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 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 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 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.

Posted in Attitude, Choices and sacrifices, Motivation, Study methods

THE IMPORTANCE OF MAKING CHOICES AND SACRIFICES

I really like Instagram. Sure, I like Facebook too, but I truly grew to like Instagram over the last 3 years since I opened @mikuwashi. At the moment, I’m following a variety of accounts: bullet journal-related, watercolour-related, Japan-related and a few months ago so-called language studygrams joined my “following” list, too.

As more and more posts uploaded by self-study language learners started to pop out in my feed, I began to notice that while most of the posts had this positive undertone in regard to that person’s studies, some posts were of complaining or demotivational nature, like: “I’m studying X atm, such a pain” or “I finally finished topic X, almost died doing it”. I often approached such people via dm (as I find it completely understandable that most people don’t like some pointing-out remarks being thrown in their face in the comment section) and asked them WHY they are/were studying such a topic then if it doesn’t “spark joy” in them (if we were to quote Marie Kondo’s famous words). 

Here’s a quick remark – I’m not talking about topics people find difficult for them. Everyone has their strong and weak spots in terms of topics, grammar structures, even words (some of them just can’t stick, no matter what you do to remember them). In such cases, it’s only natural that people need more time to grasp a particular term or structure that they find confusing – it depends on a person and is completely normal. It’s also a separate issue when you’re going to school or university and the teachers ask you to learn something because it’s in the curriculum and you need to learn it in order to pass a subject or to get a better grade. Yet, as I’ve already underlined in one of my previous posts, I believe it’s possible to give yourself room for choice and freedom in your official education. Just not as much as you can when studying on your own. However, here I’m talking about learning a topic, vocabulary or some other aspect of a language or target culture that doesn’t interest you or that you find completely unnecessary in your studies, yet you go over it anyway – just „BECAUSE”.

Most people I asked were independent learners and they were unable to tell why exactly they do that. Some even gave it a longer thought because it had never occurred to them before that they HAVE A CHOICE not to follow the textbook 100%. “Because it’s in the book and I do it from cover to cover”, “because I saw other people learning it so I’m doing it too” or “because I have to” – those were most common answers I received. But another question immediately popped in my head: who imposes this topic it on you if you’re self-studying? The answer is simple: only yourself. So why aren’t you questioning your material? Why don’t you stop for a second and give yourself room to think: do I really need this?

Why do we tend to learn everything we encounter without filtering information? For example, if we have just started our journey with a language and right now we’re learning its first grammar aspects like basic tenses, why do we tend to learn ALL the uses of a particular tense? “Because I won’t have to go back and learn it later” – sure, but are you going to use all, give or take, 7 uses of Present Simple (if you’re learning English)? Do you really need to know that you can use it to comment a football match or is the fact, that you can use it to talk about your daily routine enough for a beginner?

Of course, you don’t need to know that and you even shouldn’t. At least not in the beginning – unless you want to feel as if you’re going in circles without making any progress as you’re too focused on stopping and learning everything there is instead of moving forward. Give yourself time, you’re not going to become fluent in one day. There will come a day when that match commentary will be crucial to you and that’s when you will learn that Present Simple can be used there. You have to realise that fluency is a long journey, it takes a lot of time and effort and (unfortunately) it never ends – languages evolve and change all the time, so we have to update our knowledge. Instead, be patient and do things at your own pace – don’t look how fast the others are going, don’t get discouraged that somebody could grasp a particular topic faster than you – they’re probably thinking the same thing when you breeze through something else they found difficult and time-consuming.

This is one of the reasons I love “Try!” books so much (grammar books for Japanese). They’re divided by their JLPT level (where level 1 is the highest, advanced, and level 5 is the lowest, elementary) and even if some structure was introduced on the elementary level, they gradually present its additional uses in the next books. For example, in the book for N4 level, I learned that なら (nara) is used to create a conditional sentence. In the book for N3, I learned that besides the conditional, you can also use it to make a suggestion or to give advice. Providing information bit by bit is something I truly appreciate in grammar books – instead of throwing all there is to know about a structure in your face, they reveal more and more uses before you with each book, just as your language competency grows and you’re ready for that next twist.

Yet, even if we do pace ourselves and try to do things our way, why do we still treat textbooks as some kind of a bible that tells us what exactly needs to be studied? They don’t always cover everything, after all. It doesn’t include certain topics that you’re curious about – you’re left on your own trying to submerge into the Internet for answers and information. And also – why are we reluctant to skip something that doesn’t interest us or doesn’t bring pleasure but we decide to succumb to pain and endurance instead? Does covering all the material bring satisfaction? Yes, perfectionism brings pleasure somehow, but is it worth the discomfort and/or decrease of motivation?

The answer is simple: no, it isn’t.

It’s one of the first conclusions that had come to me, even before I graduated. I hated the fact that I was forced to study something I didn’t perceive as useful or interesting. It made me sick to my stomach to think of learning such material. There were times when I sat in the class and wondered “Hey, what am I doing here? I’m wasting my time.”

