorobics’ was what I answered.
The last one wasn’t possible due to COVID-19 restrictions. The second would be hard to stick to because as much as I like cycling, I hate climbing while doing so. And living in the mountains doesn’t help. So swimming it was. I bought a new costume (WITH. A. SKIRT! It was the best purchase ever that gave me the best of two worlds: more coverage of my private areas – the exposure of which has always made me very self-conscious – but also better leg movement at the same time). So on August 28th, I went for my first dip. I swam 30 pool lengths back then (each is 25 m). Now, 4 months of regular 2 times a week workouts later, I swim 60 lengths per training session in under 45 mins. And I know that because…
2. FITNESS WATCH
I have bought myself a fitness watch! This is thanks to a lovely community of fellow English teacher friends. We also discuss and motivate each other in our workouts, diets and other things! One of those things they basically made me buy is a fitness watch. And I couldn’t have been happier with it! It tracks my step count, which encourages me to walk that extra distance with my dog so it could be registered. It’s waterproof so I can use it for my swims. Hence I am proud to say that since the end of September (that’s when I got it) I have swum over 25000 metres (in other words, over 1000 pool lengths)!
3. HOBONICHI WRITING JOURNAL
Hobonichi this, #hobonichi that – WHAT. IS. THE. FUSS. ABOUT? – I needed to know. I liked the idea of having a Japanese calendar, with Japanese quotes and dates. Yet I am not a daily calendar user. I used to keep a bullet journal but dropped it after the pandemic hit. So, at first, I got a #hobonichiweeks for my work and life schedule and it WORKED FANTASTIC. Still does! But I really wanted to give that #hobonichioriginal a try. So I decided to put down my writing notes and ideas in it. And it also turned out great, keeping me focused on my work. Most days I might not be doing much novel writing in itself, but I’m definitely letting my imagination run wild and moulding all those plot twists and characters.
4. NEW JAPANESE PROJECT
I honestly wish I could tip my hand but they’re tied here 😀 I will give you a hint, though: remember that PDF file I shared with you yesterday? It might not be the last one I have in store… 😉
5. HEALTH ISSUES RESOLVED
This mostly concerns other family members but me, yet I did visit a doctor and had my blood drawn for a yearly check-up and all things were fine on paper. I’m actually expecting them to be even better next year since they were done BEFORE I started exercising and cutting down on junk food more.
I am SO excited! I literally cannot wait to dig into my textbooks.
In fact, I already did – I completed a chapter of one of my textbooks which is going to give me a head start in 2022. I have also (barely) scratched the surface of new kanji I need to acquire if I want to sit that N2 exam and rock it.
But how exactly am I going to get ready for next December?
Buckle up because I have crafted a plan. And a surprise for you, too – available at the very end of this post if you cannot wait to find out.
Anyway, here is what my road map looks like: * means I will be wrapping up a textbook in that month.
As I was drafting my plan, I had three of my past prep experiences resurface:
Focusing on 1-2 textbooks tops at a time worked best for me,
I will lose steam the further I go, especially during reviews,
Instead of a fixed weekly schedule, I should aim for monthly goals.
Taking those facts into consideration, I decided to put the majority of work in the first half of the year, meaning that past July I will be mostly reviewing and polishing rather than acquiring new material. It also considers that I might fall behind at some point and will have to play a little game of catch-up. My job will hit me hard in June, as the summer begins, so in case I need to shift my focus onto my work more, I can do that as long as I work hard in winter and spring. In January and February, I will be equally overloaded with work BUT here I am betting on the fact that it is just the beginning so my motivation will be at its highest.
What will keep my motivation steady is setting a MONTHLY goal instead of adhering to a set weekly goal or schedule. I hate working on a timetable. My job also allows for flexibility so I am used to that kind of freedom in my studies, too. I am also well aware that I will have better and worse weeks: both weeks with lots of free time and busy, exhausting weeks. For these reasons, instead of punching myself for not fulfilling my weekly standards, I am going with a monthly workload. It will give me more room for manoeuvre as well as allow me to progress further when I finish the set assignments earlier (or when I will feel like doing a certain textbook more than the other).
And this is also why I will be working with two textbooks, for two different skills, in a given month. First, it will provide me with a choice: I can pick what to study on a particular day. Don’t feel like learning grammar? Alright, let’s memorise new vocabulary then. Secondly, it won’t overwhelm me with too much material to cover per month.
Using my N3 experience in self-studying, I already know which books I am fond of and of which I am definitely not. Thus the list of textbooks I will be using include:
So-matome N2 goi (vocabulary),
So-matome N2 kanji,
Shin Kanzen Master N2 goi (vocabulary),
Shin Kanzen Master N2 kanji.
Those are 5 basic textbooks I will base my studies on. I also have both Shin Kanzen Master’s as well as So-matome’s dokkai (reading) and choukai (listening) books ready, but I am not going to go over them in full like I want to with the 5 above. To tell the truth, in the case of Shin Kanzen Master I will allow myself to not finish both vocabulary and kanji books if I run out of time as they will serve as reinforcement. The initial studying will be done with So-matome series as well as Try!
As for how I divided the materials I will use, I did some heavy math when coming up with HOW MUCH I should cover each month. In case you are not familiar with the above textbooks, here is how they are structured:
Try! N2 has 14 chapters. Each chapter ends with a mock test. Some chapters are divided into two parts if they cover broader or more difficult grammar points. Each chapter/part starts with a reading passage that contains all grammar points which will be introduced in the chapter/part, an explanation of the grammar points plus 1 exercise for each point and all these spreads over around 8-10 pages.
So–matome series works in a weekly cycle, meaning, theoretically, that you should study 1 chapter per day (I honestly never do that). For this reason, each unit consists of 7 two-page chapters (6 of them introducing new material and the 7th being a mock test). The N2 level books have 8 units, 7 chapters each which mean 56 chapters in total.
Shin Kanzen Master series divides its books just into chapters. Each chapter contains two parts, spread over 2-4 pages: the explanation and the exercises (or just exercises themselves, in case of kanji, dokkai and choukai). After several chapters, there’s a review section with a mock test. The N2 level has around 54-56 chapters per book. The difficulty of this series is a bit higher which is why I prefer So-matome for my first contact with new material and reviewing with Kanzen later, especially since it has more exercises per chapter which means I am getting a more productive review.
After I noted down how many chapters there are, I checked how much time I spent on their N3 equivalents and decided that I need around 6 months to complete a So-matome book, around 3 months for Try! and around 2-3 months for Shin Kanzen Master since I do not necessarily need to finish them before the exam. That gave me 10 chapters of So-matome, 7 chapters of Try! and 13-15 chapters of Kanzen (depending on the book) per month. By now, you have probably noticed that I am breaking the rule I have just established if you studied the road map closely. Clearly, So-matome has more chapters scheduled per month!
This is because of that series’ structure: instead of pushing chapter 7 of each unit (remember, this is a review chapter), I added it to the batch. So-matome’s reviews are ABCD questions mostly. They take me around 15-20 minutes to complete. I can dedicate that much extra time. Plus it makes more sense educationally – why postpone the review till next month instead of doing it right after I learned the material?
HOW DOES THAT ADD UP?
Bear with me for a little. I am going to TALK. MATH. AGAIN.
Let’s look at January: I have scheduled 7 chapters of Try! and 10 chapters of vocabulary for myself. How does that translate into… time?
On average, I go over 1 chapter of Try! or 1-2 chapters of So-matome per study session. Let’s say I do only one session per day. I might fancy more on some days but let’s not be too optimistic. I am going to be lazy for sure. I know myself that much.
Here comes the math: worst case scenario I do 7 sessions of Try! and 10 sessions of So-matome in a month. That equals 17 days, a little over half a month. The other half? I do as I please, I take care of my family, my job, my pets, other hobbies, exercise, my Youtube addiction and so on. Best case scenario? I am done within 10 days. TEN days. A THIRD of a month!
THE AUTHENTIC MATERIALS
Textbooks are not the only books I will be reading in 2022. I have a long to-read list I wish to plough through in the next 365 days. Plus it’s the N2 level we are talking about – the advanced level! I need to absorb more authentic materials, both in reading and in audio format to be able to understand the reading and listening section. As for what titles exactly I am aiming for, check out my next post where I cover my new year’s resolutions! Expect its arrival after the year turns.
As much as I would love to quote James Doakes here, I am just going to shout “SURPRISE!”. If you would like to draw up your own JLPT prep journey, I have prepared a blank version of the road map above for each JLPT level! You can download it here: JLPT 2022 ROAD MAP (all JLPT levels are included in a single PDF file). There’s also a more ‘printer friendly’ white background version: JLPT 2022 ROAD MAP WHITE.
