Welcome to 2022! Happy New Year! Did you spend a fun Eve? Managed to enjoy the first sunrise of the new year? It has been over a week since then, so it is high time I decided on my 2022 resolutions. As I have already published my JLPT road map for N2, I took that extra time to deeply think about my resolutions on purpose. Exam prep is one thing, but what other goals should I pursue this year? Time to find out.
N2 ROAD MAP
Before we move onto non-JLPT topics, an additional explanation on my road map should be given. Although I did elaborate on the details of my study plan, when I re-read it, I noticed that I did not pay much attention to several issues, so I will be doing that now.
One of them is why the core of my studies will be wrapped up by August and then later only reviewed. There’s a simple reason for that: JLPT registration begins mid-August. In case the December exam gets cancelled yet again, so as not to get discouraged, I want to have the entire material covered already. To my mind, it would be easier for me to resume my studies later when I can just review what I already know rather than having some leftovers to go over.
What is more, I have been observing other people’s experience with said cancellation over the last 2 years and what I have gathered is that the revelation is disheartening and could be detrimental to the studies. Being afraid I might fall victim to the very same feeling (and end up taking a break as a result), I prefer to stick to a tougher studying regime before I get to know whether the exam is organised this year at all. This is especially true because the next examination opportunity for me would be in Dec 2023 (as I have mentioned before, I cannot sit the July session due to work obligations, unfortunately), so I will have over a year for necessary drills anyway.
Don’t worry, I am sure the possible cancellation will NOT influence my enjoyment of authentic materials, just JLPT resources and that serious prep mode. After all, when I took N3, I did take a two-year-long break from textbook studying. Yet, that did not stop me from enjoying Japanese games and reading materials in the meantime (which I show on my Instagram account if you’re interested; since my preparation has already started, I post my day-to-day study sessions there, too). Those are my usual free time activities and have been since I was a child so I am unable to stay away from them for too long either way.
As I have mentioned above, JLPT prep books are not the only books I will be having fun with this year. I am a firm believer of the fact that language studying not only comes from textbooks but mostly from one’s exposure to authentic materials. I myself am a product of such attitude: my English proficiency has mostly come from my indulgence in authentic materials, so I am doing the same thing for my Japanese studies, too. After all, if it had worked for me before, why not trust it again?
As for the specific titles I wish to tick off in 2022, here is the list:
Ore Monogatari (13 vols),
Btooom!! (27 vols; currently at vol 6),
Chihayafuru (47 vols at the moment; currently at vol 12),
HP3 (currently at 50% mark),
Zettai Kaikyuu Gakuen (the otome game I played back in November; I have ⅖ routes left),
Error Salvation (an otome game I got for Christmas).
Those are the core items I hope to complete before the year ends. I can and most likely will (given the fact that I am pretty spontaneous when it comes to my reading/watching/listening choices) put additional publications on this list. I do not usually make plans when it comes to films or TV series to watch, however. I just follow my gut instinct and wishes I have at the time. For instance, right now I am re-watching Ao no Exorcist – simply because I stumbled upon it on Netflix and felt like watching it again after 10 years.
I am pretty active on GoodReads. I follow my progress of not only the Japanese titles but also English and Polish ones. I also cover textbooks progress – honestly, if I can find something there, I add it to my account. I have been using this service for a few years now and it does motivate me to read and study more. I love updating my status.
Last year, I opted for 100 titles read and I DID achieve it! Heck, I even went overboard, having 151 titles read under my belt. Initially, it was all about the number, but for the past 2 years I have been distributing that number into 3 categories:
Books (in Polish or English),
Manga (in Polish or English).