Do you want to waste your time?

Or do you want to feel you’re on the right track and making progress towards your goal?

Then make choices in your own studies.

But also learn to make sacrifices.

Because if you start to choose what to learn, you will have to sacrifice something at the same time. That’s what choices in studying means – they are intertwined with sacrifices. That’s exactly what happens when you take responsibility for your own studies rather than rely on somebody else’s judgement (like school’s, in form of a curriculum or teacher’s demands) in terms of the studied material. You have to learn to omit, to skip, to sacrifice things on your way towards fluency. TO omit, not HOW to omit. Before all else, you need to realise that you CAN actually omit stuff you don’t like or don’t want to learn. HOW to do that surfaces later and is a very personal matter – it’s all about you and your choices in the end. But first, take a breath and do that initial step – embrace the freedom of choice that was given to you and make the most of it. Because I’m guessing you’re gunning for that fluency, right? You want to understand your target language, speak it, devour it, chew it and then release your progress to the world?

After you start thinking about those two aspects, you’ve already become a different, more aware learner. This is something school doesn’t teach you, at least it didn’t teach me – it asked me to blindly follow what was imposed. So I did, I didn’t ask questions WHY we have to study this. Nobody taught me to think differently. But at some point, when my frustration was on the verge of exploding, I started questioning myself: does studying really have to look like that?

No, it doesn’t.

After realising that simple fact, your world of studying starts to change. It’s terrifying at first – you don’t yet know how to make that choice CORRECTLY. But let me reassure you – there’s no right or wrong here. It’s perfectly fine to make mistakes and take your decision back. Yes, they’re reversible! After all, you’re growing in your studies, you’re gaining knowledge, so of course your choices are going to differ, too. Heck, even things outside your studies change, you’re maturing as a person, your life situation and preferences become different – so obviously they’re going to influence the way you study and alter it.

My N4 vocabulary textbook with 3 types of vocabulary highlights I use

For instance, when I learn vocabulary, I tend to highlight words. I actually have a separate colour (grass green) dedicated to, as I call them, “bullsh*t” words that I choose to skip. This colour helps me recognise them and go “Oh, THAT word. What was it? (Checks the word) Oh. Okay. Let’s move on.” For example, when I was doing my vocabulary textbook for the N4 exam, I stumbled upon the word for the catholic church. I hovered over it with my usual highlighter for new vocabulary (orange) and then suddenly thought: “You know what? I don’t need this. I’m not going to waste my time memorising something I find unnecessary”. And that’s when I chose another highlighter for words I’m skipping. Why do I highlight them at all if I don’t want to pay attention to them? Simple enough: as I create flashcards, my eyes just search for any highlights on the page – if I see green, my brain already knows that even though it’s a new word, I can carry on looking for other highlights without bothering with the green ones. If I see orange, I know it’s a new one and needs to be added to my flashcards for sure.

To tell the truth, I use a third colour too – dirty yellow. It indicates that I had trouble recalling what that word meant but I have definitely encountered it before and I label it as necessary to my studies. What’s more, if I use that yellow to highlight, I leave myself a bit freedom, as it’s a signal that I can postpone the final choice whether I want to learn this word till the time flashcards will be made. As a result of such colour-coding, I don’t have to read the entire page again, I just scan it for highlights every time I create new flashcards.

You can actually see how I remade my decision on two words

The same situation happened with Japanese words 輸出 (yushutsu; export) and 輸入 (yunyuu; import), which I have highlighted with green at first, as I thought: “Hey, I’m not going to read stuff about economy, so I don’t need them”. The funny thing is, these two came back to bite me in the ass and I’ve encountered them numerous time since I first saw them in my vocabulary book, not only in economic context! So I went back and rehighlighted them with orange and then quickly added them to my flashcards.

This is one more thing that’s important about choices – don’t be ashamed of them. If it turns out you actually need something you initially omitted, don’t be afraid to MAKE YOUR CHOICE again and welcome something back in your studies. Nobody’s going to stick it to you and don’t let them if they try – you’re learning for yourself, not somebody else. Others don’t have to like it. YOU DO. YOU – and your choices – are the most important element of your studies.

Posted in About me, Attitude, Choices and sacrifices, Motivation

WHAT SHAPED MY CURRENT ATTITUDE TOWARDS STUDYING

As I sat down to write the post about the importance of making your own choices in studying, I realised that I should start with a little history of my own studying. “Why does she want to talk about herself?!” – you may think, but what I’m going to tell you about the choices was heavily influenced by my experiences as a student. I believe that you would be more likely to make the same connections I did when you get to know and understand what shaped my current attitude toward studying.

