Posted in Attitude, Changes, Plans

WELCOME, NEW YEAR 2021!

Happy New Year! – finally!

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.

Posted in About me, Attitude, Changes, Motivation, Plans, Reading, Video games

LONG TIME NO SEE! HERE I AM, AGAIN!

Hi there! It’s Mikuwashi! お久しぶりですね!

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!

Posted in About me, Attitude, Changes

NEW YEAR, NEW MORNINGS

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!

Posted in JLPT, Kanji, Study methods

HOW TO PRACTISE KANJI

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.

Column titles from the left: kanji, kunyomi, onyomi, meaning, compounds. The meanings as well as the compounds’ translations are written in Polish, my native tongue.

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.

I shifted the notebook to the side. The boxes were larger, the table longer and they could fit more content that way.

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.

I usually wrote readings with Latin alphabet, especially back then – it was faster than using kana.

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:

Advantages:

  • 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.

Disadvantages:

  • 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).
One of my first entries back on N5 level (meaning those entries are around 10 years old now! Look how the pen ink has bled to the other side of the page!)

Now, let’s put this system into a few easy steps to follow:

  1. Find new kanji to learn (either from your textbook, JLPT prep book, manga or any other resources you are using at the moment),
  2. Create an entry in the compendium (include the kanji itself along with its stroke order, readings, meaning and a few compounds),
  3. 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.
  4. Repeat every other day. Reduce the time gap as it sticks in your memory.

Remember to prepare space for your compendium entries in advance to save time and not to lose focus when you are studying!

With 差 you can see that I practised the readings first and then switched to its compounds

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.

That’s what a kanji notebook looks like inside. First you’ve got the kanji box and then furigana box to its right. On the right page you can see new kanji being learnt – hence the repetition of 厚 or 泣, for instance. On the left page I reviewed kanji acquired before thus only the compounds appear.

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.

Advantages:

  • 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.

Disadvantages:

  • 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:

  1. 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,
  2. 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),
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

ADDITIONAL CONCLUSIONS:

  • 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.
Posted in Choices and sacrifices, Languages, Motivation, Study methods

2019 IN MY STUDY PLANER

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).

JANUARY 2019

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.

FEBRUARY 2019

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 2019

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.

APRIL 2019

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.

MAY 2019

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 2019

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.

JULY 2019

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.

AUGUST 2019

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.

SEPTEMBER 2019

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.

OCTOBER 2019

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.

NOVEMBER 2019

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.

DECEMBER 2019

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!

Posted in About me, Attitude, Languages, Motivation, Plans

MY 2020 STUDY GOALS

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.

Posted in Languages, Listening, Reading, Study methods, Video games

RECOMMENDED VISUAL NOVEL TITLES (INTERMEDIATE LEVEL)

It’s time for the next tier of games – and you do not realise how tricky it was to pick those up! I moved a lot of titles to the next level when I realised how their gameplay could affect the gaming experience A LOT. And by a lot, I mean that apart from proper Japanese language levels some of them are going to require some good gaming skills as well (and a lot of nerve in some cases).

However, we’re on intermediate tier now and that means higher language difficulty, but a person on N3 level should be able to deal with these without major problems. Some games in this list include other game genre elements which make the gameplay more complicated. I’ve also chosen games the plot of which is simply more complex or uses specific vocabulary because of its setting (e.g. in Code Realize you encounter tons of technical vocabulary because it’s set in steampunk England. Also, a few characters are quite passionate about science or technology and that fact impacts your ability to understand what they’re talking about and what’s actually going on).

Well, it’s time to dig into this level’s recommended titles!

CODE REALIZE

Japanese title: Code:Realize ~創世の姫君~
Platform: Playstation Vita, Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch
Genre: visual novel, otome, steampunk
No. of games: 3
Limited edition: Yes
CERO: C (B for the sequel)
Anime: Yes (1 season, 13 eps)
Drama CDs: Yes, multiple
English version: Yes (all 3 games)
Game’s website: http://www.otomate.jp/code-realize/

Synopsis: Cardia lives day to day isolated from the world in a restricted, abandoned mansion in order to fulfil her promise to her father. Her body carries a deadly poison that rots or melts anything that her skin touches – causing the locals to call her “monster” so her father told her to stay away from people and falling in love, but he suddenly disappears. One day, her quiet solitude is interrupted when the Royal Guards break in to capture her. That’s when she meets the chivalrous thief Arsène Lupin who helps her break free from the Royal Guards. Cardia then finds herself on a journey with Lupin to locate her father. (source: wikipedia)

My comment: Code Realize games got really popular which resulted in the creation of 3 games in the series as well as the anime version of the first game coming out soon after. There’s a great reason for all that – the game’s just marvellous. Apart from clear, steampunk setting, an awesome cast featuring some of the most famous male seiyuu (Japanese voice actors) as well as amazing soundtrack which only adds up to the whole setting, Code Realize offers a solid story with an interesting twist in terms of well-known characters like Sherlock Holmes, Arsene Lupin, Frankenstein or Van Helsing.

Now, after I’ve written this very commercial-like sum up of Code Realize’s greatest features, I can tell you more about it from the linguistic (and Japanese-learning) standpoint. Even if you’re a fan of steampunk (I’m personally not, but I picked up this game anyway), if I were you, I’d refrain from buying this title for your first game of intermediate tier of visual novels. Despite simple gameplay which only requires making a correct choice of you here and there (like almost all visual novels do, especially otome games), the world of the game as well as the language used are not entirely easy to understand. I mean, the dialogues between the parties and the narration are relatively easy to understand – the kanji use is quite natural, meaning if you’ve just started N3 level, you’d find this game problematic. For a person who’s completed N3 level, you’ll recognise most kanji thus making it easier to play the game.

However, it’s the technology behind all the plot that can confuse you and require that dictionary being on constant standby. If you’ve ever read or watched a story set in a steampunk world, you’re very much aware of how much the technology influences the plot and how much it is talked through and mentioned. Code Realize isn’t any different from other stories of this particular setting. So, yes, you can expect times when the dictionary use will be heavy, but most time you’ll do fine – if you’re either already on N3 level or have completed it, that is.

The general plot is quite simple and gets you hooked quite easily, the characters are just gorgeous and I personally had a problem choosing my favourite guy. Even if you’re not into any of them, their personal stories are so well-written, you just want to find out about it all – which isn’t a common thing, actually. It’s very rare and something to clap on if the creators made you play all the routes available instead of picking “the one and only” and focusing on him. Just bear in mind that if you’re fond of Lupin, his story won’t get unlocked until you’ve completed the other 4 guys’ routes. That’s when you’re able to start a new game in Lupin’ route. 

One more advantage is the graphics which is something to be stared at, including the backgrounds. I just drooled over them most times. The soundtrack isn’t memorable, but it fits the overall story and setting quite nicely, so it’s quite easy to get involved in the story and the characters’ peril.