As for the Japanese titles, anything goes: mangas, books, textbooks, guidebooks and so on. As for the other two, only English and Polish versions count. The reason for such division is because Polish is my mother tongue and I am a C2 speaker of English (according to the CEFR scale), meaning I am proficient and thus no longer perceive consuming English materials as ‘studying’ but as pure entertainment. I do enjoy my Japanese reads but, with exception of rare cases, I still perceive them as a ‘chore’. Of course, when I finally do make myself sit down with a book or a game, I get pulled into the contents and might forget that it’s actually Japanese. However, my brain does remind me of that fact after a varied period of time – with a headache and/or a vertigo-like sensation. With Polish and English titles such a ‘system overheat’ does not occur and that is why I treat them as a separate category.
As such, my plan this year is to read 100 books again, in the following ratio:
40 Japanese titles,
LESS SOCIAL MEDIA
This point concerns YouTube in particular. To be honest, I waste a lot of time scrolling shorts as well as listening to Reddit reads while I could read more audiobooks or valuable podcasts instead. I mean, Reddit threads are sometimes useful in terms of research for writing ideas (e.g. r/relationships or r/maliciouscompliance threads, to name but a few) but I can listen to it for HOURS on end, especially if I am doing house chores at the same time.
Unfortunately, because of my job, I cannot escape social media for good – not that I want to, either. My work intertwines with Facebook so I need it at hand. However, I do realise that my excessive meme consumption and mindless scrolling has been eating up my free time way too often. How many times have I found myself taking my phone at 8 pm and finally checking the time 3 hours of YouTube later? I am not saying that needs to stop entirely but it definitely needs to get under control and be reduced as a result.
I honestly still have no idea how I will go about this but I do not worry much. I have already noticed that having shifted my focus to new compulsory tasks, such as sitting down with Japanese textbooks or writing in my diary makes me not grab the phone and zone out. Putting the phone away when I am preparing for bed is another issue, though… My sleep patterns have been a major issue as well since my job has no regular working hours. But as I have said, it is okay if I do not have a plan for that yet: I am working on it.
If you share similar struggles, realise this: sometimes you do not need a thorough plan beforehand. Testing things out ‘in the battlefield’, so to speak, is also a proper way of trying to find the best solution to your problems. The most important thing is the realisation that there IS a problem that needs to be dealt with.
WHAT ABOUT NANOWRIMO?
As much as I would love to do the NaNo challenge (especially since I have not really done it last year), I had to draw a line here: one major obligation at a time. This year is oriented for JLPT N2, so I will not be doing NaNoWriMo in 2022. Regardless, I will try to fit writing into my schedule: for instance, I still write daily in my Hobonichi Original (the one meant for writing ideas). I have found additional time for blogging, too – the result of which you could have noticed over the past few weeks of posting. I do know, however, that I am not very good at following several goals at once. This is why the heaviest focus will be on my N2 preparations and writing will be only a side activity.
Considering all that, I have to admit that this year I have surely set more goals than, say, last year when I was very lenient on myself. I am honestly relieved that I made that decision to move on towards the N2 level. For the past year, I felt as if I was simply spinning my wheels – even though I had spent time enjoying Japanese materials. As the need to better myself gradually got stronger and stronger, I felt more and more ready for the next challenge. I hope I will be granted the opportunity to prove myself in December. Wish me lu— no, wait. Do NOT wish me luck. Even the Japanese know it – you do not wish somebody luck before a test, you ask them to DO THEIR BEST (がんばってください). Wish me motivation. Wish me strength. Wish me SUCCESS.
Wow, I can’t believe it’s already been a full year since I started using my study planner! It went by so fast and there are already 12 months registered in it. At first, it was supposed to be a plain planner but I was unable to overcome my urge to decorate it… even just a little bit. So it’s not super fancy, but each month has a theme that usually matches my bullet journal’s theme for the same month. Also, the names of the months are in Polish – my native tongue.
I use a variety of abbreviations in my study planner – the boxes aren’t that wide and I try to fit each point within one line (for aesthetic reasons; it’s also more transparent that way). I also tend to shorten the titles of textbooks or shows that I register. With anime that’s usually easy because for most of them a shorter version already exists in the fandom. For instance, Cardfight!! Vanguard, which appears on some of the following pages, is often referred to as CFV so I implemented this abbreviation into the planner. For some shows, I had to create shorter versions of my own.
