February 28, 2011 | Japanese

Sayonara, Japanese!

Some lessons learned, a little grumpily at times.

I did not finish all the Pimsleur lessons. That bugs me. In the end I had about 4.5 lessons left, and I really needed to redo another five or so of them. Oh, well.

In recent days I enjoyed a number of conversation sessions with native Japanese speakers. Unfortunately, I don’t think I was quite ready for so many intensive conversation sessions.

It is fun to try to speak Japanese, and that is the idea, but I got frustrated and my ego was dented. When the person you are doing the conversation exchange with can say sophisticated things in English about art and culture, and your response is repeatedly, “Huh?” and “It’s nice weather today, isn’t it?” and “Where does your older sister live?” then the conversation is a bit lopsided.

Sayonara (Goodbye)

Sayonara (Goodbye)

I think I should have focused heavily on the Pimsleur from the start, rushed to finish it earlier, and been further along in my basic oral skills before starting the conversation practice, so that I could be more expressive.

As someone who has made a living as a writer, expressing whatever I wanted to express, being so limited in what I can say is monumentally frustrating. 

Japanese was definitely harder than I expected before I began. Grammatically and in many other ways. There is a different word for “older sister” versus “my older sister,” and “younger sister” versus “my younger sister,” with the same thing happening for brother relationships. Meaning that instead of just combining “sister” and “brother” with age-related terms, as you do in English, you have all these new words to learn.

That is just one small thing, though, and not a formidable obstacle in the end. There are other, more formidable obstacles. Though with time and dedication, nothing that couldn’t be overcome.

My three months did give me a flavor of Japanese, but a systematic basic grasp of the grammar of Japanese eluded me in the short time I had. I would like to go back to it and do it more justice in the future. But now—on to French!

As my goodbye to Japanese, I went back to something I have enjoyed a lot, which is kana practice. Finally, at 12:40 in the morning, I closed my books and said sayonara.

Japanese went out with kind of a whimper, but there is no reason a whimper needs to be the final word. Who knows what will happen down the road?

Comments (10)

Neoglitch • Posted on Sun, August 14, 2011 - 6:36 pm EST

Learn Hiragana says:

Ellen, from what you wrote looks like your experience with Japanese wasn’t very pleasant. And I totally understand your frustration with not being able to hold a fluent conversation and with the grammar of the language. I know, because I’ve been there.

Whether you decide to keep learning Japanese or decide to tackle French only, there is something I’d like to tell you: You can’t acquire a language by STUDYING it. Textbooks are boring to follow and don’t work. Pimsleur uses awkward dialogue that doesn’t reflect how actual Japanese natives speak like (and it has too much English). Drilling grammar rules will not give you the power of understanding how stuff is said in Japanese.

The key of mastering a language relies in spending time doing interesting activities in your target language every day. Like listening to music or podcasts in French, watching TV shows, online videos and movies in French, trying to read books in French and visiting websites in French… in short, doing stuff in the language that natives would actually do.

Also, when learning a language you should focus first on understanding it; on your reading and listening skills. It’s once you are comfortable with reading and listening to the language that you get to show off what you know (write and speak).

I’d like to share a resource with you:

I believe it can be of help, whether you decide to go for Japanese and French.

I wish you great success with your language learning! :D

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Mon, August 15, 2011 - 10:56 am EST

Hello, Neoglitch.

Thank you so much for your detailed post and the link! I am sorry it seems I didn’t enjoy Japanese. I really did. It was frustrating at times, but I don’t mind this type of frustration. If I did, I definitely wouldn’t still be doing this project.

As for focusing first on listening and reading skills: I don’t find that very productive until I have a basic sense of a language. I watched a lot of Russian TV at the beginning of my Russian unit, but I don’t feel that was a particularly good or enjoyable use of my time - until I got a little further into the language, at which point it started to be helpful.

Immersion works. It is the ideal. But actually, even if I were living in Japan, I would still be reading grammar books. I like to understand the construction of a language.

I admit I am not always practical in my approach. From a practical language-acquisition standpoint, during my Japanese unit I spent too much time practicing kana and too little time conversing. But I really liked the kana practice. This project is driven by pleasure. And for me, pleasure includes doing grammar exercises and developing writing skills.

So, while I agree that practice is essential - and I try to get that practice, though it is easier to find opportunities with some languages than others - I feel that grammar books, Pimsleur, and other resources are a very important part of the process, too. They offer a foothold into the language and for me are, well, just plain FUN.