Oh, and the last and, in my opinion, the most important thing – Cardia just rocks. She’s a very strong very independent lead female, very different from your typical otome game protagonist which needs constant protection from the bad guys or life itself. Cardia isn’t like that. Yes, there are times when Lupin and the gang need to save her last minute, but she can think, she can plan and she can execute. She also isn’t a harmless womanly woman, but due to her powers, she can do serious damage and turn the tides in dangerous situations which is something I LOVE of female protagonists. I LOVE when they AREN’T a damsel in distress all the time. It’s also a delight to watch how she grows to live among other people and to trust them, despite her upbringing sank in seclusion. Consequently, Cardia is one of those things that make the story and this game itself great. Definitely try this one, but maybe save it for the upper spectrum of intermediate level. If you’ve just entered it, I’d recommend trying some other games presented in this list.

7’SCARLET

Japanese title: 7’scarlet
Platform: Playstation Vita
Genre: visual novel, otome, mystery
No. of games: 1
Limited edition: Yes
CERO: B
Anime: No
Drama CDs: No
English version: Yes
Game’s website: http://www.otomate.jp/7scarlet/

Synopsis: The game follows Ichiko Hanamaki, a college student whose brother has disappeared in the town of Okunezato a year prior to the start of the game. She and her childhood friend Hino Kagutsuchi find a website discussing mysteries surrounding the town, which will host an offline meetup in the town during the summer; Ichiko and Hino go there to investigate Ichiko’s brother’s disappearance. (source: wikipedia)

My comment: My honest thoughts of this game? Mixed. I mean I loved the trailer when it first came out. It looked so aesthetically pleasing that I preordered it immediately. The plot also sounded intriguing – finally some mystery being released! Did it live up to my expectations? Yes and no. I kind of got what I was expecting, but was not fully satisfied.

For instance, the mystery around the protagonist’s brother’s disappearance is quite good and to reveal all secret you must play all the guys’ routes with the inn owner at the end – similarly to Code Realize, his route gets unlocked after you finished the rest of the male cast. On the other hand, the romantic aspect of this game lacks and one route is just terrifying rather than being romantic. I know some girls are into yandere (a Japanese term for a person who is initially very loving and gentle to someone (or at least innocent) before their devotion becomes destructive in nature, often through violence and/or brutality. Source: Animanga Wiki) stuff, but I’m not, so one route was very off-putting and I even put the game itself away. However, my usual curiosity got the best of me and I just had to find out what is the mystery of this small town our protagonist and her childhood friend are visiting.

But bear in mind that if you’re looking for a detective mystery, you won’t find it here. Code Realize would be a better choice in that regard as it involves a conspiracy. In 7’scarlet you’re going to find a small-town mystery, people being wary of outsiders, pretending the protagonist’s brother had never arrived and not letting them find out secrets of their town. This was just the kind of story I was looking for – and it didn’t disappoint. It wasn’t an amazing story, but a good one. Actually, if you’re looking for something LESS heavy in romance and plot mechanisms characteristic for an otome game, 7’scarlet might be just for you. As it was also released in English, you can easily check whether you understood all the tangles between every character, the town and the protagonist’s brother as well as the finale.

There isn’t much to say about the language. I’d definitely put it above Shinobi Koi Utsutsu presented further below, but it wasn’t something an N3 level student wouldn’t handle. Sure, the story is rich in small details that end up mattering later or connections between people and places, but it can be dealt with a little dictionary time. Or simple immersion in the story. Honestly, I even took some notes on the aforementioned connections so that I wouldn’t lose track of those small but important details and that also helped a lot. Not to mention the fact that in this game you sometimes get to choose what things you’re buying and having certain objects in your inventory directs the plot in a certain way. As a result, it is advisable to write down those choices as well (or simply use the walkthrough if you’re struggling to enter a particular route). Also, be careful of bad endings. There are quite a few moments when you can lose all your progress because of a decision you’d made a few minutes earlier, so save as often as you can and keep several saves (that’s actually a tip true for all the games you’re playing, not only visual novels).

ROOT LETTER

Japanese title: √Letter (ルートレター)
Platform: Playstation Vita, Playstation 4, PC (Steam), Nintendo Switch
Genre: visual novel, mystery adventure, point-and-click
No. of games: 2 (but “Last Answer” is an enhanced edition of the original game with additional endings and a live action mode)
Limited edition: Yes
CERO: C
Anime: No
Drama CDs: No
English version: Yes
Game’s website: http://www.r-letter.com/

Synopsis: Root Letter is set in Matsue, Shimane Prefecture, where the protagonist arrives in search of Fumino Aya, a pen pal friend from high school who had disappeared for 15 years. After he finds a letter dedicated to him from her that was never sent, he sets out to interrogate her classmates as he wonders if everything Aya had told him had been a lie. (source: wikipedia)

My comment: Wow! Finally a game which isn’t an otome one! Although it does feature a romance. However, in Root Letter you’re a guy who has set on a journey to find an old pen pal – a girl – who you used to exchange letters with 15 years before. You’re curious to find out what happened to Aya, especially that her last letter states that she has killed someone. 

The game contains several cool features that made me binge-play it over several days. Yes, DAYS – the story is long, but very linear, so as long as you keep saves in proper moments, you can replay the game to get all the endings (and trust me – it’s so worth getting all the solutions why Aya disappeared – one of them is so absurd I laugh about it till this day) without wasting much time. What’s more, I gotta admit that this game made me laugh so hard occasionally – specifically, there’s this one character, a pervy old guy that suddenly appears in the most inappropriate moments (especially when you’re having a bath in hot springs) which brings a welcomed comic relief to this very much a sad story.

Also, contrary to typical otome games, you don’t pick any “guys” or other characters around which the plot then revolves. Instead, in Root Letter, your goal is to discover what happened to Aya and there are several explanations (i.e. endings; both bad and happy) about what happened.

Throughout the game, you reread the letters you got from Aya and try to remember what you wrote back. This is where the game mechanics get very interesting – since you and Aya were penpals 15 years before, you struggle to remember what your response was. As a result, during the game, you get to choose what you responded with and that choice influences the game’s outcome – a typical “choose 1 option” visual novel mechanic, but in a very creative format. Here’s where I can give you a tip – save as you’re about to make a choice about your answer to Aya’s letter. That’s where the routes split, resulting in different endings.

Another part of the game is pure INTERROGATION. If you’ve ever played an Ace Attorney game, then you’re quite familiar with a concept of cross-examination where you get to interrogate the witness about the case and you can present various evidence to them if needed. A similar idea is used in Root Letter – you get to question the game’s characters and can show them some objects you’ve gathered while snooping around Aya’s hometown. Based on your talk and the objects you can make people tell you things they hide or which are relevant to the story. As a result, you walk quite much around the town and visit different places relevant to Aya’s life, obtaining more and more information on her story.

An interesting thing about this game is its enhanced edition. The story in that edition is very much the same, but if you’re not a fan of anime graphics, you can trigger a “live-action” mode which will feature actors instead of drawn characters. The clips were also remade with the actors’ play. Music was great since the very beginning – it isn’t memorable, but nicely fits all the scenes – the scenery of a small town, the intensity of questioning the characters as well as a certain nostalgic vibe during flashbacks.