If you want to share this road map on social media, please do remember to link my website. 🙂 Thanks in advance!
Let’s start it the cliche way: another year has almost gone and went and here I am, reflecting on what 2021 has brought. It was a tough year, to be honest. As you have probably noticed, I haven’t even written a single post apart from the resolutions one. Yet I kept faith that I would come back to blogging. So here I enter with the big announcement I am sure some of you have been waiting for: I will be taking JLPT N2 next December! Yes, you heard that right. The time has come for yet another JLPT trip! I am not entirely certain, however, if I manage to prepare in time but I will do my best to make things work!
Honestly, my biggest worry is whether the exam will take place at all since the December session has been cancelled for the past 2 years here. The July session happened but I cannot afford to take a day off work in summers. My work thrives when people take holidays. That’s the con of working in tourism. But, fortunately, December is usually slow thus I can take an entire weekend off, hop on a train to the capital and sit down with yet another JLPT paper in hand. Maybe that’s also the concept that spoke to me: the last time the December session took place was when I wrote N3 level, back in 2019. After all, wouldn’t it be fun to tackle N2 when JLPT winter examination resumes?
I am currently working on a study plan for 2022 and will cover it in the next post. For today, however, I have decided to take a look and reflect on 2021’s resolutions. Which ones have I fulfilled? Which ones have I utterly failed? Time to find out!
“残念ですが…” – to put it in Japanese (meaning: “too bad, but…”), I have not taken part in NaNoWriMo this year. At least not in the traditional sense, as I have not written even a single page of a novel. I did, however, make considerable progress on my ongoing work project (which has nothing to do with novels yet it is connected with Japanese language learning itself). I cannot disclose any more details, unfortunately, as I keep this project completely confidential. I do plan to publish its results in the future, though, and I believe you might be interested in it if you are studying Japanese, too.
THE FIRST NOVEL
As I have mentioned, this year was difficult on me – both in terms of the health of my close ones as well as mourning. A fox slaughtered all my chickens in June. In September I had to put down one of my dogs when his illness went beyond curable. So I helped him the only way I could – by stopping the suffering. But I couldn’t stop my own suffering after his passing. Then, only a month later, my mother got her lab results back and they qualified her for a prompt surgery – yes, they were awful. Despite all this, I continued to make progress on my first book. However, tackling a series (a 9-volume one, to boot!) for your first is not as simple as it would seem. Planning all volumes (more or less at least, especially when it comes to the later ones) as well as the character arcs, overall story arc and each book’s arcs, especially in a way that they all hold water when you look at the story as a whole, is not an easy feat. But the good news is that I AM making progress! I am just taking my time since I am in no rush. This is my lifelong dream but it doesn’t need to happen right this moment. I am patient and prefer to educate myself on novel writing, structure, character arcs and also glance at what the others are writing in my genre before I jump into that bottomless ocean of publications.
And that’s it. To quote myself, I didn’t “make any grandiose plans” so there is not much to contemplate about. I do have ones for 2022, though. If you want to find out about those as well as about my outlined road map to N2, stay tuned! The next post is coming around New Year’s!
Had you been waiting as much as I had for 2021 to come? The previous year was tragic – both with the worldwide pandemic occurring as well as in my personal life. A lot has happened that hindered my language learning progress and, in all honestly, so it did with any other progress. For my family and me, the world stopped and our survival instinct kicked in. I won’t exaggerate if I say that the pandemic had a significant influence on both our personal and professional lives. The industry we work in was heavily impacted by the pandemic. Here, it has been under severe restrictions and currently remains under a lockdown, so we cannot operate at all. It isn’t pretty.
Which is why I didn’t simply have space to worry about making progress in Japanese, not to mention ploughing through that N2 level. Basically, it fell to the bottom of my list of priorities this past year.
My guess is it might be similar for many of you. Does this worry me? Not really. I learnt not to punish myself for taking breaks in language learning, remember? I still adhere to that rule. Yet, I feel it necessary to hold myself to account for my 2020 New Year’s resolutions. I made three, so let’s take a look at how I did.
1. PLAY PERSONA GAMES IN JAPANESE
I actually fulfilled that resolution! I have completed TWO Persona games this year – mostly during March and April’s lockdown – which are Persona 5 Royal and Persona 5 Scramble, in this order. I have started playing Persona 4 Dancing All Night as well as progressed further in my Persona 4 Golden gameplay, but I didn’t manage to finish either of them.
2. READ 1 VOLUME OF HARRY POTTER
This one’s a total fail. Although the year’s started with my reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, as I had predicted in my New Year’s Resolutions post, yet I didn’t get far after the pandemic hit. I only managed to read it until Harry reaches the Leaky Cauldron and then discontinued it. Guess last year I didn’t fancy reading Harry that much – that also included listening to my favourite HP podcasts out there. I’m sooo behind!
3. JOIN A CONVERSATION CLASS
Again, this point didn’t work out at all. Even though I had secured my future teacher on italki and was supposed to start the classes back in February, after I got my positive results from JLPT, my mom broke her leg, unfortunately. I had to take care of her in the hospital and also of everything else while she was admitted, so I didn’t have time to think about taking classes. Then March came – and we all know what it brought. I have already mentioned that our industry got hit pretty hard – which meant reducing any unnecessary costs. And thus, my lessons never happened. Nor they will in the nearest future as the situation hasn’t changed much.
Although most of my resolutions ended up in a failure, there were some bright points in the previous year that made it feel a bit more successful.
WHAT I DID MANAGE TO DO IN 2020
1. COMPLETE NANOWRIMO CHALLENGE
I believe this is the brightest and most vital point of last year. I wrote 50k of my future debut novel! I had started prepping for it in October, taking a month before the actual challenge to come up with the outline and to flesh out the characters. Even though the 50k that I’d written is nowhere near the conclusion to the story and I also already know that serious changes to the outline need to be made, I’m still proud that I stuck it out and wrote every day in November. After over a month of the draft setting in, I’m about to begin editing it any day now – which will result in heavy plot makeover and a new draft.
2. I DIDN’T CATCH COVID-19
I wear a mask. I disinfect every time I get into the car or come back home. I don’t use public transport. I do shopping 1-2 times a week only. I Skype. I stay at home. I didn’t catch coronavirus nor had I tested positive for the antibodies. Which I pride myself in, especially that my mom is post-surgery and thus in the vulnerable group. She didn’t catch it, either. Thank goodness.
3. I READ AND LISTENED TO A LOT IN JAPANESE
Upon checking my GoodReads page, I noticed that I actually read quite a bit in Japanese this year – I counted 35 mangas! Half of that number is one series, actually – it’s called “Life” by Suenobu Keiko (20 volumes). I highly recommend it! It’s a teen drama about bullying and standing up to your abusers. I also listened to Japanese radio programs often – I have a list of my favourites, but I can’t recommend 超A&G+ channel enough – it includes tons of programs hosted by famous Japanese seiyuu (their schedule is available on the website, if you’re interested) and it can be listened to even outside Japan (I’m connecting to it from Europe and the player on their website works no problem)! My personal favourite remains Saturday’s エジソン – a pop culture broadcast with Eguchi Takuya and Takahashi Minami.
So, what about the resolutions for this year?
I’m not making any grandiose plans. My greatest goal is to tackle NaNoWriMo again as well as to finish the draft of my first novel and move towards its publication. Apart from that, I hope to survive 2021 and that life will, mostly, get back to normal as the year unfolds. I hope it does for everyone else out there, too.
It’s been quite a long time since I last posted so most probably you have been wondering where I had gone or whether I intend to continue this blog at all. The answer is very much “Yes”! The truth is, life has gone in my way and changed a lot of things. On February 16th my Mom had had an accident: she broke her leg and had to be hospitalised. As we both live and run a business together, everything fell on my back to pick it up and handle alone. Later, as it is probably for a lot of other people, the coronavirus hit and life changed further with uncertain future overshadowing (especially in our business industry). Currently, our situation’s slowly getting back to normal so I can get back to focusing on stuff I enjoyed and did pre-accident and pre-pandemic. Before I start writing other Japanese-related posts, however, I thought you deserve an update.
Many of you asked me about my JLPT N3 results. I did post them on my Instagram account along with the screenshot but I will reveal them here as well.