If I haven’t conveyed that, then that is a shortcoming in what I have written.


Neoglitch • Posted on Fri, August 19, 2011 - 6:28 pm EST

Ellen, as long as you are doing activities that are genuinely fun and interesting to you, you are good to go. If you enjoy reading about grammar, do it and pay special attention to the example sentences that explain a certain grammatical point. If you enjoy Pimsleur listen to the lessons often… but come on, give music and podcasts a try, they are awesome! :D

I hope you are doing well in your current language endeavors. I wish you success!

- Santiago

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Fri, August 19, 2011 - 10:20 pm EST

Thank you, Santiago. :) Okay, podcasts, yes, but I may have to dig in my heels on the music. Just for me, I mean! Clearly other people benefit from listening to music in other languages, but it has just never worked for me. I tried again with German, but that didn’t last. I even have trouble understanding English-language lyrics!

Jenny • Posted on Wed, August 22, 2012 - 1:37 am EST

You might be interested in (all japanese all the time).  I’m doing Heisig’s method for learning Kanji before I even attempt learning all the readings and learning grammar, but I do intend to do a lot of the ajatt stuff after I finish with that.  I have the impression that it’s wise to develop a feel for the grammar through sentence flashcards and listening to Japanese all the time.  A lot of people use Tae Kim’s site for grammar lessons-

I hope that helps!  I’m really enjoying Heisig, and think kanji are even more fun than kana!

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Wed, August 22, 2012 - 12:49 pm EST

Thank you, Jenny. I’m glad to hear your feelings about kanji, because I am gearing up for Chinese soon, and the Chinese characters are the scariest part for me!

Jenny • Posted on Wed, August 22, 2012 - 9:20 pm EST

You’re welcome!  James Hesig also did a Hanzi book using his method, so you might want to look at that.  People are really divided about his method (I really like it),and I don’t know if it’s entirely suitable if your Chinese study is also part of your language project (I mean if you don’t intend to study it for an extended period for now).  However,a lot of people deviate from his method, but still use his memnonics for radicals in an order that suits their study.  Good luck with Chinese!

Jenny • Posted on Wed, August 22, 2012 - 10:45 pm EST

Oh, I had an idea!  Here’s a link so a Squidoo lens that explains the Heising system for Kanji and its benefits:  If you scroll allll the way to the bttom, past the comments, there’s a link to a pdf file—a free sample of Remembering the Kanji 1.  It’s got the preface and the first 200-something Kanji.  You could just read the preface and skim through some of the rest of it so you get the idea.  That way, even though you won’t have the time to work through Remembering the Hanzi in order, you can apply the same principle to the hanzi you’re learning, but make up your own memnonics to remember how to write them/recognize them.  There are a lot of recurring parts in kanji/hanzi, even aside from the pre-defined radicals, and if the unacknowledged ones are assigned some significance, it’s wayyy easier to remember them.

The AJATT guy is learning Chinese now, and also a lot of his ideas can be applied to ANY language.  He’s a really talented writer on the subject of language learning…pretty irreverent, but that makes him entertaining.

I’m also really enjoying your blog—I just came across it a few days ago.  I’ve only ever focused on French and Japanese (nowhere near fluency in either), but I’m interested in language in general, so it’s fun to get an overview of languages through your project! 

I’m looking forward to your Chinese study posts!  がんばってください!!!

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Wed, August 22, 2012 - 11:04 pm EST

Domo arigato, Jenny. I really appreciate the tips! And I love your language enthusiasm.

Ken Schwarz • Posted on Fri, March 06, 2015 - 5:22 pm EST

Yes, Japanese is challenging! I’ve been at it—off and on—for more than 20 years, and it still feels endless.

Japanese grammar is full of nuances without direct parallels to English. The Japanese scripts are easy; the Chinese script—even if you limit it to the “basic” 2000-or-so characters, is complicated by the numerous possible readings which depend on context. The pronunciation seems simple at first, but it getting the intonation right is practically impossible; it seems that every word has its own rules. And, as you’ve reported, you need to understand Japanese culture and social rules (hierarchies, in-vs-out groups) if you are to use Japanese in even a remotely natural and useful way. To top it off, Japanese people will, as a rule, lie to you about how good you are at it, lavishing praise on the most pathetic accomplishments, and refraining from correcting errors that you really wish they would tell you about.

Despite all this, people persevere and some do get quite good at it. The rewards of discovery are real and worth the effort in my experience.

I hope you come back to it some time and continue sharing your journey!

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