In addition, I had to come up with my own indicators for certain types of resources and language skills. They are as follows:
A = animation, anime; audiobook, D = drama (Japanese live action tv series), DR(CD) = drama CD, SB = student’s book or the main book, WB = workbook, M = mock exam or mock questions, K = kanji, GR = grammar, VOC(AB) = vocabulary, 🎧 = listening, 日記 = writing a dairy entry, R = review, N = new (usually refers to flashcards and means that I input new ones), OFF = a day off, no studying was done. DONE = yay, I’ve finished the thing!
If somewhere along with the entries small letters appear next to a number in the brackets, it means I was able to finish only a part of a certain chapter or a section. Rather than opening the textbook and checking how many pages or exercises I had done exactly, I just plant a small letter so that I know I was not done with something in one session.
If anyone’s curious, I’m using a blank monthly schedule from Muji along with a black Muji 0.38 gel pen. You can get those in Muji store (also available online, that’s how I purchase my Muji stuff).
There isn’t much on January pages since I haven’t kept a proper study planner back then! I got the idea at the end of January, actually – the inspiration sparked thanks to one of Instagram posts that showed in my feed (unfortunately, despite trying, I was unable to find THE post that inspired me – sorry guys).
However, I decided to include January in the planner anyway, even though I started registering what I do as February began because I had already studied in January and I could remember what I did that month. It wasn’t much, especially that my journey had only restarted, but I managed to review two N4 prep books (from Nihongo Challenge series). While doing the reading section, I actually discovered that I enjoy reading short passages a lot hence the first book of So-Matome N3 series I began was, in fact, the dokusho (reading) one.
Apart from Nihongo Challenge, my biggest achievement of that month was purchasing and reading the first entire manga volume in Japanese. It was hard, it was painful and my head was throbbing at the end of it, but I managed to read the first volume of Chihayafuru in about 2-3 days. I still remember how slow I was and how many times I had to open my dictionary to check even the simplest words and kanji. That experience made me realise how much I had forgotten over the past few years. However, because it was Chihayafuru, one of my favourite manga/anime series of all time, I couldn’t just put it away at that time. I did later when I began volume 2 and then didn’t finish it until about half a year later – I came back to reading it in September, I believe.
I was on a real fire back in February. As I overcame the first struggles connected with revising what I had learnt way before, I began expanding my knowledge – still only on N4 level (despite having passed it already).
I also focused on gaining back my kanji recognition skills, so I reviewed around 400 kanji I used to know from Basic Kanji Book vol. 1 (and other sources) and then jumped into Basic Kanji Book the workbook. It was a good choice since the workbook is a better fit for revising rather than accompanying the main book as you go through it chapter by chapter. The workbook contains many reading passages as well as writing and listening exercises with the use of kanji that were taught in the main book (they are divided thematically). Also, the grammar used in the workbook is of N4 level, so it isn’t a good choice for beginners (even though the main book is!).
Apart from kanji practice, February was the first month when I implemented two things that later became the core element of my daily studies: Anki along with Fluent Forever method (introduced in a book by the same title) as well as massive immersion via rewatching Japanese tv shows such as anime or dramas in the original. In this month I felt like watching Yowamushi Pedal again and so I did. It’s a very long anime series (4 seasons are currently out so that’s around 100 episodes), so it took me well into March to finish watching it without any subtitles.
One last major thing that happened in February was starting the Try! book for N4 level – in order to review grammar. I also noticed how well this book was structured not only in the case of grammar points but also in listening and reading practice. Till this day it’s my book of choice when it comes to learning grammar and I can’t wait to dig into the N2 copy I have. But that is going to happen after I review N3 level over the first quarter of 2020 (at least that’s the plan).
March was also a good month and as you can see, I actually achieved a lot over those 31 days. There were many shows I had completed but not so many books. Well, it isn’t surprising at all since back in January and February I was reviewing basic things and after some time I just remembered things I used to know before. At the end of March, however, I began to delve into N3 studies so obviously, my progress slowed down as learning new things takes more time than revising old ones.