I will be very immodest saying this but the truth is I did great! I passed the exam and my overall score was 164 out of 180 points! I did best in the listening section, snatching a perfect score, yet my grammar and reading sections points weren’t that much worse! I got 49 out of 60 points from the Language Knowledge (that is, for vocabulary, kanji and grammar questions) as well as 55 out of 60 points in the reading section (that means I just answered one question wrong)! Obviously, I couldn’t be happier with my results and I personally think of them as a perfect conclusion to my N3 studies.
Speaking of studying, here comes bad news. Over the last few months, although I did keep in touch with Japanese, I rarely studied to make progress into N2 studies. I haven’t started them at all, honestly. I mostly read and played games in Japanese, quite extensively. I hope that because my Mom’s slowly recovering and the situation’s also gradually getting back to how it used to be, I would be able to sit at my desk again and study towards that N2 level.
Here I am very pleased to announce that I have made significant progress when it comes to reading! I started to read a lot and have been beating my personal records for the amount I’m able to read – as of now, my record is 6 manga volumes in one day! I have never thought I would be able to overcome that fatigue that hits you after you input a certain amount of Japanese during one day. I guess the most helping factor was me starting Persona 4 Golden as well as Persona 5 Royal in Japanese – a game franchise I had conquered in English before, therefore I didn’t have to worry about understanding the plot but still spend quite many hours a day playing those titles. As a result, I have finished 2 Persona games now (i.e. Persona 5 Royal and Persona 5 Scramble) and there’s only one title left for me to finish this year so I complete the New Year’s resolution I had made in one of the blog posts back in January.
Speaking of reading, I have started reading aloud quite a lot and grew to notice that actually, this is something that also boosts your reading skills. It all started with a Reading Aloud Challenge which was held on a Japanese learners discord group I had joined a few months prior. I decided to take part in the challenge and grew to enjoy reading live, much to my surprise. It was very stressful at first but I’m gradually getting used to it and thus enjoying it more and more with every session. Much recommended!
As for new resources I started to utilise recently, I have to mention Japanese seiyuu radio programs for sure. I discovered 超A&G+ radio channel (which is available online) and found out that many of my favourite male seiyuu actually host their own programs there! They aren’t easy to understand, as they speak with natural pace as well as they use a lot of vocabulary I don’t know. That doesn’t faze me, however, and I enjoy listening to those a lot! I even found the courage to write a fan letter to one of the programs and actually sent it! I felt so ashamed a few days after I had done it and the letter wasn’t read during the program (the hosts read a few fan letters aloud and answer them during the program), too, but it was an experience I had never gone through before (not even in my native tongue!), yet I found it refreshing and pleasant. I also felt a little proud that I sent it, gotta admit.
So, as the summer starts, here begins the next step of my Japanese journey. I hope you’ll hop on the ride and will be able to enjoy it with me. See you soon with a new post!
For the past few years, I had real trouble with my sleeping patterns. I had always considered myself to be a classic night owl – that is, a person who goes to bed late and wakes up late. Given the fact that first, my university schedule and then my job allowed such a lifestyle, I never tried to change it. What is more, I could still remember how much I hated getting up for school as a child and a teen. I was never rested enough and my brain usually started functioning properly around 10 am.
However, maintaining such a routine for the past few years, when I hit my late 20s, started to backfire on me. I didn’t have as much energy or didn’t regenerate as fast as I used to. Going to bed in the early hours meant I had to sleep well till noon – which is not possible every day when you have pets that need feeding and walking and/or a full-time job. I was often disturbed by outside noises or my family bustling around woke me up, too. All this resulted in a very unhappy and sleepy person that I had become. I got grumpy and pouty in the mornings, lazy and napping throughout the whole day – because I was constantly lacking sleep and necessary energy.
The more my 30th birthday was closing in, the more desperate I became for some kind of a change. I think I crossed the line over last December when we had holidays at work. My sleeping pattern changed again, I went to sleep around 5 or 6 am and woke up at 3 pm – I had time off so I could do that. I probably don’t have to tell you how dangerous that was during wintertime, going to bed when the sun was rising and waking up when it was getting dark outside. It really f*cked up something inside me, living almost without sunlight for around 2 weeks.
In consequence, when the new year started, I realised that if I don’t do something, it is going to get really bad. I had this feeling of impending doom of some sort – it could probably have been my health or common sense speaking.
Luckily, on the morning of January 1st, I woke up unusually early. It wasn’t super early, but 9 am was definitely earlier than my typical 12 or 1 pm. Due to the fact that I went to bed late after New Year’s Eve celebration, I felt tired. Normally I would go to bed to take a nap, but I stayed up. Thanks to that, I was so tired at 10 pm that I went straight to bed. On January 2nd I woke up a little past 6 am of my own volition, with no alarm clocks or crying pets responsible for that. Just my body clock.
Having had straight 8 hours of sleep, I felt more rested than usual. I didn’t become a volcano of energy all of a sudden, but I surely felt different. Not so angry, not so tired. In split second I decided that I have to abuse that new state of affairs. I got up so that I wouldn’t fall asleep again and tried to stay up throughout the whole day so I could hit the hay before midnight.
Unfortunately, I had a crisis between 5 and 6 pm. It was the standard time when I took a nap. My eyelids were failing me and begging to go to bed to sleep. However, I knew that if I gave in, I could forget about changing my sleeping pattern. I was sitting on an armchair and finally decided to succumb to my body requesting recharging – but on the armchair. I laid my head on the armrest (our living room armchairs have such wide armrests that you can place a plate or a mug on it no problem – I even keep my 13” laptop there and it doesn’t fall off) and dozed off. I was able to kill two birds with one stone – I took a nap, but my bent position was so uncomfortable that I woke up around 30 minutes later. I still felt sleepy but rested enough to survive till 10 pm. And so I did.
Later, each and every day was getting easier. I discovered some new things about me and my body. That little change sparked other small changes in several toxic habits of mine. Below I’m going to describe what I noticed about myself thanks to altering my biological clock, week by week for the first month.
WEEK 1 (Jan 1 – Jan 7)
I enjoy the silence and studying in silence (in contrast to playing some BGM on my studying playlist or watching a show in the background like it was in the past). And early mornings actually work in my favour – most of my family isn’t up yet, so I get some peace and quiet until they are. This little observation also had an influence on my Japanese studies – I started to study in the morning, not in the evening like it used to be, so I can “tick it off” and shift my focus onto other things that need my attention, not necessarily connected to studying.
What is more, I have better study sessions in the mornings. I can do more in less time because I’m full of energy and thus more productive. The fact that you have the whole day before you also contributes to that increased productivity – since you’re not in a rush and have plenty of time to study what you want to, you tend to take your sweet time and enjoy it more. Also, your brain isn’t overloaded with your job or school yet, so why not use its potential to make some serious progress until your energy burns out?
I also noticed that the days are so long! I’m actually eager to go to bed and have a proper rest at the end of the day because I already had enough! That also counts for having enough time to do everything that you planned or simply had to do on that day.
I abuse my morning energy doing the heaviest work then – that means writing, studying or brainstorming. Later, I work and in the evenings I relax with a TV series or a book (but a book in English or Polish, not Japanese – I read in Japanese in the mornings, as a part of my study session).
I love sunrises much more than sunsets (and I used to believe that it was the opposite)! I can’t get enough of them (even though that by the time this will be posted, it will already be a whole month of admiring sunrise!).
Better productivity in terms of my studies is one thing, but I also noticed that productivity at my job also increased! Because I get some time to myself in the mornings, I’m much more eager to go to work and do my job. I also do things faster (up to a certain moment – but that’s one of the observations I had later – at first I was super excited to be able to stick to my resolution at all, I guess).
Because I get my quiet alone time in the mornings when everybody’s still asleep, I’m more content and happy throughout the day and get less angry, actually. I’m a person who naturally pursues solitude at some point in the day and if I don’t get my daily dose of ‘solitary confinement’, my short fuse kicks in and everything starts to irritate me quite fast, especially human contact.
WEEK 2 (Jan 8 – Jan 15)
Getting up gets more difficult, I’m not feeling as rested as in the first week, but I have no problems getting off the bed (thanks for the dogs). The problem is that I wake up while being under the impression that it can’t be 6 am yet because I feel so sleepy. Nothing has changed, I go to bed around 10 pm, but wake up 6:30-ish am rather than at 6 o’clock like in the first week.
I started being less productive in the mornings. I don’t feel like studying at all at times, so lazying around also happens but I still try to read a chapter in Japanese daily (which works for most ‘lazy’ days).
I’m still bewitched by sunrise.