If we were to talk about the language used, it’s quite simple. As long as you remember places’ names, you’re fine (fortunately you move from spot to spot by choosing your destination on a map). The plot is not super complex, either. What may prove to be a bit of a challenge is the interrogation, though. During its climax, you’re faced with some timed responses you need to make. At first, you may have trouble with reading them, because they’re swapping so fast, but you can always save the game before questioning somebody and reload it if you fail. It’s such a minor difficulty, though, that I decided to put it in this game tier. The story and other game mechanics, after all, are totally of intermediate level.

SHINOBI KOI UTSUTSU

Japanese title: 忍び、恋うつつ
Platform: Playstation Portable, Playstation Vita, Playstation 4
Genre: visual novel, otome, ninja
No. of games: 2
Limited edition: Yes (and twin edition with both games too)
CERO: C
Anime: No
Drama CDs: Yes
English version: No
Game’s website: http://www.otomate.jp/nin_koi/banka/

Synopsis: Katagiri Kae, whose aim is to become a ninja, meets a vice-president of Sanada High School in a tea house she works at. He asks her if she would enrol in the school. In order to do that, it is necessary to transfer to the ninja training centre first and achieve good results in the midterm exam – only then Kae will become an actual student of the school and start preparing to become a full-fledged ninja. Wanting to make her dreams come true, Kae agrees to the vice’s proposal. However, on her very first day, she activates an unusual ninja technique allowing her to captivate men. Will Kae become a real ninja or will her secret technique blow in her face?

My comment: I’m so sentimental when it comes to this game. To tell the truth, it was the first otome game I’d actually finished! Well, partially. It was the first otome game I’d finished a route in (although I was close to doing that before when playing Norn 9 back in 2013 – I was just 1 chapter away from the end, unaware at the time!). That says something since I hadn’t even completed my N4 studies when I started playing Shinobi Koi Utsutsu. As an old Naruto fan, I just had to pick a ninja otome game. If you’re in the same boat, feeling too old for Naruto (if that’s even possible), but would like to try something centred more on romance than overpowered fights (though battle scenes and ninja work is still present in this game!). Similarly to Code Realize, the graphics are heavily ninja-inspired (that even includes the loading symbol) as well as the soundtrack. The background music is a nice mix of modern and ninja era music. If you’ve ever watched Naruto, you know what I’m talking about – when the scene gets intense, that nice heavier beat kicks in, making the scene more exciting while most of the time you can hear traditional Japanese instruments as a part of a track.

Language-wise I’d say that this game is perfect for N3 level. It includes a lot of kanji you learn on that level. For others, you’d quickly learn to recognise them. I’ve also noticed a lot of grammar points discussed at N3 in the dialogues and narration of the game. So, if you’re mid-N3, you’ll play this game with ease and certain comfort of staying away from the dictionary. Early N3 is also possible, but with more frequent dictionary checks. As I’ve mentioned, I had played this game as an N4 student and had actually completed it (it took me around 2 weeks to finish one route, though).

What’s also great about the language is the fact that despite the plot being set in ninja times, the language used both by the characters and in the narration is very much modern. Some characters use several words or figures of speech characteristic for those times (like 我 [われ] or でござる), but that’s it. You don’t have to worry about old Japanese present at all, which only serves as this game’s advantage – you get to enjoy a different type of story without struggling to understand what is being said.

The plot isn’t anything great, it revolves around ninja school life, meaning training, missions and battering with other students (especially that other kunoichi – female ninja – are jealous of the protagonist’s power), very much like in a typical high school setting. Of course, at some point in the game, you get to choose one of the guys (here as your training partner) and later end up developing romantic feelings for each other. 

However, Shinobi Koi Utsutsu features a lot of well-known seiyuu – especially because in the enhanced version for Playstation Vita, you get 4 more potential romance targets than the original 6 in the first version of the game, which was released on PSP. It means more male seiyuu to listen to and fall in love with. It also makes this game a good value for money – you get 10 routes to play and each route is of standard length (meaning a few hours per each character and if you’re stopping for dictionary searches or translation, that adds up to even longer playtime). 

If you’re a fan of ninja stories, there’s one more otome game I can prompt you to play and that’s Nightshade (Japanese: 百花百狼). I haven’t played it myself, so I can’t speak for its language level, but it was released in English on Steam (PC) and based on my friends’ experience with this title, I can definitely tell it’s an awesome play and I’m interested in checking it out myself. In Japanese, it’s available on Playstation Vita.

ZETTAI KAIKYUU GAKUEN ~EDEN WITH ROSES AND PHANTASM~

Japanese title: 絶対階級学園~Eden with roses and phantasm~
Platform: Playstation Vita, Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch, PC
Genre: visual novel, otome
No. of games: 1
Limited edition: No
CERO: D
Anime: No
Drama CDs: Yes, a few
English version: No
Game’s website: https://www.prot.co.jp/psv/kaikyu/index.html

Synopsis: The protagonist, Fujieda Neri, lives in the poor district within the “Ring Area”, which surrounds the Tokyo Bay. She lives a modest, yet peaceful lifestyle. However, one day, her father, her only family, suddenly disappears.

“Go to Kaikyuu Academy.” – That was all what was written on the mysterious letter left behind by him.

The private Kaikyuu Academy… A prestigious boarding school attended by sons and daughters from privileged families, founded upon the goal of educating them well in order to give them the tools to support future Japan.

Following the letter left by her father, Neri transferrs into Kaikyuu Academy, a school where celebrities gather. It is extremely luxurious, however, being grounded upon a social caste system, the academy is dominated by “social class discrimination”.

At the very top of the social hierarchy is the “Queen”. Endowed with incredible political influence, she rules over the students. Superior to everyone else but the Queen are the chosen elites belonging to the privileged class, “The Roses in Full Bloom”. The commoner class, in which most of the students belong in, is called  “The Nameless Honeybees”.

And then there are “The Ignored Stones”… Even though they’re fellow students, those in The Ignored Stones are regarded as having the same rights as a servant – they’re usually oppressed and enslaved. Finally, there is “The Resistance”, which is an organisation composed of students who oppose the social hierarchy system and wish to demolish it.

In a society far more disparate than she had ever imagined, Neri finds “love”, and gradually, a certain “truth” about the academy surfaces. What is this “truth?” and how is it connected to her father’s mysterious disappearance? (source: the game’s website)


Posted in Attitude, JLPT, Languages, Plans, Study methods

WHAT DID AND DIDN’T WORK IN MY JLPT N3 PREPARATIONS

Even before I took JLPT this December, I knew that after taking the N3 exam, I would want to summarise study methods and resources that worked for me in my preparations and the ones that didn’t. Surprisingly, their list turned out to be quite long when I finally put it into writing. I haven’t realised that so many elements decided whether I’d stick with my studying efforts. And how many things I’ve tried only to toss them away.

