“Studying” Japanese


I try to study every day. And by study I mean play video games.


In Regards to Daily Life

My typical weekday looks like this:

6:45 – Wake up.
7:15 – Get out of bed.
7:55 – Leave for work.
8:00 – Get to work.
4:30~7:00 – Leave work.
Sometime between work and bed – Study.
9:00 – Try to get ready for bed.
10:00 – Try harder.
11:30 – Fall asleep.

Overall, I’m pretty happy with my schedule. It leaves a good couple hours every day for relaxing, drinking, and playing some video games studying. Of course, nearly every night I have some plan that will inevitably throw this perceived schedule into the washing machine where it’s forgotten about until—ugh, it’s all frozen and wrinkly. In any case, on a supposedly normal day, this schedule prevails.

I’ll compromise on a lot of things in regards to this schedule, with the exception of three things:
1) Work.
2) Study.
3) Sleep.
In that order.

I love sleep, but when I’m sitting in bed at 10:00 and I know I haven’t yet studied, I decide: “to hell with sleep”. My 3DS turns on.

Before my 3DS, when I sat in bed, I would pick up one of the manga sitting on a table adjacent to my bed. Even if I only read a page and looked up a single word, it counted. Now when I sit playing Pokémon Y, I can’t stop until I’ve found a word I don’t know that interests me enough.

Okay, I see a move called ダメおし. According to my phone dictionary (JED), it’s “making doubly sure”. According to Bulbapedia, the Pokémon Wikipedia, the English name is “assurance”. (It’s always good to cross-reference a word when the meaning isn’t 100% obvious.) Eh, it’s a cool word, but not cool enough. Plus, I’ve heard it before. Sometimes I’ll let that slide since I clearly didn’t remember the meaning, but today is not that day. I come across some guy saying おったまげた. To accept and then yield? Eh, it seems like the character doesn’t really understand the word either. More like a catchphrase than something useful. Finally, 風雅. Elegance. Good taste. The word resonates with me. I decide to sleep with that word fresh in my head.

The more I play, the more words I pass over because I understand them. Effectively, my study times accidentally become longer, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Learning new things has use, but finding more uses for old words is just as important. More important, even. A great pitcher is more useful to a baseball team than a player who can play all positions poorly. I think that’s true anyways. I never really played baseball.

If I’m really good, I won’t wait until I’m in bed to begin playing a game. I know I enjoy Tales of Vesperia on my PS3 more than Pokémon Y, and Vesperia has a lot of voice acting, especially in the PS3 remake, effectively making it great study. Any study is better than no study, but voice acting turns good study into great study.

In addition, watching subbed anime is considered studying too, but I won’t let that be a substitute for the video game studying. Same with having conversations with Japanese people. Not a substitute! I must play video games before bed. If I watch a drama from 9-10pm, I’ll let that count though. Arbitrary rules be arbitrary.


In Regards to Traditional Studying

I haven’t opened up a textbook in a few months now, but it’s not because I’ve sworn them off. Like any kind of traditional studying, there is a time and place for it. When I feel like it, I’ll pick a textbook up and flip to a random page. It’s odd. What used to be full of new words is now just sprinkled with it, and all I’ve done in the meantime is play video games.

For every 世知辛い、槍、and 胡散臭い I’ve come across, I’ve also bumped into thirty words or phrases that pop into everyday conversation. And the countless strange words I’ve learned end up popping up as well. 弟子? Disciple? Came up at a drinking party. 用心棒? Bodyguard? The answer to a question in a game show. Even the most useless words have aided more common concepts. Knowing 黄泉 helped in my understanding of 蘇る. More on that later.

Everything is connected. That’s the ultimate truth of language learning. Video games, while not as concise as textbooks, are just as valuable. You’re just looking at a different set of challenges. Yes, they’re more fun, but the grammar and syntax could be far above your level. Not to mention the amount of time “wasted” in fighting enemies. I think the fun wins any day of the week, but it’s up to you to pick the battle you’re most excited to fight.