I can keep up with work till 9 pm (that happens on Tuesdays and Wednesdays) but I’m consistent and go to bed at 10 pm even if I finished worked barely an hour before. For now, working long hours have no substantial influence on my tiredness and falling asleep fast. It means that even though I am still in the middle of work at around 9 pm, I don’t feel tired or sleepy. It kind of hits me later, when I finish work, so it doesn’t hamper me falling asleep.
My bedtime reading routine is a lifesaver and I have read 4 books (books as in genuine books, not mangas) so far thanks to it. I also bought more books because of it…
WEEK 3 (Jan 16 – Jan 23)
I got used to waking up early and I feel guilty when I laze around in bed.
I sometimes feel tired when I wake up. However, I found out that it’s probably connected with eating right before bed. Basically, if I eat past 6 pm when I go to bed before 10 pm, I feel tired (as my body spends the night digesting rather than replenishing the energy).
I get even lazier in the mornings, I don’t know where the time flies sometimes.
Also, the weather’s getting worse (it was quite sunny in the first 2 weeks so I was getting a lot of sun exposure when I sat at the kitchen table). Exposing yourself to sunlight is yet another thing I noticed that has a considerable influence on me. It boosts my energy levels tremendously and immediately puts me in a good mood. If the weather’s more cloudy, it works less (but still does, a little). For this reason, I try to sit at the kitchen table (which is right next to a big window facing the east, so I get to ‘look the sun in the face’) rather than laze around on the sofa – it’s located further into the living room, away from the windows. Also, sitting at a table triggers productivity – I’m less tempted to browse social media and prefer to write something (a blog post or the draft of my novel) or study Japanese instead.
Energy outbursts still occur and I can still do a lot of stuff in such outbursts. I also noticed that being productive is dependent on you actually making yourself do it – sleeping enough and getting up early just facilitate doing stuff faster so that you can have the rest of the day off.
I’m having minor trouble falling asleep, I suspect that it can be connected to lack of exercise. I mostly get my exercise by walking my dogs and working in the garden. Obviously, in winter it isn’t possible to do the gardening outside. However, most winters I was able to overcome this disadvantage by shovelling the snow instead. Yet, this winter is so mild that we have got little snow which didn’t require much shovelling. As a result, I had to remove excessive snow maybe two or three times only (and the snow season usually starts in November)! In winter, I also don’t walk my dogs as far as I do during other seasons (for instance, in summer I walk around 4-5 km a day with my dogs! Which is a big number because as I’m living in the mountains, going for a ‘walk’ actually means hiking), so I do less exercise.
My dogs eat earlier and I shifted their mealtimes by an hour, this way I can walk them after their dinner before the sun sets (which adds up to me doing some exercise).
I also eat breakfast regularly now. I start off with my usual morning coffee, of course, but approximately an hour later I cook myself breakfast. I noticed that because I eat in the morning, I’m not as tempted to snack in the evening as I used to. The only exception to this rule are days with long hours at work – as I get short breaks in-between meeting clients, I have little time to eat anything and then end up catching up on food after work. This is why I know I have to start preparing my lunch and dinner for such days in advance, so I just have to heat it up and wolf down on it. But here’s when early mornings come in useful! Apart from studies, I also have time to do some shopping and prep the meals for later, which wasn’t possible when I used to get up around noon.
WEEK 4 (Jan 24 – Jan 31)
I have finished establishing my bedtime routine. It starts at roughly 7-8 pm and ends between 9-10 pm. I start off with airing my bedroom out. Then I turn all of my electronic devices off (meaning that browsing social media or even using an online dictionary is off-limits past that step) and then I read something – a book or a manga, its language does not really matter (though I feel it works even better if I read something in Polish). After 8 pm I walk my dogs for the last time. Then I come back to prep myself for sleeping, that means taking a bath, doing my evening skin and teeth care, and changing into my nightgown. Then I read again until my eyelids start to droop. It usually happens past 9 pm. I listen to my body and go to bed, just closing the windows before I hit the hay. It usually takes me less than 10 mins to fall asleep this way.
I shouldn’t eat food past 6 pm and definitely not something rich in saturated fats (like my favourite potato crisps), I sleep the worst on such nights.
I feel most rested when I go to bed between 9 and 10 pm and get 9 hours of sleep. That seems to be my optimal amount. Consequently, I need to start my prep for bed routine around 8 pm if I want to finish it during that preferable time period.
Weather also influences my energy levels and sleep. I sleep worse on windy or frosty nights as well as during full moon (but I had known that one before I even started this experiment, to be honest; it became much more noticeable during its course, that’s all). It’s easier to start the day when it’s sunny or at most partially cloudy so that I’m able to catch a bit of the sun on my face.
Getting up early already became a habit: my internal body clock wakes me up between 6:30 and 7:30 even if I went to bed around midnight. I also feel guilty when it’s past 10 pm and I’m still not in bed or during the final reading phase.
I hope that, if you’re struggling with your own sleeping pattern or daily routine, those reflections would spark changes for you and in you as well. I wish you very good luck if you want to repeat what I had done in the last 30 days. Don’t give up if you fail to stick to the routine a day or two – just get back to it every time and work on changing it! The results are so worth it!
I’m being asked one particular question quite often:
How do you practise [choose a language skill]?
I’m always eager to answer any language learning questions (especially concerning my way of doing things) when people approach me, but after some time of giving the same answers, I realised that writing a post like this might be a good idea to sum up my observations and solutions (i.e. used by me). Or, ideally, writing a few posts should serve this purpose, each entry covering a different language skill.
I will be mostly focusing on how I practise them in terms of Japanese, however, this advice is so versatile it can be applied to other languages learnt as a foreign language. In the very first entry, I’m going to concentrate on kanji, however, so it might also prove useful with languages that require memorising an alphabet distinct to the one(s) you already know. In the future, I will also discuss reading, writing, listening, grammar, vocabulary as well as speaking. I’m about to start taking conversation lessons, so I will be able to include this aspect’s pros and cons too, yet I do believe that there are other ways of practising your speaking skills which do not require attending a class.
But first – how to learn and take a liking to learning kanji?
I personally love learning kanji. I remember that when I had mastered hiragana and katakana, my sensei warned me that we were about to enter a new phase in learning Japanese and she was actually nervous if I would manage learning kanji. It was mostly because I was so reluctant when it came to learning the basic Japanese syllabaries (I memorised them 1 day prior to the deadline I was given). Needless to say, she needn’t have worried, because as soon as I received a worksheet with my first kanji to commit to memory (the ones for numbers), I was just hooked. I felt too good to learn them and somehow it was easier than hiragana or katakana. I asked my sensei to give me more on the next lesson, even though I was given 2 weeks to learn the first batch properly.
My sensei was also the first person who introduced certain methods of acquiring kanji to me. As a former university student who majored in Japanese and held an MA in Japanese philology, she was required to master large numbers of kanji every year she spent at university – it wasn’t surprising she learned a trick or two to doing so quickly. Thanks to her advice, I came up with my own system of learning and revising kanji later.
However, currently, I’ve already altered the old system slightly and have been using it for the past year quite successfully. Yet, there are some things I did notice that had worked better in the older system than they do in the new one. As a result, I’m going to present both systems I’ve used during my Japanese journey: the old one and the new one.
OLD SYSTEM (N5-N4 LEVELS)
As I have mentioned before, the core of this system was introduced to me by my first sensei but over the time I added a few features myself. However, everything revolved around one particular element: a kanji compendium.
My kanji compendium is, basically, a large notebook in which I registered all kanji I have ever learnt. Every page contained a table with 5 columns: kanji (with their stroke order marked), kunyomi, onyomi, meaning and compounds. As my knowledge of kanji grew, so did my compounds. It means that at first, I wrote the readings for kanji I hadn’t known in hiragana instead and, as I continued to learn, I could write more and more compounds without using hiragana.
Apart from the compendium, I usually kept a notebook or a notepad, though occasional loose sheets of paper also worked for the next step: writing the kanji and its kunyomi and onyomi from memory. I usually opened my compendium at the very beginning and began the revision process from there. Later, as I hit several hundred entries, I started to review them in batches. For instance, one day I would go over kanji numbered from 200 till 300, then 301 till 400 and so on.
This also worked for freshly learnt kanji – I used to skip towards the end of the compendium and began revising in the reverse order. Sometimes I revised fresh kanji for a few days straight, to make them stick. This was especially true for kanji with numerous strokes or only one or two uses (which, in consequence, I encountered rarely in reading passages) – they were much harder to remember.