As both “worked” and “didn’t work” sections have multiple subpoints, I will explain each one of them briefly, especially that I’ve already described some of them on this blog and I plan to elaborate more on others in the future, too.

WORKED

1. Highlighting and colour-coding

I came round to highlighting when I was at university. Soon after that, I have already started to associate certain colours with some aspects of my studies. So it was only natural that as soon as I picked up Japanese again, I came up with my own colour code and I am proud to admit that I stuck to it for the past year, never changing it! It has even influenced the way I create my flashcards!

2. Digital flashcards (Anki)

I have been creating flashcards for a long time. Again, they are one of those discoveries I had made while at university, I had never encountered them, somehow, while in high school. They are quick to make, they can cover a variety of topics and you can keep them in your pocket. The last one is especially true when it comes to digital flashcards which I swear by. At first, I was a fan of Memrise because they had a great website and app at the time, but last February I switched to Anki and my flashcards have become much more effective. Why? Because I don’t create simple target language – mother language translation flashcards anymore. After I read a certain book which was a real eye-opener to creating flashcards (don’t worry, I plan to write a separate post all about that book and how my flashcards look like as a result), I started using monolingual flashcards. That is, they’re only in the target language and include a variety of elements – and Anki is a perfect tool for that due to its wide variety of editing options it offers its user. Yes, making such rich flashcards is a hassle and takes time, but I’ve been using them for almost a year and I can tell you – they saved my butt on JLPT because of how well the words stuck in my brain. It’s (and they are) marvellous!

3. Paper textbooks

When it comes to textbooks, I was lucky. A few years ago I was gifted with a whole So-Matome N3 series for my birthday. I could try all components in my preparations thus forming my own opinion on them on the whole and on each and every one separately. What I noticed is that because academic textbooks at university were so expensive and unaffordable, I was really happy that I can finally work with a paper textbook and not a xerox copy of a one. As a result, I grew to like using them. When it came to purchasing Kanzen Master books, I had no doubts. I ordered a few straight away because even though you could find them in digital format on some shady (and not quite legal) sites, I preferred to get a physical copy instead. And I still do.

Working with a physical book proved to be much more fulfilling (even though So-Matome is black and white anyway, so technically it shouldn’t be that different from a xerox). I was also tempted to use them more frequently as I was, firstly, curious what I was going to learn next and, secondly, I really wanted to mark my progress on GoodReads (GR is one more thing that has helped me tremendously to boost my motivation to study and can also be counted as a part of the “worked” section). Buying a Japanese language book also lets you use their answer key normally – because it’s usually added as a separate, thin brochure you can take out of the book – very convenient when you’re checking those answers, as you don’t have to flip the pages all the time.

It’s funny, though, how your perspective changes when you become an adult. As a student, I had no shame when using xerox copies at all. Now, when I work and can afford to spend more money on resources, I’m proud to put my hard-earned cash into the authors pocket so that I can put their resource book on my bookshelf in return (and, of course, use it to my heart’s content). It’s yet another thing that makes purchasing paper textbooks great – their number on the shelf only increases and makes you swell with pride when you glance at them. Because YOUR hard work and YOUR SALARY made it possible.

4. Writing in textbooks

This is something that most people, from what I’ve noticed, don’t really do and/or are afraid of doing. No worries, I was the same – until I took those So-Matome books in my hands and I thought “Why am I restricting myself with MY OWN BOOKS? I should be able to do whatever I want with them.” Yeah, at first it felt awkward to defile them with something other than a pencil, but when I started smearing them with highlights and gel pens, I noticed how much that worked in favour of my studies. That was also when all that colour-coding came into play and played my studies hard. I came up with the whole colour (and tool!) system for different language aspects. And I have been using it for almost a year now, no signs of changing or modifying it yet. For N2 I have already purchased most of the books because I know it’s going to work for me just the same.

5. Study planner

Ah, my beloved study planner. If you’ve been reading my blog since the beginning (or you have dug into the most read post of mine about my 7 study rules at least), then you’re already aware of its presence and the influence it has on my studies. Seriously, it’s a tool I totally recommend to everyone when they’re struggling with their motivation. Registering what you’ve done that day is the best feeling in this world. And it helps a ton – you can see how much you’ve done as well as you can write down stuff you normally would’ve overlooked, like gaming, reading for pleasure, watching a tv show etc. I’ve been saying that since the very beginning – textbook studying is not the only “proper” way to study. Yes, it helps, even I have to admit that after preparing for JLPT on my own, without classroom help. But considering what has happened during this year’s JLPT (i.e. the listening section), I’d say that other study methods are more important than sitting with that textbook. One of them is also included in this list, as it worked wonders for me.

6. Immersion

I won’t boast and tell you that I do it daily. Sometimes I’m sick of it so much that I need breaks. But regardless, I try to do it as often and as much as possible. That means that I don’t take breaks longer than a week or so and I also commit several hours A DAY to immersion, even if it’s just a simple show playing in the background when I’m working on my bullet journal. Yes, occasionally I have to force myself to enter immersion again, it’s especially hard right after the said break, but when you overcome your inner obstacles, it becomes so much easier to jump right in and regularly. Of course, when you start the immersion, it’s also quite overwhelming and you want to stop – it feels like too much and your brain freezes. My only tip in such a situation is: don’t ever stop. Take breaks, but return after every break. Don’t feel ashamed if your breaks last longer. Just get back there every time, without a doubt.

If you feel particularly upset, downgrade to immersion in something you already know. Watching a new tv show or reading a new book feels gratifying, but if you’re not up to the challenge (be it because of fatigue or lack of skill), choose something you have read or watched before (even in another language). It makes an entirely different experience if you stop worrying about understanding the plot and characters. That’s when you soak in the language that you’re flooded with – because you stop worrying whether you will understand what you’re told.

7. What textbooks for which skill

As for textbooks, I’ve already mentioned them in the post on pre-JLPT conclusions, but I’ll quickly tell you what book I have chosen for each skill you need to master for the exam (this list is absolutely subjective):

VOCABULARY

Kanzen Master is a good book, but I’m a visual learner and I genuinely enjoy short comics and gags So-Matome comes up with and for this reason, it’s my top choice when it comes to learning vocabulary. Boring word lists that Kanzen Master or Speed Master provide you with are counterproductive for me – the words never stick. Same goes for all those books that offer vocabulary lists with examples and a box to tick off. I can learn a word this way, but is it going to be memorised easily? My answer is “no” and that is why I rejected such books on my journey. However, I did appreciate the number of diverse vocabulary exercises Kanzen Master has and, as a consequence, I’m going to use my copy as a vocabulary review post-exam.

GRAMMAR

The mix of listening exercises, reading passages and grammar structures in Try! is a pleasure to work with. I mean, it can be used for so many purposes. I generally start with my small listening practice, meaning I don’t open the book and simply listen to the recording with the text I’m about to read. As I finish listening, I read the text quietly and then aloud (you can sometimes listen to me reading it on my Instagram if you’re interested) and then I proceed to learn grammar. Finally, each chapter ends with a mini mock exam, listening included. To tell the truth, I practised listening tasks better with Try! than with a typical choukai (name of the listening section on JLPT) textbook.