Still, there was one more thing that I added to the learning mix: drama CDs. They are something I wish to elaborate more in the future posts but in a nutshell, they are a recording of voice actors acting out a scene. They’re a little different from an audiobook as there usually isn’t any narration. Instead, they kind of resemble a movie without the picture – you can hear what the characters are doing and saying (that includes noises made, like the wind blowing or a door squeaking as it is being opened).
Anyway, the snow melted so I was finally able to take my car out of the garage (we live in a mountainous area so my tiny city car without a four-wheel drive is basically useless in winter). As I was driving around, I came up with an idea to pop one of a few drama CDs I possess into the car’s CD slot. Consequently, listening to drama CDs had become one of the best activities I can do in the car – and also one of the most pleasant ones.
In this month I had slowed down significantly. I mean, I kept regular studies, but I wasn’t going as crazy as I used to over the first 3 months. I continued to watch anime alongside studying, but there were also days when I just watched a show and didn’t work with any textbooks or novels.
Due to Easter, I also took a bit of a break, but the family gathering wasn’t the only time I gave up studying – as you can see, there were some ‘off’ days outside Easter period as well. To tell the truth, in April high season at my job kicked off so at first, I struggled a little with adjustment to a new regime at work. Yet, after some time I adapted to my new schedule and workload as thus I was able to get my studies back on the right track which was later reflected in what my May looked like.
April was also the month when I forsook Kanzen Master because I noticed it was too difficult for a person who had just started their preparations for N3 level. I finished the first section of the vocabulary and reading textbooks and, consequently, didn’t even open the grammar one. Instead, I gave So-Matome series a try and they were a much better fit for N3 entry-level studies. I still cannot fathom, though, why I had put off using Try! N3 for later when I enjoyed my revision with its N4 counterpart so much. I guess I wanted to leave Try! for N3 wrap-up period since it nicely explains the grammar and also lets you practise listening exercises for the exam as well as do some reading.
It was a really good month. I was back in my game, keeping the right balance between work, family life and Japanese. In total, I took only 4 days off over the entire month! Given the professional workload I usually have in May, being able to make quite nice progress towards reaching the mid-N3 level.
It was also a month of putting new solutions into action. I received my 500 mon N3 book early that month and immediately began using it. 500 mon is a series of books which include mock exam questions, them being divided into 3 categories: kanji readings, vocabulary and grammar. On each page, 3 questions are asked and 4 possible answers are provided. On the next page, there are the answers as well as explanations why those answers are correct. I got to admit, as I was using this book, I picked up a ton of new knowledge. What’s more, you can go over it multiple times, thanks to a row of small boxes being presents next to each question – so you can tick whether you got the question right. Thanks to that, when you use that book for the second or further time, you can compare how well you did then and currently.
Another invention which actually got implemented at the end of April, but took full bloom in May (funny, since most flowers do bloom in May here!), was nikki (Japanese for “diary”). I started writing entries – not daily, but when I felt like it and, obviously, when something worth describing happened – in a simple notebook. Too bad I stopped doing it in summer because it gave me valuable hints on grammar points I couldn’t remember and needed to revise.
The last innovation that took place in May was getting access to Japanese Kindle. I was so glad I was provided with the opportunity and I have to admit that it boosted my reading frequency A LOT. I love using my tablet so I was that much more glad I could use it for practising my Japanese reading skills as well. Plus reading Kindle manga is awesome and their prices are not that bad. What’s more, if you are skilful, you can utilise their discount and save tons of money. I was genuinely surprised how often they do a 100% discount (yes, you read that right, a hundred per cent discount!) on the first 1, 2 or 3 volumes of a manga series to get you hooked. And those aren’t just indie or low-ranking titles. No! You can find well-known and bestseller titles being discounted 100%! I probably don’t have to tell you that thanks to visiting their online store often and watching out for such promotions, I stocked up a fair amount of manga and books to read for FREE?