There were several advantages and disadvantages of the old system. I have put them in two lists for a better transparency:
cheap, any notebook can work as a compendium (I personally recommend a hardcover notebook, though – mine is 12 years old now and only a bit tattered, though pages inside had gotten loose – I could only imagine what a softcover would look like after such long time),
great if you don’t have printed materials or use online resources for studying as you can compile your knowledge into a single physical notebook,
knowledge sticks better and for a longer time (after my 4-year break I could still write and remember most readings for N5 kanji thanks to that),
more attention is paid to kanji’s proper stroke order and its readings rather than its compounds.
slower process of learning which requires more reviews,
inputting new kanji into compendium takes time (you have to write the entries and the table as well),
once an entry is written, it cannot be changed. After you learn more, some compounds you input are too easy or turn out to be unnecessary (because as you make progress, you learn what words occur more or less often; at first, I was blindly rewriting them from a dictionary or a textbook because I had no experience in deciding which one would be useful later yet. Of course, if you use an erasable pen or a pencil, that’s another story, but when I started learning, Frixon pens didn’t exist in my country yet),
easy to input the same kanji twice or more times (for this reason, after I hit 300+ entries, I created a spreadsheet to quickly check if I had written a kanji in my compendium before).
Now, let’s put this system into a few easy steps to follow:
Find new kanji to learn (either from your textbook, JLPT prep book, manga or any other resources you are using at the moment),
Create an entry in the compendium (include the kanji itself along with its stroke order, readings, meaning and a few compounds),
Practice the kanji in a blank notebook, notepad or a sheet of paper: try to recall the meaning first, then write down the readings. Repeat for as many kanji as you want or as many as you are learning in the batch.
Repeat every other day. Reduce the time gap as it sticks in your memory.
Remember to prepare space for your compendium entriesin advance to save time and not to lose focus when you are studying!
NEW SYSTEM (N3 LEVEL):
When I restarted my Japanese journey, I stuck to the old system for kanji review. It was understandable – I had such a long break that I could barely remember basic kanji. I was fine with the N5 ones, but post 150+ ones were a challenge then. As a result, I had to first remember what kanji I had learnt before and my compendium was a marvellous option for that – after all, it contained all the characters I have ever learnt.
I had never thought of including compounds in my past reviews somehow – this element appeared in the new system and was one of the reasons why I decided to change things a little bit. Another reason was that as I began N3 studies, I realised how many kanji I have to master before I could take JLPT. N5 level is a breeze, N4 is not so much worse but N3 is basically twice as many characters to learn.
After around one month of using my old system for N3 kanji, I noticed that my progress was slow and it was already May. The exam was only half a year away. There was no way I was going to make it in time if I stuck to the old system so I started making changes.
Incidentally, those changes coincided with me purchasing some Japanese kanji practice notebooks. Those are notebooks used by Japanese school kids when they learn their writing systems and contain big squares with a side rectangle to write furigana. What’s more, you can choose different sizes of the squares – I personally use the 150 size (meaning there are 150 boxes per page; the pages being B5 size) but I’m thinking of trying the 200 size in the future. In essence, the lower the number, the fewer boxes there are on the page – those might work great for young children who are learning how to write at all but if you already know how to hold a pen and write, you don’t need such large squares. Unless that’s what you fancy, of course!
At first, I just practised writing the signs in the notebook and completely ignored the furigana feature. But I soon realised that utilising it might prove useful in the studies and enhance my learning speed. It also worked well with So-matome N3 kanji prep book since the characters taught are divided based on how they work together in compounds. It’s no wonder I soon began writing kanji compounds instead of singular signs as I had done before.
Of course, when I learn a new kanji, I first start with learning how to write it properly (that is, keeping the correct stroke order) and focus on its kunyomi reading as it mostly is an existing word already (or it becomes one if you add an affix; I usually like to spare the kanji boxes and write suffixes and prefixes in furigana space).
After that, I add and repeatedly write down compounds and shift my focus to onyomi. As I’ve mentioned before, this is why So-matome kanji books work so well for me – they give you a character, its readings as well as compounds so I don’t even have to check a dictionary at first. I do later, though, especially if I’m aware that a certain kanji appears in some other words I already know or I want to further explore the character’s use.
This system also works well with the old system’s kanji revision – instead of the compendium being the base, however, a prep book was used. I tailored my reviews to how the book’s chapters were structured. The chapters also imposed how many signs I reviewed each session. Again, I could do plenty or I could just stick to the last batch learnt if it still felt too fresh in my memory.
Now, let’s summarise the system’s pros and cons.
more attention is paid to kanji shape and stroke order, resulting in more accurate shape as well as memorisation,
much faster, better suited for higher levels of JLPT where the number of characters to master increases significantly with each level,
writing in a kanji notebook is immensely visually satisfying and repeating the same character over and over brings a certain pleasure,
works well with JLPT prep books,
takes less time to study (no compendium is kept, the studies are based on textbooks),
easier to remember readings when you remember words the kanji is used in, rather than learning readings by heart without the context.
More expensive as importing kanji notebooks cost more than a standard notebook you can find in the stores near you (not to mention the costs of importing them),
Recalling readings is more difficult as they are mainly remembered and recalled through compounds (so if you don’t remember the compounds, you most likely won’t remember the onyomi),
also requires frequent reviews, especially when the kanji is still fresh, but the learning and reviewing process is much faster,
there isn’t any collective compendium that stores all the kanji you have learnt to serve as a general guide (however, I later bypassed this disadvantage by creating an Excel spreadsheet and inputting all the kanji I have actively learnt – including the ones from the compendium – into it).
Now, let’s put this new system into an easy step-by-step guide as well:
Find new kanji to learn (either from your textbook, JLPT prep book, manga or any other resources you are using at the moment). If you’re using a textbook or a prep book, do the chapter first: highlight new words (be it kanji’s readings or compounds it creates) and do the exercises for the chapter. If you’re using So-matome series for this, the chapters are only 2 pages long and take around 10-15 minutes to wrap up,
Open your kanji notebook and write down the first kanji to practise how it is written. Focus on kunyomi first (you can save boxes in your notebook by including affixes in the furigana space; I usually place a dot between kunyomi and the affix),
Check the kanji’s compounds. If your textbook doesn’t provide many or you don’t feel content with the number it does provide, check the dictionary (either a kanji dictionary or a general dictionary such as jisho.org). Write them down with their reading in furigana space. If you feel that you know some compounds by heart, you can skip them or swap them with some new ones.
Repeat for all kanji in the chapter.
Apart from the two systems, there were other things I have tested to boost my kanji learning. I have summarised them in the section below.
putting kanji in Anki didn’t work, even though I tried dividing each kanji into several flashcards, each asking about a different aspect of it so that I could revise, for instance, kunyomi, onyomi, the meaning, sample compounds, and even stroke order (!) separately. The spaced repetition system was unsuitable for such kanji review because I had no power over the order in which the flashcards were presented to me. It led to absurd situations such as Anki asking me to provide the readings first and later checking if I could write the same kanji for memory – which, of course, didn’t work as it should when I was shown the very same character just a second ago.
the same situation happened for kanji apps – there wasn’t even one I had stuck to (including the famous Kanji Tree) but it’s my personal preference to learn kanji by writing them on paper and even using a stylus to write on a screen wasn’t as appealing as writing the characters down with a pen. If you like using apps to study and you’re up to giving kanji apps a go, then, by all means, do it!
I don’t recommend learning all kanji you encounter; focus on them either by their JLPT level or their jouyou level (order in which Japanese kids learn the kanji at school). Most of the high-level kanji are used less often than the ones from, for instance, first grades of Japanese primary school or N5-N4 JLPT levels. My compendium has always included kanji I learnt as they were introduced in textbooks or JLPT prep books. If I stumble upon an unknown kanji while reading, I tend to ignore it unless it appears multiple times over a short period of time – that’s when I check the dictionary. However, I do not create an entry because of that. As a result, there’s a slight discrepancy between how many kanji I can recognise and how many I can recall from memory. This is perfectly normal and happens to everyone so do not beat yourself up when it happens to you. After all, it wouldn’t be fun to read a book or play a game if you had to stop every second to look up some kanji and then write them down in a notebook… Been there, done that and I stopped doing it because it killed all the fun of reading. I touched this topic in my post about reading without using a dictionary but I intend to delve into it a little bit more when I write an entry about why I skipped using a notebook entirely.
of course, just learning kanji from general or dedicated textbooks won’t work, you have to encounter those characters in real contexts and authentic materials. Which is why I recommend implementing those into your studies from the very beginning (for absolute beginners you can find easy readers tailored to their limited experience, for example). Reading real manga, book, playing a game or even watching a show with Japanese subtitles (seriously, try the latter one, you won’t believe how effective it is) makes all the difference. Plus it boosts your vocabulary and grammar knowledge. As much as I like writing down all those kanji in my practice notebook and revise them, I can recognise many more characters thanks to how many authentic materials I snort daily. Obviously, that leads to the discrepancy I’ve mentioned above – there are lots of kanji I can recognise as I see them but I cannot write them down from memory. Anyway, suck in as much real context, not just the scientifically engineered for textbooks ones. Trust me, it will help all your Japanese language skills tremendously.