LISTENING

Apart from Try!, I practised my listening skills best with mock tests rather than typical prep books. I’ll elaborate on said prep books more in the “Didn’t Work” section because they were mostly a failure in my case.

READING

Reading was similar to listening for me – I read so many authentic materials on a daily basis that doing reading prep books felt like an unnecessary hassle. I tried doing them to get used to the exam format, but I mostly felt bored. To tell the truth, as much as I enjoyed them on N4 level, on N3 they just felt too easy in comparison to the real manga, novels, games or subtitles on tv shows. Still, it was good to practice them a bit before the real deal, because the questions regarding the text can sometimes be really confusing or simply weird.

KANJI

Ha! I could talk about kanji all day. You’ve probably noticed by now that I adore learning kanji. If I don’t feel like doing anything, I sit down with my practice notebook and some lists or textbooks. Speaking of practice notebooks, they’re one more thing I discovered this year and I welcomed positively. I’ve always been a fan of working on my penmanship, ever since I learned how to write. That attitude passed on to my kanji acquisition. I just love sitting down and beautifully writing all the strokes, repeating them over and over again when I’m not satisfied with the shape. I’ve also noticed over the course of my preparations that it was finally time to shift to kanji compound practice rather than a single kanji plus its readings, as I used to do on N5 and N4 level. 

As for the kanji books, I used quite a few, but was definitely most satisfied with Kanzen Master due to its variety of exercises and very useful tips on, for example, rules of compound readings (too bad the N2 book is very much repetitive and doesn’t really stand up to its predecessor in that regard). So-Matome also worked fine, especially that with it I was provided with a list of kanji in every lesson and later, as I was revising them, I could just open the book along with my practice notebook and just rewrite all signs and vocabulary… In Kanzen Master you’re given a list in the back of the book, so the characters aren’t introduced per se like they are in So-Matome. As a result, I got both Kanzen Master and So-Matome for my N2 studies as well as a new book called Kanji Master N2. One can never have too many kanji books!

DIDN’T WORK

1. Pretty notes

I do enjoy a good photo of beautifully and meticulously written notes. It’s so eye-satisfying! However, when I tried to make them myself, I quickly realised that they are SUPER HYPER counter-productive and a total waste of time! Yes, they may look ascetically pleasing for you to browse, but is your time seriously worth spending hours perfecting those pretty pages rather than making more progress in your studies? Yes, they say that writing notes, flashcards or even cheat sheets boost your memorisation but is doodling or drawing all those lovely pictures going to help you tremendously? No. Will they boost your Instagram viewership? Hell yeah! Are your viewers going to shower you with the knowledge you’re supposed to learn in exchange for your time and effort? Not really? Well, then there go your pretty notes.

2. Keeping notebooks

For the reasons mentioned above, I ditched notebooks (apart from my kanji practice notebook) as well. I write on my textbooks, I input the vocabulary and grammar I learn into my digital flashcards, so I asked myself: do I need to take notes, rewrite textbooks and write down lists of vocabulary? I quickly realised (after writing down like 1 lesson, haha) that I don’t and again, it’s counterproductive if something entirely else works better for me (namely, flashcards). By the way, anyone wants to buy a wardrobe full of unused notebooks?

3. Inputting digital flashcards

Ah. That’s a real struggle. As I’ve told you, I’m using Anki and a certain method to create flashcards so they’re quite rich in content but, on the other hand, very effective. Yet, making them takes quite a bit of time and I’m so lazy when it comes to this that I have real trouble sitting down and creating flashcards when I should. I tried being regular with this and making ones right after I finished a chapter of vocabulary, but it’s always too many words to input at once. This is something I really need to work on in my N2 studies because I know those flashcards are extremely helpful but my lazy ass does everything to avoid the creation process. Shame on myself.

4. Paper flashcards

Before I discovered Anki, I had used paper flashcards for about a month. I wanted to be a fancy Japanese freak and purchased those ring flashcards all Japanese people seem to use at school. And they were cool but very small, so I could only limit myself to the translation method. That’s when I realised that in some cases the translations were exactly the same, even though the Japanese word – and/or the context it was used in – was different. I tried synonyms, but it still didn’t work when recalling the word. Fortunately, I got to know Anki soon after, so I ditched paper flashcards straight away because of their certain limitations (I’m seriously going to explain it all in a post about flashcards, please bear with this lack of knowledge for a while).

5. Audiobooks for immersion

Immersion is great and you don’t have to go to your target language country to experience it. But as I’ve pointed out before, not all resources are suitable for immersion and can actually backfire on you if you’re too tired or too under-levelled for them. In my case, the second option happened when I was trying to listen to audiobooks while studying. They were Harry Potter ones, so I’m totally familiar with the story (POTTERHEAD SITTING RIGHT HERE) and thought it was going to be similar to watching a known anime or something (so it would work like it did in the “Worked” section). I was so wrong. Audiobooks are an entirely different level of focus. They only worked when I wasn’t doing anything else. Okay, listening to them in tandem with cleaning kind of worked because my mind was focused on the audiobook and my hands were working automatically. However, doing my bullet journal or studying from a textbook was not happening. I was too distracted and tended to stop focusing on the audiobook, even if I had my headphones on.

6. Memrise

Before Anki, my flashcard world revolved around Memrise. But, unfortunately, it doesn’t really work with complicated, richer flashcards I wanted to create. It’s a very precise tool, so if you type another word as the answer – even if it’s a synonym – it won’t count as a correct one, unfortunately. That limitation made it very frustrating to use it and after my discovery of Anki, I quickly stopped using Memrise for good (even though I had a valid subscription at the time). It just wasn’t worth using up that yearly subscription only to feel that I’m actually using what I paid for – when it clearly wasn’t working for me anymore. This is something worth learning as you’re experimenting with your studies – don’t be afraid to drop something that doesn’t work simply because you spent money on it. I know it hurts to waste that hard-earned cash, but is it really okay to hinder your progress because of it?

7. What textbooks for which skill

Again, let’s sum up what books DIDN’T WORK as planned.

VOCABULARY

Kanzen Master wasn’t a good first choice, but it can work as a review tool. But all those [insert your JLPT level] 2500/1500 Goi books with a fancy red screen should go to hell – I stopped using lists to memorise vocabulary long ago and I’m still surprised how many people are unaware of alternative (and more effective) methods of acquiring vocabulary (here I’m speaking from professional experience rather than Instagram experience, so no offence – everybody uses what’s best for them).