June was one of the first worst months in 2019. Why? Because the heatwaves hit. The temperatures increased up to over 30 C (around 90 F for you American folks) and stayed in my country for DAYS, so obviously most people started to feel overwhelmed after some time – me included. I felt so lazy that I was unable to do much. Even heavier professional workload – because summer holidays started and my work is highly dependent on holiday seasons – didn’t help either because I was too tired to study after work and preferred to spend my time relaxing rather than committing to the books.
So, in consequence, June was the time when I utilised the most basic rule I had for my studies most – I focused on at least keeping up with flashcards revision. Despite having no energy for even a slight reading, I dedicated those 5 minutes of my time daily to run Anki and review my flashcards. I didn’t input new ones, though.
Oh, boy. There it goes. The worst month of the year!
Seriously, July is just my personal black mark when it comes to 2019 studying. I almost hadn’t done anything, I had even forgone revising my flashcards some days. The beginning was especially hard since the heatwaves were still present in my country so the consequences were similar to June’s – I didn’t do sh*t.
Another reason why I hadn’t done much studying that month was the fact that we adopted a cat at the very end of June. Over the first week Stefan was kept in my mother’s bedroom and he, being a little kitty, functioned in this typical baby routine consisting of eating, doing his business and napping (on repeat) so I was able to escape the bedroom and do my stuff while he was dozing off.
However, when he got accustomed to his new home, we let him explore the rest of the house so that he could get used to it and its residents too – and that was when my personal nightmare began. Stefan was such an energetic and ‘cat-ish’ cat (meaning he was everywhere he could reach doing the usual cat things) that I was disturbed every time I tried to sit down with my books. He harassed my pens, my books, everything that was lying on the desk so I had to hide most things and, of course, there couldn’t be much studying done. Fortunately, in August I came up with an idea of how to study while being under a constant kitty attack.
I was so mad after July that when August came, I made this small resolution to turn things around and get back to studying. The weather also helped because the usual August chills settled in so I could focus more easily thanks to that. It was also the month when I discovered that I could find refuge from our new family member, Stefan the cat, in my study. Study as in a room. I have a separate room for client meetings in the house. So I grabbed my books and pencil case and retreated to that room in the evenings.
It was a real game-changer, there’s no doubt in that. August pages clearly show that I was able to study more and more often. Sure, there were some ‘off’ days as well, but not as many as there were in June and July. I was also able to get back to writing my Japanese diary and reading mangas in the original.
Speaking of manga, that month I discovered a little gem on Kindle – a manga titled Hananoi-kun to Koi no Yamai (花野井くんと恋の病). It’s a shoujo manga (i.e. manga dedicated to girls, mostly covering typical teenage life and its problems, first love, first kiss etc.) about a plain girl who is asked by a handsome boy to go out with him. Surprisingly to her, she says yes and that’s how their slowly budding romance begins. What I love about this series is that even though the heroine is a plain girl, she’s a very nice person who wishes to work things out in a relationship rather than making a fuss over stupid things. It was a nice change from the usual drama when the characters don’t talk to each other when there’s a misunderstanding between them.
I also liked how chapters are titled – each chapter covers one of the ‘firsts’ that happen to a couple. So we have the first holding hands moment, the first kiss, first visit to each other’s rooms, first part-time job, first Valentine’s Day and so on. It’s a very heart-warming story and also quite easy to understand. I also adore the author’s drawing style – it matches the story perfectly.
The newest, 5th volume should be out later this month (January 2020) or in February and I am so looking forward to reading more of Hananoi kun (the boyfriend) and Hotaru’s (the heroine) story.
Fortunately, I kind of realised I had less than 3 months left till the exam so I started doing some real work in this month. I came back to watching anime with Japanese subtitles which was a marvellous solution for boosting both listening and reading skills. Netflix was especially great for that because, in case of Japanese shows, the subtitles contain exactly the same lines as the uttered ones so you can follow the conversation on the screen AND learn how it is written at the same time. This doesn’t work for foreign shows, though – the dubbing and the subtitles unfortunately usually do not match.