Wow, I can’t believe it’s already been a full year since I started using my study planner! It went by so fast and there are already 12 months registered in it. At first, it was supposed to be a plain planner but I was unable to overcome my urge to decorate it… even just a little bit. So it’s not super fancy, but each month has a theme that usually matches my bullet journal’s theme for the same month. Also, the names of the months are in Polish – my native tongue.
I use a variety of abbreviations in my study planner – the boxes aren’t that wide and I try to fit each point within one line (for aesthetic reasons; it’s also more transparent that way). I also tend to shorten the titles of textbooks or shows that I register. With anime that’s usually easy because for most of them a shorter version already exists in the fandom. For instance, Cardfight!! Vanguard, which appears on some of the following pages, is often referred to as CFV so I implemented this abbreviation into the planner. For some shows, I had to create shorter versions of my own.
In addition, I had to come up with my own indicators for certain types of resources and language skills. They are as follows:
A = animation, anime; audiobook, D = drama (Japanese live action tv series), DR(CD) = drama CD, SB = student’s book or the main book, WB = workbook, M = mock exam or mock questions, K = kanji, GR = grammar, VOC(AB) = vocabulary, 🎧 = listening, 日記 = writing a dairy entry, R = review, N = new (usually refers to flashcards and means that I input new ones), OFF = a day off, no studying was done. DONE = yay, I’ve finished the thing!
If somewhere along with the entries small letters appear next to a number in the brackets, it means I was able to finish only a part of a certain chapter or a section. Rather than opening the textbook and checking how many pages or exercises I had done exactly, I just plant a small letter so that I know I was not done with something in one session.
If anyone’s curious, I’m using a blank monthly schedule from Muji along with a black Muji 0.38 gel pen. You can get those in Muji store (also available online, that’s how I purchase my Muji stuff).
There isn’t much on January pages since I haven’t kept a proper study planner back then! I got the idea at the end of January, actually – the inspiration sparked thanks to one of Instagram posts that showed in my feed (unfortunately, despite trying, I was unable to find THE post that inspired me – sorry guys).
However, I decided to include January in the planner anyway, even though I started registering what I do as February began because I had already studied in January and I could remember what I did that month. It wasn’t much, especially that my journey had only restarted, but I managed to review two N4 prep books (from Nihongo Challenge series). While doing the reading section, I actually discovered that I enjoy reading short passages a lot hence the first book of So-Matome N3 series I began was, in fact, the dokusho (reading) one.
Apart from Nihongo Challenge, my biggest achievement of that month was purchasing and reading the first entire manga volume in Japanese. It was hard, it was painful and my head was throbbing at the end of it, but I managed to read the first volume of Chihayafuru in about 2-3 days. I still remember how slow I was and how many times I had to open my dictionary to check even the simplest words and kanji. That experience made me realise how much I had forgotten over the past few years. However, because it was Chihayafuru, one of my favourite manga/anime series of all time, I couldn’t just put it away at that time. I did later when I began volume 2 and then didn’t finish it until about half a year later – I came back to reading it in September, I believe.
I was on a real fire back in February. As I overcame the first struggles connected with revising what I had learnt way before, I began expanding my knowledge – still only on N4 level (despite having passed it already).
I also focused on gaining back my kanji recognition skills, so I reviewed around 400 kanji I used to know from Basic Kanji Book vol. 1 (and other sources) and then jumped into Basic Kanji Book the workbook. It was a good choice since the workbook is a better fit for revising rather than accompanying the main book as you go through it chapter by chapter. The workbook contains many reading passages as well as writing and listening exercises with the use of kanji that were taught in the main book (they are divided thematically). Also, the grammar used in the workbook is of N4 level, so it isn’t a good choice for beginners (even though the main book is!).
Apart from kanji practice, February was the first month when I implemented two things that later became the core element of my daily studies: Anki along with Fluent Forever method (introduced in a book by the same title) as well as massive immersion via rewatching Japanese tv shows such as anime or dramas in the original. In this month I felt like watching Yowamushi Pedal again and so I did. It’s a very long anime series (4 seasons are currently out so that’s around 100 episodes), so it took me well into March to finish watching it without any subtitles.
One last major thing that happened in February was starting the Try! book for N4 level – in order to review grammar. I also noticed how well this book was structured not only in the case of grammar points but also in listening and reading practice. Till this day it’s my book of choice when it comes to learning grammar and I can’t wait to dig into the N2 copy I have. But that is going to happen after I review N3 level over the first quarter of 2020 (at least that’s the plan).
March was also a good month and as you can see, I actually achieved a lot over those 31 days. There were many shows I had completed but not so many books. Well, it isn’t surprising at all since back in January and February I was reviewing basic things and after some time I just remembered things I used to know before. At the end of March, however, I began to delve into N3 studies so obviously, my progress slowed down as learning new things takes more time than revising old ones.
Still, there was one more thing that I added to the learning mix: drama CDs. They are something I wish to elaborate more in the future posts but in a nutshell, they are a recording of voice actors acting out a scene. They’re a little different from an audiobook as there usually isn’t any narration. Instead, they kind of resemble a movie without the picture – you can hear what the characters are doing and saying (that includes noises made, like the wind blowing or a door squeaking as it is being opened).
Anyway, the snow melted so I was finally able to take my car out of the garage (we live in a mountainous area so my tiny city car without a four-wheel drive is basically useless in winter). As I was driving around, I came up with an idea to pop one of a few drama CDs I possess into the car’s CD slot. Consequently, listening to drama CDs had become one of the best activities I can do in the car – and also one of the most pleasant ones.
In this month I had slowed down significantly. I mean, I kept regular studies, but I wasn’t going as crazy as I used to over the first 3 months. I continued to watch anime alongside studying, but there were also days when I just watched a show and didn’t work with any textbooks or novels.
Due to Easter, I also took a bit of a break, but the family gathering wasn’t the only time I gave up studying – as you can see, there were some ‘off’ days outside Easter period as well. To tell the truth, in April high season at my job kicked off so at first, I struggled a little with adjustment to a new regime at work. Yet, after some time I adapted to my new schedule and workload as thus I was able to get my studies back on the right track which was later reflected in what my May looked like.
April was also the month when I forsook Kanzen Master because I noticed it was too difficult for a person who had just started their preparations for N3 level. I finished the first section of the vocabulary and reading textbooks and, consequently, didn’t even open the grammar one. Instead, I gave So-Matome series a try and they were a much better fit for N3 entry-level studies. I still cannot fathom, though, why I had put off using Try! N3 for later when I enjoyed my revision with its N4 counterpart so much. I guess I wanted to leave Try! for N3 wrap-up period since it nicely explains the grammar and also lets you practise listening exercises for the exam as well as do some reading.
It was a really good month. I was back in my game, keeping the right balance between work, family life and Japanese. In total, I took only 4 days off over the entire month! Given the professional workload I usually have in May, being able to make quite nice progress towards reaching the mid-N3 level.
It was also a month of putting new solutions into action. I received my 500 mon N3 book early that month and immediately began using it. 500 mon is a series of books which include mock exam questions, them being divided into 3 categories: kanji readings, vocabulary and grammar. On each page, 3 questions are asked and 4 possible answers are provided. On the next page, there are the answers as well as explanations why those answers are correct. I got to admit, as I was using this book, I picked up a ton of new knowledge. What’s more, you can go over it multiple times, thanks to a row of small boxes being presents next to each question – so you can tick whether you got the question right. Thanks to that, when you use that book for the second or further time, you can compare how well you did then and currently.
Another invention which actually got implemented at the end of April, but took full bloom in May (funny, since most flowers do bloom in May here!), was nikki (Japanese for “diary”). I started writing entries – not daily, but when I felt like it and, obviously, when something worth describing happened – in a simple notebook. Too bad I stopped doing it in summer because it gave me valuable hints on grammar points I couldn’t remember and needed to revise.