GRAMMAR

Here go two textbooks, one of them being quite popular on Instagram – Kanzen Master and So-Matome! Congratulations! Their structure is so unhelpful I can’t believe they’re being used! If I were to choose between the two, I’d go with So-Matome simply because it AT LEAST has most structures (YES, NOT EVERY STRUCTURE!) broken down to its core elements like a verb form, added particles and so on. Each chapter covers 3-4 grammar structures and then checks the knowledge with two exercises. After 6 chapters, there’s a 3-page review chapter. The exercises are repetitive but at least they practise different grammar tasks a JLPT examinee is given. What they did lack, though, is the translation or at least an explanation when to use presented structures! Sometimes a short explanation of a context in which you can use it was inserted, but in most cases you were supposed to deduce its meaning from a short comic shown at the beginning of the chapter. I can’t fathom who thought people were going to guess that every time. So yeah, I had to refer to a grammar dictionary or some wise websites for guidance. That’s definitely not how a grammar textbook should work.

Kanzen Master on N3 level is still in English (thank God, N2 and N1 books have only the Japanese explanation) and provides examples of presented structures. Each chapter introduces about 6 structures AND, low and behold, there are no practice exercises for 2 CHAPTERS STRAIGHT! After 2 chapters there’s a review and, low and behold AGAIN, a multiple-choice one! The other types of exercises are implemented at the very end of the book (like the star tasks as well as the fill in the gaps passages). What. The. Fook?

LISTENING

I’ve only used one textbook and that is the So-Matome one. I might try the Kanzen Master one when I will be doing my N3 review, but I’m not so sure about that, especially after my experience with So-Matome. The book isn’t bad per se, but when you’re doing immersion regularly, such trivial listening exercises are just boring and too easy. I only enjoyed doing the review chapters, though, because they were structures like a JLPT mock test. Apart from that, I think a listening textbook is unnecessary. Yes, it provides some tips on how to listen for information and I acquired some nice vocabulary items from there (set phrases and formal language in particular), but I didn’t find it necessary to pass JLPT. I haven’t even finished it before the exam.

READING

I’ve already said that, but reading authentic materials proves to be a better practice than reading textbooks. If I were to choose a winner, though, I’d go with Kanzen Master because of its increased difficulty. Still, not really necessary in my opinion. I haven’t finished my So-Matome and Kanzen Master reading textbooks either. I haven’t created flashcards with vocabulary introduced in those books either, although I have to admit that I’d found some interesting and useful phrases in So-Matome.

KANJI

As I love kanji, there aren’t many textbooks that don’t satisfy me. However, there was one which I had to put away – not because it was bad, I love this series, but it had less kanji than the number required for the exam. It was also rich in exercises and reading passages, so I was convinced that I wouldn’t be able to finish it on time. And that book is Basic Kanji Book vol. 2 plus its workbook counterpart. I’m actually happy to dig into it again after finally taking the exam because this book is FUN! I recommend it to everyone starting their kanji acquisition (start with vol. 1, of course; and leave the workbook for revision because it’s not a typical workbook, more like a grand revision book). Just bear in mind that the learning process with this book is slow (but “slow” in a good way!) due to each kanji being introduced separately with its compounds as well as space to practise writing it.

Posted in JLPT, Plans, Study methods

MY JLPT 2019 EXPERIENCE

This year’s December JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Exam) session is finally over. I can’t believe that it has already passed! When I started this journey leading me to N3, I had almost a year till the exam date. I remember I was afraid that I might have to postpone my exam yet again since I had to start with previous levels’ revision – after all, I hadn’t studied Japanese for about 4 years before last January. It’s such a long time that in case of learning a language, you will forget things. Sometimes even lots of things.

So with such fear in my heart, I decided to give it a try regardless. There was still half a year before the registration for the exam (it’s usually in the second half of August for December session), after all, so I put off the final decision for that time. The beginning was rough and off-putting. I don’t want to write much about it here as I want to delve into the topic more in my 2019 studies summary post, but I have to admit that there were moments over the course of this year when I did not believe I would be able to pull it off and take JLPT as planned.

However, a quick thought always put me in place and motivated me for greater work despite all the struggle – if not this December, then December 2020. Because July does not work for me – even though we have it available in Poland, I have work and summer is high season for my company, so there’s no way I could take a weekend off, leave everything alone and go.

But there were other reasons why I didn’t want to postpone the exam. One is that July was out of the question and waiting an extra year felt like more time than necessary to achieve N3 and I would be circling in place at some point, revising the same stuff until the examination. So, if I put it off, it would make more sense to forgo N3 and strive for N2 (this way I wouldn’t have to do that circling thing), but in 2021 or even 2022.

Moreover, there were two more reasons why I couldn’t wait for that 2021/2022. First is that I collect JLPTs, I already have the N5 and the N4 ones under my belt and I want that N3 in my collection as much as I want that N2 and finally N1 in a few years. The last reason is that I’m turning 30 next year and I wanted to get one more JLPT level before that happens so that I can leave the advanced tier of JLPT for my thirties.

Luckily, everything worked out, although it was not a clear and easy path, but more of a rugged one. And there was lots of stuff I’d done last minute, too. Well, let’s not worry about that, what is done is done and now all we can do is to wait for the results.

How do I really feel about my performance, though?

Pretty good, but not super good. I mean, I feel I did better on mock exams. Still, I’m pretty confident I did my best and I should pass the bottom line at least and pass the exam on the whole. That’s what my gut tells me.

KANJI AND VOCABULARY

The first part of the JLPT exam on N3 level tests your knowledge of kanji and vocabulary. As for kanji, they check whether you’re able to choose a proper kanji for a particular reading and the other way around – you have to choose the correct kanji spelling for the word given. Kanji is one of my strong suits, I love kanji and I love acquiring new ones. Kanji practice is usually my go-to task when I feel down and don’t feel like studying at all since I can practice it with some kind of a show, podcast or audiobook playing in the background. That doesn’t mean that I perceive kanji as a way to study more leisurely, no – I’ve always liked writing, I’ve always worked on my penmanship and continue to do so till this day. So I genuinely enjoy those endless writing practices I do in my kanji notebook – it feels so good when you nail a kanji (writing-wise).

The kanji I’d got on the exam were alright and quite easy for me although I did make a mistake with two words (almost three! but I followed my gut on the third one and it turned out to be correct). As a result, 印象(いんしょう; impression)is going to haunt me till the end of my days (I chose いんそう for the reading EVEN THOUGH I marked いんしょう initially! God, how many times I have to remind myself to TRUST MY INSTINCTS!).

As for vocabulary, I felt insecure about it before I opened the exam paper. The truth is that I was so inconsequent about learning new words and making new flashcards that it came back to bite me in the ass. I’d noticed that problem way before, around May, but still wasn’t able to overcome the fact that even though I enjoy learning from flashcards I make, I am weak in will when it comes to sitting down and making them, as they’re quite rich in content and thus take more time to prepare (even though making flashcards still counts as studying to me and not only; there are studies which show that making a cheat sheet or flashcards helps you remember words). As a result, I’ve turned only around half of the N3 words into flashcards. I did finish the whole vocabulary prep book, though, half of the words from that book just didn’t make it to my flashcard pile in time.

