My Four Breakthroughs in Japanese (4)

It seems all my metaphors come back to video games, language learning, and Go.

It seems all my metaphors come back to video games, language learning, and Go.


There are some amazing tools out there. Don’t let their price tags stop you if you think they’re worth it.

Podcasts (January, 2014)

BREAKTHROUGH : Podcasts and More

In general, my learning can be mostly attributed to gaming. And manga. I’m reading some light novels now, but they’re still in the visual element of Japanese. Kanji has been my best friend since we both met. But the spoken word?

Fuck that guy.

My Japanese has been built on a framework of love for the written word. But when I came to Japan, in spite of being able to read most of what was put on my desk, I struggled talking to half of my staff. Speaking was a slight problem, but listening was the real problem area.

In the game of Go, skill is measured from 40 kyu to 9 dan, with kyu lowering from 40 as your skill increases until you get to 1 kyu, and then like getting a black belt, you eventually pass into the 1 dan range and move up from there to a max of 7 or 9, depending on who’s making the rules. In a conversation with some Go players about what makes a 1 dan player, everyone agreed that it is the point when you have no glaring weaknesses. Your opening, midgame, tesuji, understanding of life-and-death, and endgame are essentially strong. Like basic fluency, you can more or less handle yourself when it comes to speaking, listening, reading, and writing. But to reach that point, you need to directly address those points that hold you back.

That said, the solution came haphazardly. I was running. For whatever reason, I decided to start running around the same time I started this blog. It was hard to run for a long time, but if I listened to something like music, getting my mind off the running, it was much easier to go for longer and longer distances. I’m a huge fan of Writing Excuses, and I’d decided to get back into it while running. But after weeks of the same thing, as interesting as it was, I liked to vary it up. And while browsing YouTube on my phone, I came across Bilingirl.

Bilingirl was fun to listen to. Randomly switching between English and Japanese gave me room to rest while my body didn’t. But YouTube was taking up too much of my phone’s internet allotment, since I needed my phone for my work internet too.

Podcasts. I’d never listened to them (although I guess Writing Excuses is a podcast, isn’t it? I’d never even considered that before…), but they used little bandwidth and could be downloaded to my phone in advance to be played later. I listened to quite a few podcasts before realizing that there are some decent Japanese podcasts.

Pure Japanese podcasts were fun, but as a traditional student I got a lot more out of JapanesePod101. Yes, I needed to pay for it. But for $8 a month for the mobile subscription, and for the amount of usage I’d gotten out of the free trial, I decided to bite the bullet. The conversations the people have while discussing the new words are genuinely interesting.

Ever since I’ve been listening to JapanesePod101 alongside other podcasts (for some classic random repetition, of course), my listening has improved greatly. While it’s worked for me, I can’t guarantee that it would work for anyone. But like books and video games, the chance that there isn’t a podcast out there for you is slim.

I also can’t overlook starting Read the Kanji, which while largely a review for me, helped cement some of the more uncommon words I’d previously come across. Randomly using it at work has been a godsend for casual Japanese practice. As an SRS, it isn’t especially effective by itself, but when paired with other materials, becomes a nice place for random repetition to occur. Like I said previously, even textbooks when paired with random content can help cement words.

For the first time in forever, I’m feeling like my goal of basic fluency by the end of my first year in Japan is possible. I still need to keep up the studying, but that’s to be expected.

2 months until I’ve been here for one year. 2 months to achieve basic fluency. Although I guess I’ve probably passed that mark some time ago. My standards are just too high.

Who knows? Maybe there’s another breakthrough on the horizon. There’s always another breakthrough.

[Part 1]
[Part 2]
[Part 3]

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