The last innovation that took place in May was getting access to Japanese Kindle. I was so glad I was provided with the opportunity and I have to admit that it boosted my reading frequency A LOT. I love using my tablet so I was that much more glad I could use it for practising my Japanese reading skills as well. Plus reading Kindle manga is awesome and their prices are not that bad. What’s more, if you are skilful, you can utilise their discount and save tons of money. I was genuinely surprised how often they do a 100% discount (yes, you read that right, a hundred per cent discount!) on the first 1, 2 or 3 volumes of a manga series to get you hooked. And those aren’t just indie or low-ranking titles. No! You can find well-known and bestseller titles being discounted 100%! I probably don’t have to tell you that thanks to visiting their online store often and watching out for such promotions, I stocked up a fair amount of manga and books to read for FREE?
June was one of the first worst months in 2019. Why? Because the heatwaves hit. The temperatures increased up to over 30 C (around 90 F for you American folks) and stayed in my country for DAYS, so obviously most people started to feel overwhelmed after some time – me included. I felt so lazy that I was unable to do much. Even heavier professional workload – because summer holidays started and my work is highly dependent on holiday seasons – didn’t help either because I was too tired to study after work and preferred to spend my time relaxing rather than committing to the books.
So, in consequence, June was the time when I utilised the most basic rule I had for my studies most – I focused on at least keeping up with flashcards revision. Despite having no energy for even a slight reading, I dedicated those 5 minutes of my time daily to run Anki and review my flashcards. I didn’t input new ones, though.
Oh, boy. There it goes. The worst month of the year!
Seriously, July is just my personal black mark when it comes to 2019 studying. I almost hadn’t done anything, I had even forgone revising my flashcards some days. The beginning was especially hard since the heatwaves were still present in my country so the consequences were similar to June’s – I didn’t do sh*t.
Another reason why I hadn’t done much studying that month was the fact that we adopted a cat at the very end of June. Over the first week Stefan was kept in my mother’s bedroom and he, being a little kitty, functioned in this typical baby routine consisting of eating, doing his business and napping (on repeat) so I was able to escape the bedroom and do my stuff while he was dozing off.
However, when he got accustomed to his new home, we let him explore the rest of the house so that he could get used to it and its residents too – and that was when my personal nightmare began. Stefan was such an energetic and ‘cat-ish’ cat (meaning he was everywhere he could reach doing the usual cat things) that I was disturbed every time I tried to sit down with my books. He harassed my pens, my books, everything that was lying on the desk so I had to hide most things and, of course, there couldn’t be much studying done. Fortunately, in August I came up with an idea of how to study while being under a constant kitty attack.
I was so mad after July that when August came, I made this small resolution to turn things around and get back to studying. The weather also helped because the usual August chills settled in so I could focus more easily thanks to that. It was also the month when I discovered that I could find refuge from our new family member, Stefan the cat, in my study. Study as in a room. I have a separate room for client meetings in the house. So I grabbed my books and pencil case and retreated to that room in the evenings.
It was a real game-changer, there’s no doubt in that. August pages clearly show that I was able to study more and more often. Sure, there were some ‘off’ days as well, but not as many as there were in June and July. I was also able to get back to writing my Japanese diary and reading mangas in the original.
Speaking of manga, that month I discovered a little gem on Kindle – a manga titled Hananoi-kun to Koi no Yamai (花野井くんと恋の病). It’s a shoujo manga (i.e. manga dedicated to girls, mostly covering typical teenage life and its problems, first love, first kiss etc.) about a plain girl who is asked by a handsome boy to go out with him. Surprisingly to her, she says yes and that’s how their slowly budding romance begins. What I love about this series is that even though the heroine is a plain girl, she’s a very nice person who wishes to work things out in a relationship rather than making a fuss over stupid things. It was a nice change from the usual drama when the characters don’t talk to each other when there’s a misunderstanding between them.
I also liked how chapters are titled – each chapter covers one of the ‘firsts’ that happen to a couple. So we have the first holding hands moment, the first kiss, first visit to each other’s rooms, first part-time job, first Valentine’s Day and so on. It’s a very heart-warming story and also quite easy to understand. I also adore the author’s drawing style – it matches the story perfectly.
The newest, 5th volume should be out later this month (January 2020) or in February and I am so looking forward to reading more of Hananoi kun (the boyfriend) and Hotaru’s (the heroine) story.
Fortunately, I kind of realised I had less than 3 months left till the exam so I started doing some real work in this month. I came back to watching anime with Japanese subtitles which was a marvellous solution for boosting both listening and reading skills. Netflix was especially great for that because, in case of Japanese shows, the subtitles contain exactly the same lines as the uttered ones so you can follow the conversation on the screen AND learn how it is written at the same time. This doesn’t work for foreign shows, though – the dubbing and the subtitles unfortunately usually do not match.
In September I finally got to studying with Try! I still cannot understand why I put off using that book for so long because after I began working with it, grammar was so much easier to comprehend than with So-Matome series. Plus the reading passages available in Try! are simply interesting.
One more thing happened in this month – I grabbed Chihayafuru the manga again. The last time I did this was in January as you remember. I was genuinely and positively surprised to find out how much progress I had made throughout the previous half a year. First of all, my reading speed has increased significantly and I could also understand and read much more without the use of a dictionary. This was also the moment when I forsook my vocabulary notebook for Chihayafuru. I used to keep one for volume 1 but as my skills progressed, I found it an unnecessary hassle to keep. I just wanted to enjoy my manga. Thanks to such attitude, I was able to breeze through the next 2 volumes before I switched to mock reading exercises for the upcoming JLPT.
Haha. Another funny month. Even though there are many breaks registered in this month, they weren’t the lazy kind of breaks. Instead of studying, I got into writing. I was on real fire with the story I am currently working on so I welcomed this all-consuming passion for writing with opened arms. As a result, I was able to break 60k worth of text over the course of 3 weeks thus completing my National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge a whole month early (as it takes place in November every year). Looking back, I think it was a good choice because thanks to that in November I was able to focus exclusively on last revisions and preparations before JLPT rather than being torn between participating in the challenge and studying Japanese.
At the end of October, I got back to studying (the fact that there was a little over a month left till D day definitely influenced my actions) but before that, I spent the time I had free from writing on gaming. At that time I was writing those posts about visual novel games as well as my personal recommendations of such here on this blog, so obviously I returned to some of them to check how much my language level had improved. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that there was a noticeable difference between how I perceived those games’ language difficult then and back in October. I knew more kanji and more vocabulary and I didn’t have to reach for a dictionary that often. It was an amazing and rewarding experience – much like when I started reading Chihayafuru again, after half a year, and could recognise my progress with Japanese.
I should be proud when looking at those pages. But am I really? Partially yes, but mostly no. I am perfectly aware that achieving that performance was possible because I had that thought of JLPT closing in at the back of my head all the time. I was also pressured to finish the prep books before the real deal so that I was as prepared as I could be. So somewhere along the month I kinda lost the joy of studying Japanese. A week before the exam I couldn’t look at my textbooks anymore and I began to drift away from sitting down and studying in order to save myself.
Some might say it was a good solution – one should clear their head and relax just before the exam – but I just knew that if I hadn’t taken the breaks my intuition had told me to take, I would have cracked. I didn’t want that to happen to my beloved Japanese because I remembered what happened to my university studies after years of forced studying – I didn’t care anymore as a result.
To not let history repeat itself, I took massive breaks just before the finishing line. I was kind of lucky because I found a good book series at the time and was able to forget about the exam thanks to it. Did I regret it then? A little. But after I took the exam itself, my regrets cleared up because I knew I did well and immediately felt excused for my indulgence.
Well, I could have expected that to happen. The exam took place on December 1st so obviously, I needed to take a break post-exam. However, due to Christmas time, all the preparations I had to do before THE dinner, I spent little time with Japanese. The only thing I did regularly was gaming since I got a Japanese RPG game – Persona 4 Golden – as my Saint Nicholas’ Day gift. Of course, it was good practice in terms of both reading and listening, but apart from that, I hadn’t done much else.
Yes, before New Year’s Eve I welcomed my desk and textbooks back, especially that I wanted to finish a few mangas I had started in 2019 in order to boost my count for the year but that was it.
Now, here we are, in January 2020 and I am back on the track again. I started reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (or ハリーポッターとアズカバンの囚人 in Japanese) as I promised myself in my New Year’s resolutions for 2020. I also began using Tobira which I anticipated before I took JLPT. I hope this year will be as successful as 2019 was. And I hope yours too, dear readers! See you every week in 2020! Happy New Year!