In primary, junior high and high school I was your typical model student. Not straight As, but I never did worse than 1-2 Cs on my school certificates (funnily enough, except for English classes – I had a very strict and demanding teacher back in junior high and I had a D in his class for 2 years straight! He let me graduate with a C in the end). I’ve always liked studying, it gave me satisfaction, yet I was something I would describe as “dumb learner” – I learned everything by heart as it was. I rarely made my choices when studying. I studied what the teachers told us to. Yes, I did read extra stuff I wanted to get to know more about (e.g. I liked and still like to learn more about space, stars and planets), but when it came to the classes’ content – I studied everything we covered and what was necessary to perform well in tests. Regularity was also the key, I studied every school day, did homework right after school. I used to walk around my room with a notebook and explained to myself the material we did in class. In this regard, I was never much of a fan of typical learning by heart. I preferred (and still do) to comprehend the topic and then try to explain it in my own words, often aloud (and while doing that walk around the room thing). It worked great while at school. But I later realised that it wasn’t going to work as great in academic environment.

If you have ever entered university, you know that the amount of material is impossible to master in full. There simply isn’t enough time to learn and research everything as deeply as you would want – unless you want to become a studying robot who doesn’t do anything other than sitting at their desk with a bunch of textbooks. Obviously, that didn’t work for me – I wanted to enjoy my university years as much as possible, make friends, gain some working experience perhaps.

As far as my first year was concerned, I was able to keep my old studying routine. But when I made it into my 2nd year and heavier and more difficult subjects kicked in, I had to quickly learn to make choices and sacrifices: what to focus on or if to study at all. Here’s a confession I have to make: there were times when I postponed studying as late as possible, there were exams I passed by sheer luck when I studied for them briefly before the exam (even just a few hours before it) or didn’t study at all. Here’s another confession – I’m not making it to boast, it’s simply important that you know – I have a very good memory and over the years I learned to use it pretty effectively in my learning process. Hence I was able to memorise the crucial points for an exam while most of my peers believed I spend DAYS preparing for the exam. The truth is, I was as lazy as other students. I just could pick stuff up more easily and quite skillfully predict what was most probable to appear on the exam.

In total, I spent 9 years as a university student (half of that time I was working full time as well) at 3 different universities with 3 different majors: finance and accounting, law and English philology. I only hold a degree – both BA and MA – from the last one, I dropped out from the first two after finding out it wasn’t something I want to do for a living. What’s more, the first two were my parents’ ideas, only English was my own choice, so it had to result in finally graduating and getting a degree. It’s one of the reasons I believe that, ultimately, YOU should be the one making the choices about your studies and future. You can be inspired, you can be given advice, but it’s YOUR CHOICE to make. It’s also fine to change your mind and dump something completely if you feel that pursuing it just isn’t worth it anymore. It’s yet another experience that affected my current attitude toward studying.

The years I invested in those majors made me a very experienced university student, but on the other hand, heavily affected my drive towards studying in general: it plummeted so deep I couldn’t see the bright side of it anymore. I started to find it bothersome and frustrating – not because of poor results, but because I was so desperate for freedom in my studies and more free time to delve into my private studies (namely, Japanese). As I grew up as an adult, I discovered that I’m a very independent person – and that feature also passed onto the way I study. I could barely make any choices as a student and that fact began to suffocate me, little by little – the content to study was imposed, textbooks decided for you and you also had to take the lecturer’s favourites into consideration, which rarely lined with your own. There were tons of, what I call it, “bullsh*t studying”, that is material that you either don’t need to learn by heart, because in normal circumstances you would check it in reliable sources (e.g. as a lawyer obviously you’re going to read that legal act and check for any updates and/or changes rather than relying on your memory) or material that doesn’t correspond to your interests or future career path. Not to mention you had to take “bullsh*t subjects” shared by most university majors (at least that’s how it works in Poland) like I.T., logic, economics or history of something you don’t give a sh*t about or of something that is totally outdated (I still remember that I had to LEARN BY HEART info on FLOPPY DISCS back in my 1st year. Come on, it was already late 2000s, nobody used or cared about them anymore)!

All those experiences resulted in a very frustrated and demotivated learner who couldn’t wait to finally graduate. I’m still proud that I actually managed to accomplish it – though I know I have to be grateful for my master thesis’ promoter who acknowledged my passion for Japanese and let me incorporate it into my MA thesis. It was the only thing that pushed me forward over that last year at university, making that MA degree possible.

Now here comes a good question: leaving the university so unmotivated, so genuinely sick of studying, how come I’m able to study again and I do it with pleasure (and also every day)?!

The answer is very simple: I knew I had to wait for some time and I would finally miss studying. And I wasn’t mistaken: in January 2019, I returned to my beloved Japanese, this time on my own, with my own rules and choices. As for how that happened in that period between my graduation and last January as well as what conclusions I drew, based on the experiences I described here, I’m gonna include that in my next post, as I promised. Let’s say the topic of making your own choices in studying is a two-part discourse with this way too long introduction I’ve just written. See you in part 2!