It’s now week 5 of my 15 week language course here at Osaka University. I am one of the lucky few who gets to spend a quality twenty-four hours a week under instruction to learn as much Japanese as can be crammed into those short weeks. In the short time of one month, we’ve covered everything from the basics of Hiragana and Katakana to sentence structure and the use of particles to identify grammatical objects. It’s been tough to say the least. What little studying I did before I came gave me a slight advantage over my peers in the “A” class (beginners). That has quickly eroded away and we’re all now on an equal playing field.
The nice reward for all the hard work is the continual expansion of our sphere of knowledge in the language. Every now and then I’ll catch a word or phrase from an overheard conversation from some strangers or friends. Just four weeks ago I wouldn’t have had a clue what they were talking about, but now I have a slightly better appreciation for the topic and or structure of the conversation. Knowing just that little bit more is gratifying and enough motivation to keep on going. I’ve got a long time to spend here in Japan, so I need to keep pressing my limits on the language. I would greatly like to have a casual conversation with my peers in the lab before my time is up. At the moment, I look and sound like a five-year-old – pointing and calling out vocabulary I learn in class. At the moment, the biggest hurdle to overcome is simply using the language despite my obvious limitations. If I don’t practice speaking it outside of class I will never get better. Sadly, the last thing I think my classmates want to do after class is continue speaking in Japanese. I completely understand.
I am trying really, really hard to supplement my learning with additional material from some other sources outside of class – just to mix it up a bit and get some extra stimuli that uses a different tact or introduces some new vocabulary I haven’t heard/seen yet. One of my favorites is a website called TextFugu. It’s a pay-site, but it’s a fun way to learn Japanese with a bit of inside-joke humor thrown in all over the place for the nerd in me. Another is the backlog of podcasts from JapanesePod 101. They can be subscribed to through iTunes. There is so much free content that it is hard to pass it up. I had considered joining their pay-for version of the site, but I’ll see how far I can manage with the resources already cataloged. Aside from these two notables is the enormous amount of resources on iTunes University or in the podcast section of the iTunes music store. I am sure you could make it half-way to fluency on the plethora of material online alone without ever having set foot in Japan.
Finally, my words of encouragement to all you budding language learners out there – don’t hesitate, just do. Japanese is a tough language to learn as a native English speaker, but just as learning any new language, the opportunities and the experiences that open as a result of learning that new tongue are well worth the effort.
Here are a few more photos from the empty Japanese Language classroom (on a better camera) .