Consequently, I was over the moon when I saw the examples they’d prepared for the exam paper. I knew all of them! I was especially glad to see the examples in the last task, where you’re given a word and you’re supposed to choose one sentence where this word is used correctly in a given context. I knew all of them AND I perfectly knew what contexts they work in, so I had no doubts which answer to pick. This mattered to me a lot – because on the mock exams there were examples where I THOUGHT I knew the meaning and its usual context, but I mistook it for a similar word or found out that I cannot use some word in the context I’d chosen. And of course, you can get the most points for each example in this task, so the more reason why I was relieved that the last task went smoothly.

GRAMMAR AND READING

My attitude towards grammar is neutral. I see its importance, I’d definitely noticed how important studying it is when I saw it used on the tv shows I’ve watched raw this year, but generally, I don’t like to study grammar. I mean, I don’t like to sit down and study it from a textbook. I much prefer to pick up grammar from what I consume, like tv shows, games, mangas and other media. That’s how I picked up English, after all, and it worked well.

However, I did notice how much more I am able to understand now THANKS TO the time I’d put into grammar prep books this year. It’s just amazing and I will continue to study grammar from my favourite sources on the advanced levels in order to help me understand and know more.

Yet, when I opened the exam paper, I was surprised because grammar this year was mostly word-based in my opinion. If you’ve ever done any mock questions for JLPT, you know that they like to provide answers that sound similar or that examinees tend to mix up. For example, in N3 prep books, there were multiple questions where you had to choose between によって、による、によると and so on. Not to mention the fact that some structures have multiple meanings and they want to check if you, for example, remember that のために not only means “for (somebody, something)”, but also “because of (some reason)”. I was baffled when I saw that double meaning for the first time, actually, and it took me quite a while to remember that.

However, this year they used words. For instance, in a text with gaps where you’re supposed to choose what structure fits in the gap, they asked for words like “firstly” or “even” rather than typical structures. It wasn’t a bad set of questions, but for me, it felt repetitive after I’d just taken the vocabulary part even if they used different types of tasks to test your grammar.

Some people are probably curious about how I handle the “star” task. For people who are not familiar with JLPT format, this is what sample question looks like:

To solve it, you have to put answers 1-4 in the correct order. The word marked with the star is the answer you should choose.

I currently don’t have any problems with those, but it used to be different in the past. When I first encountered this type of task, I struggled as most people do. But when I put my puzzle-solving and sudoku love into this task, it became much easier and I mostly do it without errors. On the exam itself, though, I think I might have done 1 example wrong unless I guessed the meaning of some words correctly. We will see.

Reading passages were quite fun, to tell the truth. I really enjoyed reading all of them and I thought it was quite easy to understand the general idea behind each text. However, I do believe that the questions were very logic-based and required greater focus to actually understand what they were really asking of an examinee such as myself. So my reading results might be a hit or miss, depending on how well I understood the intentions behind the questions.

LISTENING

And here comes the fun part.

Listening skills.

They are my forte, they’re something I feel very confident at in any language I decide to learn. Such is my ability – I don’t want to brag, but that is the truth. With any language, at some point, I reach a level where I can hear EVERYTHING. Grasping it is another thing, of course, but I also reach that level at some, later, point as well. And I won’t deny that it is because I do a hella lot of passive listening – basically every day, sometimes for multiple hours. And yes, it works wonders. I cannot recommend doing that enough.

So why the fun part?

Because this year the JLPT examiners decided to butcher everybody with the listening part. And this wasn’t only my own impression, but other examinees’ I kept in touch with as well. 

Heck, when they played the CD, my first thought was “Did the examiner push the fast forward button on accident or something?” because the people were speaking super fast. It took me like 3 recordings to adjust to that speed – as I’ve mentioned before, I listen to tons of native material, so I’m pretty used to their natural speed.

But even with that, when you had done a certain number of mock test and got used to the general N3 speed – you will be thrown off for a second. And that’s what happened to me.

After I put myself together and started to HEAR what was being said again, I calmed down, but in later tasks, I also had a moment or two when my mind got stuck processing the previous example when the next one had already started playing.

Overall, it was a good listening, but it definitely wasn’t the best performance I can usually manage.

From what I’ve gathered from other people, their impressions were similar in regard to N3 listening exam. What’s more, that fact didn’t apply to N3 exclusively – I’d contacted people writing N5, N4 and N2 levels and all of them told me that the listening went so bad that they’re worried if they’re going to pass the exam at all. And for most levels, the pace of speech in the recordings was faster than normal, too.

After I came back home and thought about it, it kind of made sense why they increased the level of the listening part. Actually, they could’ve done so about any other part, but they chose listening. Why? I personally think I might have the answer to that. That’s just my theory, though, so nothing’s set in stone here.

About a month prior to JLPT, I received an email from my examination centre that they’re going to prepare an extra examination site just for N1 examinees. I found it odd, but it didn’t concern me, an N3 candidate, so I just ignored it. I was supposed to write in the standard examination centre and that mattered.

But maybe I should’ve read deeper and discover what that little email meant.

If they had to prepare an extra place – and mind you, they rent an entire SCHOOL with MULTIPLE classrooms for the exam in Poland, so there’s always enough space to fit everybody. In my JLPT experience, it has never happened that there was another place rented for an entire JLPT level. What does it mean? Of course, there were so many people taking the exam this year that they run out of space. And it could be true for other countries as well.

As it is with entrance exams, if there are too many candidates, the university has to raise the bar. I think a similar thing might’ve happened with this session’s JLPT. Too many people are eager to get a certificate – let’s prepare a harder exam so that fewer people pass. Simple as that.

Well, I hope my gut feeling is right and I will pass. I’m about to start my N2 preparations, after all. I might not take N2 next year, but I’m definitely aiming for December 2021 or 2022. It really depends on the pace of my preparations and I can already tell you that I don’t want to go as crazy with them as I did with my N3. It was a bumpy – as well as awesome – rollercoaster ride with many first times but also with many lessons learnt. So I’m gonna derive from those and slow down with my love. After all, it should reach a new stage like with any love relationship does – first, you’re infatuated and do crazy things, wanting everything there and now and then you get smarter and enjoy the bond you have. ゆっくり、so “slowly”.

And I intend to enjoy my tender bond with Japanese so, so much.

Posted in Attitude, Choices and sacrifices, Languages, Plans

WHAT COMES AFTER JLPT N3

With December’s JLPT session drawing near and less than 3 weeks left till the real deal, my exam preparations have reached their final stages. I’m slowly finishing my prep books and already considering my next steps. What am I going to do after I finally take that exam? There are already quite a few plans I’ve made.

TOBIRA

I had started going through Tobira textbook and its workbooks back in the spring. However, after finishing 2 chapters I realised that hacking through this particular textbook, even though it’s targeted at upper-intermediate students who are about to enter the advanced level (so, in definition, it was perfect for N3 level students like me), was going to take too much time and it won’t necessarily prepare me for the tasks I’m going to see at the exam itself. So I switched to JLPT-driven prep books instead.