In September I finally got to studying with Try! I still cannot understand why I put off using that book for so long because after I began working with it, grammar was so much easier to comprehend than with So-Matome series. Plus the reading passages available in Try! are simply interesting.
One more thing happened in this month – I grabbed Chihayafuru the manga again. The last time I did this was in January as you remember. I was genuinely and positively surprised to find out how much progress I had made throughout the previous half a year. First of all, my reading speed has increased significantly and I could also understand and read much more without the use of a dictionary. This was also the moment when I forsook my vocabulary notebook for Chihayafuru. I used to keep one for volume 1 but as my skills progressed, I found it an unnecessary hassle to keep. I just wanted to enjoy my manga. Thanks to such attitude, I was able to breeze through the next 2 volumes before I switched to mock reading exercises for the upcoming JLPT.
Haha. Another funny month. Even though there are many breaks registered in this month, they weren’t the lazy kind of breaks. Instead of studying, I got into writing. I was on real fire with the story I am currently working on so I welcomed this all-consuming passion for writing with opened arms. As a result, I was able to break 60k worth of text over the course of 3 weeks thus completing my National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge a whole month early (as it takes place in November every year). Looking back, I think it was a good choice because thanks to that in November I was able to focus exclusively on last revisions and preparations before JLPT rather than being torn between participating in the challenge and studying Japanese.
At the end of October, I got back to studying (the fact that there was a little over a month left till D day definitely influenced my actions) but before that, I spent the time I had free from writing on gaming. At that time I was writing those posts about visual novel games as well as my personal recommendations of such here on this blog, so obviously I returned to some of them to check how much my language level had improved. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that there was a noticeable difference between how I perceived those games’ language difficult then and back in October. I knew more kanji and more vocabulary and I didn’t have to reach for a dictionary that often. It was an amazing and rewarding experience – much like when I started reading Chihayafuru again, after half a year, and could recognise my progress with Japanese.
I should be proud when looking at those pages. But am I really? Partially yes, but mostly no. I am perfectly aware that achieving that performance was possible because I had that thought of JLPT closing in at the back of my head all the time. I was also pressured to finish the prep books before the real deal so that I was as prepared as I could be. So somewhere along the month I kinda lost the joy of studying Japanese. A week before the exam I couldn’t look at my textbooks anymore and I began to drift away from sitting down and studying in order to save myself.
Some might say it was a good solution – one should clear their head and relax just before the exam – but I just knew that if I hadn’t taken the breaks my intuition had told me to take, I would have cracked. I didn’t want that to happen to my beloved Japanese because I remembered what happened to my university studies after years of forced studying – I didn’t care anymore as a result.
To not let history repeat itself, I took massive breaks just before the finishing line. I was kind of lucky because I found a good book series at the time and was able to forget about the exam thanks to it. Did I regret it then? A little. But after I took the exam itself, my regrets cleared up because I knew I did well and immediately felt excused for my indulgence.
Well, I could have expected that to happen. The exam took place on December 1st so obviously, I needed to take a break post-exam. However, due to Christmas time, all the preparations I had to do before THE dinner, I spent little time with Japanese. The only thing I did regularly was gaming since I got a Japanese RPG game – Persona 4 Golden – as my Saint Nicholas’ Day gift. Of course, it was good practice in terms of both reading and listening, but apart from that, I hadn’t done much else.
Yes, before New Year’s Eve I welcomed my desk and textbooks back, especially that I wanted to finish a few mangas I had started in 2019 in order to boost my count for the year but that was it.
