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  • Writer's pictureElisha Bae

Progress In Learning Japanese

(disclaimer: this post holds no ads or paid promotions for any of the websites & app mentioned below)

A Japanese town with two women in kimonos standing in the middle of the path

I'm here to give you an update on my current progress in Japanese. I've been having a lot of fun getting to know the basics of this language. I have been learning French for the pasts five years, but recently I realized that I was struggling to continue being interested in the language itself instead of stressing about the workload and grades. For me, French, unfortunately, has only been associated with schools. I needed another language to learn, where my primary purpose wasn't just to get grades.

I have quite a few Japanese-speaking friends, which jumpstarted my motivation to learn the language. Even before I went to college, you could find traces of my passion for the language through the songs I was listening to and the movies I was watching. With French, the hardest part was speaking the language. I would understand written texts and comprehend what was being said to me, but I always struggled to get words out of my mouth in a coherent sentence structure. For some reason, with Japanese, this speaking 'barrier' is lower. I want to speak the language, and I want to be able to be quite fluent.

Now, being fluent is kind of a far-future goal; right now, I'm in the progress of learning grammar rules and sentence structures. I managed to memorize the 'Hiragana' alphabet (the first type of Japanese alphabet). I still have a long way to go since there's another alphabet set called 'Katakana' (used in words that are derived from English, for sound effects or for emphasis) and 'Kanji' (these are essentially Japan's version of Chinese characters). It's quite funny to think how much I actively avoided learning the Chinese characters when I was younger, only to come back to a similar sort by myself. You never know where life will take you...!

I found an online Japanese tutor to help me through this process. Self-studying is great, but when you're starting out a new language, there are things that you just can't do on your own. Sometimes, the internet doesn't have all the answers in cases like the cultural nuances or the proper pronunciation of words. My tutor is such a kind and patient person. We meet twice every week on a platform called Preply. I was going to attend a college course in Japanese at Yonsei University during the summer, but they didn't have the exact courses that I needed to take. Some were way too hard for me, and some had already begun. But with Preply, I was able to find a tutor who suited my needs and flexibly schedule lessons according to my own pace. Every tutor has a trial lesson so that you can be sure whether or not that's the right person for your learning.

Another way that I study is by asking to be tested by my mom or some of my Japanese friends. For a while, I was tested on individual Hiragana alphabets. My mom would say them to me, and I would write them down. Now, I'm a little more confident, so I moved on to being tested on words. I don't necessarily know the meaning of these words, but my friend says them in Japanese, and I try to write down the corresponding sounds. It's more confusing than it sounds! Sho made it into a fun little game where the words that I'm tested on make a full sentence at the end. I get quite impressed with myself for writing a whole sentence, although it's Sho doing all the work.

One thing I found out about Japanese is that it's similar to Korean in many ways. It made more sense to learn the basics of Japanese in Korean and then continue learning at college (in English) because acquiring the information in Korean was simpler. For example, the word order in a sentence is the exact same: (subject)-(object)-(verb). Also, there are many words that sound similar in Korea, helping me understand what's going on (e.g., the word for 'photo' sounds almost the same). Lastly, the concept of a 'postposition' also exists in Japanese. This is kind of hard to explain in English since there's nothing in English that directly translates to that, but it's all there in Japanese, and they mostly use it in the same way as we do in Korean.

I've been listening to more Japanese songs in hopes that I'll pick up a phrase or two and learn how to pronounce some of the words. There are some artists that I really like for the melodies in their music and the lyrics. I love songs that tell a story in a very poetic way, and the songs that I'm listening to do just that. These artists are Rokudenashi, Yuika, eill, YOASOBI, and Uru. I've been getting better at mimicking the songs, and hopefully, I'll be able to record some more. (I did record some Japanese songs before I knew anything about the language, but this time, it'll be even better because I actually understand!)

Lastly, I want to tell you about some useful websites and apps that really helped me make progress in learning Japanese. If you're a total beginner or pretty good at the language and just want some more cultural information, check out Nihongo Master. They have bite-sized lessons that really dig into the basics of learning the language, as well as give you insight into the cultural aspects of Japan. The company has released a mobile dictionary app, so check that out, too! Since I'm struggling with learning Kanji the most, I have a website and an app that helps me with this. My mom reminded me that the best way to learn Kanji (or anything that's like Chinese characters) is to learn it by navigating the radicals (smallest units/components that make up more complicated characters). Wani Kani is a great website that follows techniques regarding active recall, mnemonics, and spaced repetition to maximize your memory for learning the characters. It starts with studying the radicals and slowly builds up on that. The app I use for on-the-go learning is called Japanese Kanji Study (this is an Android app; I tried looking for an Apple equivalent, but as far as I can see, there's nothing that goes in-depth as this one, and I didn't want to recommend something I haven't used). You can literally customize the whole app the way you want it, but it breaks down the complicated kanjis into its simplest forms.

By the time summer break ends, I'm hoping to be at least fluent in reading and writing hiragana and katakana, as well as being able to speak basic sentences. I think I'm well on my way to doing that!

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