To that end, the best part about video games is that they vary up my studying. Not only is there great variety in the games themselves (from Mario to Professor Layton to Dragon’s Dogma), but they make other forms of studying less monotonous. There are times when I’m excited to pick up a textbook. You should always be excited to study. If you’re not, you’re doing it wrong.

An elephant in the room needs to be addressed. I do live in Japan. That makes getting the video games that much easier. Regardless, I was doing this in America too. New York City had a Book Off that supplied enough gaming and reading variety. I’d make the big trip there a few times a year.

Oh, that elephant. I guess he needs to be addressed too. “Hello, Mr. Phant. Yes, it’s true that my job and surroundings in Japan allow me ample time to practice the new words I learn. When I learn 風雅, I can bring it up in conversation the next day, effectively boosting my study. But Mr. Phant, it’s a boost. You can mimic the same thing in countries other than Japan by finding language exchange online or, if you’re lucky, finding other Japanese people in your community. My Japanese progresses faster here because of the swath of opportunity I get to use it, but it still progressed at a good rate in America.”


In Regards to Studying

Khatzumoto, one of my language learning Fist of the North Stars, always has a good way to look at “studying”. He doesn’t use the word “studying”, but the concept is the same:

“Learning” a language — in a fun, successful way, at least — looks and works and basically is virtually the exact same as maintaining it. And it never ends. If you think about it, native speakers have all made this peace. They’re not going anywhere. They’re not in this for show. They’re not here to get a trophy and then “move on” to “other challenges”. They’re not passing through. They’re in this one forever. And they play every day. They wake up playin’; they play all day and then they go to sleep and play some more in their dreams. And they’re cool with that because they’re having fun; they’re not showing off; they’ve got no point to prove; they’re just living.

Do likewise.

You’re studying English every day. You’re reading English blogs and websites. You’re speaking English at your work. To you it seems like living because that’s what it is. But it’s also studying, in its own way. You’re always reinforcing old words and learning new words. And you want your Japanese to approach that level? Well, you’d best be doing an equivalent amount of studying/living daily.

You know when you meet that extraordinarily dumb individual? Like, they can’t understand a newspaper article or perhaps you use a phrase like “shoot for the moon” and they admit they don’t know what it means. But are they fluent in English? Most people would say yes.

When I was a kid, I hated reading. Why? I was bad at it. You might’ve considered me fluent at English at that point, but that was the accent tricking you. I couldn’t read or write worth a damn. My vocab was a joke. Books scared me. Video games, however, weren’t scary. They didn’t demand understanding. My fear for the written word dissipated.

I don’t know who I should thank for my love of reading. My mother for reading books like Ender’s Game to us as children before bed? My school for forcing so much text at us that we’d have to learn something? My video games for convincing me the written word wasn’t out to get me? I’m not sure. It’s why I’ll always advocate for a multi-faceted approach to language learning. One source isn’t going to cut it. Two sources is too little. Ten sources is too little. A hundred? Getting there. A thousand? That’s more reasonable. Find new ways to study. Think outside the box.


Hey! That’s Not The Point!

Right! You’re totally right! The point I was getting at was this: You’re always going to be studying Japanese if you want to speak Japanese. There’s no end. Like Khatzumoto said in the fantastic post above, learning a language is like brushing your teeth. You don’t one day stop brushing and think your teeth will stay pristine forever. You don’t stop. So you might as well make it something you enjoy doing. With tooth brushing, I like the feeling of my mouth being clean. With studying Japanese, I like playing something in Japanese. I like knowing that I’m playing the game as it was meant to be played. I like seeing how familiar concepts and tropes are rendered in a language that comes from a very different background.

What are you doing with your Japanese? Why did you even begin to study it in the first place? Maybe your plan was for something in the future, like living in Japan later in life, being able to speak to your Japanese grandfather, or eventually understanding anime without subtitles. Whatever it is, do it now. Keep doing it. Even if you can only do it for a minute. That’s enough.

One day, I will sit down at 9:00, play my 3DS until it runs out of batteries and not come across any new words. In some circles, that’s fluency. That’s the aim, right? So do you stop then?

Nope. You keep playing.


5 thoughts on ““Studying” Japanese

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