However, I really grew to like Tobira, even way back in 2016 when I bought it and had done the first chapter. I truly appreciate the fact that it has separate grammar and kanji workbooks (and quite thick, too) and those contain the answer keys! For a self-studying person like myself being able to check the answers is vital since I don’t have a teacher to discuss any problems I might have with. Plus the structure and topics chosen in this book are to my liking, especially because I’m not a student anymore – and that factor was one of the reasons WHY I dropped An Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese right after finishing 4 units. There were too many university-related dialogues and reading passages which weren’t relevant to me anymore as I had already graduated.

Consequently, one of the first steps I’m going to take after taking the exam is going back to Tobira and doing all 3 of its components thoroughly, from start to finish. I already know that I’m going to enjoy using those books. And I have to admit that I’m kind of curious how much I’ve improved since I last touched them last spring. I had barely wrapped up my N4 reviews and started N3 preparations at that point. Now I’m wrapping up N3 so I expect that I could feel the difference when I restart Tobira.

KANZEN MASTER

I’ve purchased Kanzen Master books about half a year ago. I found out about them via Instagram – I’d noticed that many people studying Japanese use them to prepare themselves for JLPT, so I checked their contents out and decided to purchase a few of them right away. I went for 4 volumes – reading, vocabulary, grammar and kanji (though I bought the kanji book much later, at the end of summer, ironically, it was the first one I’d finished).

However, my first hands-on experience with Kanzen Master wasn’t good. Those are difficult prep books. The more so if you’re doing them on higher levels since they drop English usage dramatically. N3 still has explanations in English in grammar and kanji books, but on N2 everything’s just in Japanese. Sure, one would say that N2 is the level when you should totally drop the translations. Yet, my personal preference is to learn grammar so I can fully understand the concept. Sure, I’m able to understand what the point is if I read it in Japanese, but I really like to make connections between languages – namely Polish, English and Japanese. Yeah, I know, 3 languages of 3 different language families but there are things I know from one language that actually help me grasp the idea behind some Japanese structures. After all, our brains like to find similarities in order to explain the world to themselves. So I do that all the time.

Anyway, the first time I dug into Kanzen Master books I got this feeling that those are tricky and they’re not gonna work for me. At least not when I’d just begun my N3 preparations. So after I’d done the first section of the vocabulary book, I put it away. For the same reason, I haven’t even started the grammar book – it felt overwhelming to use it. And I haven’t even picked it back from the shelf till this day. It doesn’t mean I’m not going to use those books and let them collect dust on the bookcase. No, I totally plan on using them.

Because they’re going to be ideal for a N3 review.
Huh? Review? But you’re about to take the exam!
Yes, I am. And Kanzen Master‘s higher difficulty is going to be perfect for a post-exam review.

After that, I’m going to enter N2 preparations, obviously. However, given my experience from January and February of this year, when I was reviewing N4 level before doing anything related to N3, I feel that an overall review would be a good thing to do first. And since Kanzen Master books provide a greater challenge, I’m going to use those to achieve my purpose. That will come after doing Tobira, though.

JAPANESE MIDDLE SCHOOL TEXTBOOKS

I have two of those – history and geography ones – lying on my bookcase since, as far as I remember, 2016? I went to great lengths to get my hands on those as Japanese school textbooks are rarely sold to foreign countries. Well, the case is different if you’re using proxy services I’ve told you about in my resources entry. But still, it cost me a lot to get them.

The first time I opened those books, I felt overpowered. My lack of understanding was clearly visible. Before that, I’d already read a few books targeted at primary school children, but the middle school level was completely different. If the textbook is normally used by 1st graders that shouldn’t be far off primary school level! – that’s what I thought. But I was gravely mistaken.

So, obviously, I put those away. However, I think this is finally the time to give those a try again. I’m one level up and hungry for that history knowledge I was looking forward to gaining. As you already know, that didn’t happen. The situation was the same with Japanese geography textbook, I haven’t touched it since its purchase as well. And again, I really want to learn more about Japanese geography and culture but not from Polish or English compilations, but the way Japanese kids learn stuff about their own country. Plus those textbooks look AWESOME. I’d totally suck those up if I went through Japanese school system.

PERSONA 4 AND PERSONA 5

Since the exam will be over, I can finally dig into those Japanese games I’ve imported! Well, I don’t have them yet as I will receive them as my Saint Nicholas Day and Christmas presents. Persona 5 is still on its way, though, but I saw on its tracking that it had already reached Poland so hopefully it’s going to come in time for Christmas. But I will have Persona 4 to play with before that so I’m perfectly content with this solution. Heck, I’m rolling my eyes as I’m writing this sentence because it’s my own solution.

Those two are JRPG games so the language level will be considerably higher than otome games because apart from text to be read, there will also be fighting sequences, skills usage, levelling up, running around on the screen and so on. However, I’ve already platinumed those two titles previously (i.e. I received all the game trophies there were to receive – if you do that on Playstation, you get a Platinum trophy for your achievement), so it’s going to be this much easier for me language-wise (well, that’s half-true, since Persona 5 has recently got an enhanced edition and that’s the one I’m getting, so there will be extra scenes, new characters, dungeons to conquer etc.).

WHAT COMES NEXT?

I don’t know.
Seriously, I don’t know.

Well, of course, there are N2 preparations planned, too, but I’m giving myself at least 2 or 3 years before I take any JLPT again, so I don’t have to start preparing for N2 right away. I’ll probably do that sometime in spring 2020, I think that’ll be more than enough time to learn what is necessary for the next level. Yet, nothing’s set in stone – if I feel that I need an extra year to study everything thoroughly, I will give that much time to myself. N3 has been a real rollercoaster ride, with no previous experience of self-preparing for such an exam (before I had always gone to a language school or worked with a private tutor) and with a really harsh goal imposed on myself (less than a year to prepare and after an almost 4-year break in Japanese, too!) which I hope to finally accomplish on December 1st.

But first and foremost, I need to slow down a little. Since September, I have been spending several hours a day studying. Luckily, my work allows that, but my family isn’t super happy I vanish in my study after work and dinner together. Plus Christmas is coming, so I’m starving for some family-bonding time as well as to simply chill out – and I totally need that. It doesn’t mean I won’t be doing anything Japanese related, no. It’s been almost a year since I restarted my Japanese journey and I’m not taking a break. I just want to enjoy different things than textbooks and JLPT exercises all the time.

I definitely want to read more Chihayafuru.

I definitely want to read more Harry Potter.

I definitely want to get back to my Korean studies.

I definitely want to read my first ever yaoi light novel.

I definitely want to watch more Japanese TV shows in the original.

I definitely want to write more in my Japanese diary.

And I definitely want to start 1-on-1 online conversation classes.

The last one is a reward I set for myself after I receive my JLPT results. If I pass, I’m going to find and arrange an online meeting with a tutor. Because speaking is the only skill I had no opportunity or will to practice. And I hope to finally change that.

And there’s one last wish I have.

I really want to draft my first ever novel.