Now, here we are, in January 2020 and I am back on the track again. I started reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (or ハリーポッターとアズカバンの囚人 in Japanese) as I promised myself in my New Year’s resolutions for 2020. I also began using Tobira which I anticipated before I took JLPT. I hope this year will be as successful as 2019 was. And I hope yours too, dear readers! See you every week in 2020! Happy New Year!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
If you’re following my Instagram account, you already know that I’m an upper-intermediate learner of Japanese. Currently, I’m studying towards my December goal, which is JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) on the N3 level. After taking it (and, hopefully, passing it) I plan to continue my studies on the N2 level and I will probably take the N2 exam in 2-3 years. Since I’m already a university graduate, I grew to like taking my time with studying because nothing is pressuring me anymore. I don’t need my Japanese for work, university grades or anything. I just looooove the Japanese language and plan to use it when I finally go to Japan for some sightseeing (and *coughs* tons of shopping *coughs*). I also enjoy reading and watching Japanese productions in my spare time.
Since I don’t study formally anymore, I can really make my own choices about my studies, rather than complying with those imposed by a teacher, a lecturer or a boss. If I want to spend more time on a textbook chapter I’m doing, I can. If I want to write pretty notes or flashcards, I can. If I want to stop using my textbook for a while and enjoy a game in Japanese as a part of my studies instead, I can. As a result, I can really take my time with the language and make progress on MY terms and with a pace that brings me both pleasure and satisfaction.
After so many years of studying compulsory and uninteresting subjects at both school and university, and after trying (and dumping) several foreign languages, I began to choose and study languages which I’m interested in and enjoy studying. If I don’t, I simply dump them with no regrets at all (maybe with just a tiny bit of guilt because of how much money I’d spent on materials on that language before I made my final decision whether it’s even worth pursuing or not – it’s a bad habit of mine).
Another language, which I had taken up recently, is Korean. At the moment I’m learning Hangul (the Korean alphabet) and then I’m going to start a coursebook for absolute beginners. My motivation here is as simple as it was when I first decided to learn Japanese – I enjoy Korean dramas and manhwas (the Korean equivalent of Japanese mangas) and I want to understand and enjoy them in the original. I also like the sound of Korean, it creates this fluffy, butterfly-like, feeling in my stomach every time I hear it. The very same thing happens to me with Japanese (nothing beats the strength of this feeling WHEN dealing with the Japanese language, though, it’s just the best, I’m all kicks and giggles EVERY TIME), which makes both of these languages very enjoyable to study and it also works great as a motivator.
There’s one more language which I TRY to study (“try” is a very good word here, since I’m so irregular with studying it) and that is German. I had studied German during my compulsory education, that is throughout primary and high school, so I reached this pre-intermediate level with it, further continued it at university when I had to choose a foreign language as one of the classes. Language classes are mandatory during university studies in Poland, but you get to choose what language you want to learn as a part of your curriculum. I always chose German, since I had already known some of it and I couldn’t choose English since my major was in English.
I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with German. There were times when I really enjoyed it (especially if I had good teachers or pleasantly looking textbooks – I’m your typical visualiser) and times when I really hated it (especially due to my everlasting lack of ability to comprehend and remember nouns’ gender and German cases, no matter what I did to make them stick). German is the only language I study because I must – I need it for my work purposes. This is also the reason WHY me studying it happens so rarely (even though I really like the textbooks I chose for myself). However, since I do not genuinely enjoy the sound and structure of German, I learned to be very picky with it – I only study and memorise what I absolutely need. I work in tourism, so I pick up and revise vocabulary and structures relevant to my work, like accommodation, rooms and furniture, places in town, tourist attractions, food and restaurants, giving directions and so on. I skip politics, ecology, animals or even topics as simple as family members or school subjects. Because I don’t use that knowledge at work, anyway! So why should I bother learning it?
As for choosing what aspects of a language to learn and what to omit, I plan on writing a separate post on this matter, as I often see people needlessly studying what they DON’T NEED AND DON’T ACTUALLY CARE ABOUT. This is especially true if you’re not bound with a course’s syllabus or any exams – then you really can choose what to study*. Why you should do so – please check out my next post.
* Yet, I do believe it can also be done even when you’re studying a language at school, university or during a course – it just takes a little more work and compromise on your part. How to do so – I’ll also include my past experiments in the next post.