I had planned on taking the N3 level of JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Exam) for a few years. The problem was, I couldn’t stick to my studies. It was a week or two maximum before I would give up again. I thought self-studying wasn’t for me. I thought I needed an outer force – a teacher, to be exact – who would make me move forward.
Last year, however, proved that that assumption wasn’t true at all.
It all started with the same idea – it was the beginning of January, meaning making the classic New Year’s resolution i.e. “new year, new me”. Or in my case: “new year, new Japanese”. I honestly didn’t believe I would see it through. I mean, I really wanted it to finally work, but given the previous experiences – I didn’t put much belief in myself.
On the other hand, I felt a certain longing building deep inside me. Half a year since my university graduation had passed, a period that kind of got stuck inside my brain as a bare minimum necessary to recover after all that imposed studying, writing the master thesis and stuff I had to do during my university years. After I defended my thesis and got my diploma, I was tired, but somehow sure I would miss studying after some time – maybe half a year, maybe a full year. I hadn’t established any deadline for myself – instead, I trusted my instincts to tell me it was finally time.
In January 2019 I hadn’t done much any studying on the New Year’s Day. I hadn’t done much studying for the next 2 weeks either. It was somewhere in the middle of January (or as you would say this in Japanese, 中旬 [chuujun; middle 10 days of a month]) when I heard a sudden “calling” from inside. An idea of making a New Year’s resolution popped in my head and I decided to go with it on a whim. So I stood in front of my bookcase dedicated to Japanese resources and I grabbed a kanji textbook. I proceeded to sit down at my desk and began reviewing kanji, starting from the very basics because I was perfectly aware how much I had forgotten over the 4-year break from Japanese. When I finished studying that night, I felt great. I hadn’t studied for a long period, but it felt awesome anyway.
Funnily enough, I somehow knew at that point this wasn’t going to end the usual way.
I could sense a certain “fire” blazing inside and dancing around in happiness because I knew there, finally, wasn’t anything “more important” to study that would take my precious time with Japanese from me. Because I knew I wasn’t doing this for the sake of any grades, diplomas or somebody else’s requirements. No, it was me laying down the requirements and meeting them in any way I saw fit. It is this way till this day.
And I love it this way.
Later I came up with my 7 study rules and began further experiments with study methods, resources, tools and my attitude. All falling within a simple rule “do what you feel like doing, just continue to sit down and study”. I had no idea that such a plain rule would be so liberating as it was. And so motivating at the same time – honestly, I just went crazy after that first night. I continued to study every night after work, whether I was tired or not. I was so parched for Japanese that I just couldn’t stop. It became my after-work relaxation routine pretty fast – and I definitely hadn’t expected that it would last for 3 months straight in the slightest.
Around April the fire started to subside, but it didn’t die out. That was when I started taking days off when I felt overwhelmed. That was also when I made myself go back to studying every time after a short break, even if the guilt was crawling behind me. I ditched the shame, they were my studies and one should not be ashamed of who they are and how they decide to live their life or how to carry on with their studies.
That lack of shame became actually very important in July and August when I took massive breaks due to heatwaves, work, our new cat and general fatigue. Losing faith in myself have crossed my mind several times, but I managed to come back every single time.
“Just make sure to return after every break, there are no self-punishments even if you take long.” – that was what I’d told myself. After all, studying isn’t tedious or excruciating – if you don’t make it so. It was yet another liberating rule that kept my fire going and going strong.
As this year is elapsing and the new one is getting close, I can’t help but remember what happened almost 12 months ago. At that time the only resolution was to restart (and keep) my journey with the Japanese language and perhaps prepare for JLPT N3 (which became my strong resolve somewhere around May), but in 2020 I’m determined to try new things and make new resolutions. Of course, I will continue my studies towards the next Japanese level, N2, but I won’t be taking JLPT in 2020. It’s going to happen in 2021 or 2022 at the very latest. Currently I’m aiming for December 2021.
I believe that less is more, so there aren’t going to be vast plans or endless lists of things I want to do this year. Instead, I limited them to the 3 most important things I wish to achieve in the upcoming year. Choosing a small number of resolutions also accords with my superior rule of not pressuring myself and letting myself study what I feel like at the moment, so this is all the more just.
Besides, I did create lists with various priorities for the year 2018 and 2019 – and they did not work out at all. In fact, I did my best to do everything BUT adhere to them. So that mistake is not going to repeat itself.
One more thing – I rejected resolutions based on numbers and limiters. In other words, I don’t do “learn 1000 words”, “do 100 grammar exercises”, “finish 2 textbooks” or “read 10 mangas” kind of thing anymore. Rejecting limiters means I do not tell myself what to study exactly. For the past 2 years, I’ve put in those long lists choices like “study from textbook A” or “finish course Y on website Z” and I had a hard time sticking to them because even if I felt like doing textbook B (which would lead me to the same result as textbook A would), I would feel guilty and, of course, I wouldn’t count textbook B as satisfying the condition I gave myself. So no more of such self-restraining resolutions anymore.
MY 2020 JAPANESE-RELATED GOALS:
1. REPLAY PERSONA GAMES
I started (re)playing Persona 4 Golden over 3 weeks ago and it has been a fantastic ride so far. It clearly made me see how much progress I’ve achieved since I went back to studying Japanese. The feeling is even greater because I attempted to play a Persona game in Japanese before and had to put it away – the language was too overwhelming. As a part of this resolution I’m probably going to pick it up again (and, hopefully, finish it this time).
Of course, the fact that I’ve already conquered most of the Persona games in English before surely adds to my understanding and makes a certain calmness set in when playing the game – because I already know the plot and battle mechanics. I haven’t played those games in at least 2 years so I forgot most things that happen within the plot (especially the subplots). Besides, it’s also fun to find the differences between the English translation and the Japanese original (and, believe me, there are quite a lot!).
Persona 5 Royal was waiting for me under the Christmas tree and Persona 3 Portable is on its way as I was able to find a decent deal on it on eBay. It’s definitely going to be a fun gaming year and I seriously want it to be like this. There are also several other games I want to play in Japanese which have been waiting for their turn, but I didn’t feel confident enough to give them a try. Maybe this is the year I will finally do.
However, I don’t want to impose any numbers or limiters on myself, so I’m not going to tell how many games I need to finish and which ones exactly. Again, I’ll just stand in front of my shelf and ask myself: “so, what do we feel like playing today, girl?”
2. READ 1 VOLUME OF HARRY POTTER
In 2019 I read 1 volume of Harry’s adventures. Well, half a volume to be exact, since Japanese publication divided each volume into several parts so that the books are small, light and could easily fit into your pocket. I’ve read the first part of The Philosopher’s Stone, but I honestly don’t feel like reading the second part of it. Currently, I’m leaning towards The Prisoner of Azkaban, but that might change of course. I know the series by heart so I can jump into any volume I want anyways.
3. JOIN A CONVERSATION CLASS
This is something that has been on my mind for quite some time now. Speaking is the only skill which I have not real opportunity to practise in self-studying. My country is quite homogenous so it’s not like I could have Japanese neighbours all of a sudden. They’re even a hard find in larger cities and I’m a small-town girl now. Obviously, any language schools and courses are out of the question because there simply aren’t any nearby.
As a result, I seriously started thinking of taking online classes because that’s something you can do literally from anywhere in the world nowadays. I could find myself a Japanese native speaker this way, too, just to raise that bar and ditch the safety of my mother tongue or English.
To tell the truth, I’m already so pumped to start and had even researched private tutors I’m going to ask for, but I want to wait till February to start the classes themselves – after all, I promised myself that they were going to be a reward for passing JLPT. The results will be posted online between January and February, so that’s why I’m opting for a February start. It’s also going to cost money and not just once, but it will become a part of our regular monthly spendings, so I need to make sure I’m ready and deserve that little indulgence of mine. After all, we tend to appreciate things more if we put our blood, sweat and tears into something we really wanted.
To be honest, I’m also quite scared when I think of that first lesson. I know it’s going to be fine later when we break the ice and start talking, but I’m as nervous as any other person who decides to go 1-on-1 with a native speaker and talk in a foreign language. It’s funny, though, because I don’t feel such fear when speaking English. But who am I deceiving – I was scared sh*t when I went to England for the first time and at that time there was no other way but to communicate in English. And I was perfectly fine after a few days so it’s going to be perfectly fine after those first few lessons, too. I strongly believe that.