Scooter vs Japan

Japanese language blog? | November 27, 2015

As I continue my fight against the fantastic beast known as the Japanese language, I’m always in search of new ways to try and approach the language. In the past, I’ve been studying in a class, so I have a fairly well rounded education. But I’m now on my own, and I can’t seem to make a lot of progress. Worse, I know why.

Can you use that in a sentence?

There are untold numbers of gimmicks and plots that young learners will use to try and learn Japanese. Unfortunately, I’m not convinced that any of these work; if it there was some magic trick or dodge, wouldn’t we have all done it? No, I think it all comes down to rolling up you sleeves and getting to work, and a lot of people seem to agree with me.

More to the point, a lot of the tactics employed by learners of all ages is to grind through lists of things, learning each painful item one flashcard at a time or by writing it out a thousand times. However, I’ve come to learn (through self reflection and from the advice of others) that this doesn’t work well. Learning grammar, vocabulary, and Chinese characters (kanji) one item at a time is simply a waste of time, since you lack the context of how it is used. You can spend weeks learning all of the readings, meaning, and components of just one character, or you can do something else.

You can work smart.

Instead of learning item by item, since that really has never worked, I am trying to learn Japanese as it is found in the wild. I am not going to learning kanji by memorizing characters, I am going to learn words. I’m not going to learn new vocabulary by reciting a flashcard hundreds of times, because that never seems to stick. Instead, I am going to learn words through sentences, using context and cues the reinforce the meaning. And I’m not going to slog my way through a grammar book, but will instead use those same sentences to see examples of grammar and learn by example.

And it really works

I’ve been spending that last few months on different language experiments. For example, I just made some grammar flashcards to review old grammar points that I have long ago forgotten. But instead of writing a single character on a card and then trying to define it, I did something different.


I’m learning the grammar from the sentence.

And it worked. I was able to go through the almost 40 sentences for the flashcards I made, and understood far more than the majority. Even though I don’t remember the grammar points, even with grammar I’ve been using wrong, and without once reviewing them since I made flashcards the day before, I understood what was written.

When it comes to kanji, I spend several weeks running an experiment on word compounds (words that use multiple characters). Instead of learning a character in isolation, I was learning one word that used it, but was also learning all of the characters in that word as well. This was working to an extent, and I picked up a few words, but one problem prevented it was being a true success; context. Looking at my grammar flashcards, I was able to, more often than not, read an unfamiliar word from the context of the sentence. A great example is my card for “describing how an action is performed.” My example sentence was something like “I can swim like a fish,” but I couldn’t read the character for swim. But I knew “fish” as well as the grammar, so I was able to figure out that the unreadable character meant “swim.”

Hurray for proofs of concept.

Blog! You said blog! What’s this about a blog!?

Since I like to tell stories, that requires another detour before I can come around and explain what I’m thinking. My brain is funny like that.

I’m a kinesthetic/tactile learner. That means I learn by doing things. What that also means is that I don’t learn by seeing or hearing, as proven by my inability to pick up any co-workers’ or students’ names, or my inability to pull new words out of speech. No, I learn by doing, and unfortunately, that kinda means writing (which I’m beyond not good at).

So here’s what I’m thinking. I want to start a second blog, strictly for practicing Japanese. Now, that’s probably a terrible idea, given how backlogged I am here. But hear me out.

Someone on Reddit suggested a language practice thread. I said (in Japanese) that I thought it was a good idea, and that we should do it. And then I was immediately pissed off by it. See, I just want to use Japanese; I don’t necessarily want people correcting it, since correct just means you are wrong and over correction is the death of language learning. I quickly ended up going on to explain why I did X or Y, right or wrong, and was trying to explain that I am shooting for comprehension rather than 100% accuracy. Plus, everyone was using kanji, and Reddit’s system for including the readings for kanji is tedious at best. Thus, it slowed down my production and made it difficult to read theirs, since I was the only one using this system.

No. I want something a little different. While I’m happy to get feedback, I really only want feedback when a mistake causes a breakdown in communication. I do not want every single mistake or alternate particle use to be called into question. I do not want to worry about 100% production. I want to do Japanese, and everyone else can be damned. If I get a correction, I’ll look at it, but I don’t want to have to spend more time correcting and explaining my shitty Japanese than I am trying to produce it, because that will only get me so far.

Another issue with something like Reddit is that I would need to produce sentences with a certain amount of value or content. That’s also kind of not the point. While I want to practice stringing longer sentences and paragraphs together and creating more consistent language use, I am more interested in production than storytelling at this point. That means I am more interested in keyboard babbling about random topics and using unrelated sentences as I work my way through Japanese. If I post, say, six sentences that make no sense, using new grammar and vocab, I don’t want people bothering me about how stupid or confusing they sound because they have nothing to do with anything.

Soo… Why not just use a notebook?

Well, there are two answers. The first is that I am a young folk and like computers. Doing a blog or something on Twitter (another possibility) just fits me like a glove. I’m also a masochist, so I want this to be as complicated as possible.

But more importantly, I do want the ability to have feedback, should anyone care to give it. I just don’t want constant correction. Having something online will allow me to incite some feedback while at the same time creating an example of how I’m learning. If someone asks me how I’m learning, I can link them to the blog instead of trying to explain that I am basically just using Japanese. If I want someone to check my work, I need only send a friend the link instead of having to type out hand written work and then find a way to get it to them.

Ok. I get it. But why another blog?

Good question, dear reader. Ironically, I am a very visual person, despite being terrible at visual learning skills. I have this image in my head of what I want this exercise to look like… And it’s messy. I want this blog here to be a general blog about JET, living in Japan, and about learning Japanese, not to be filled with random and probably incorrect sentences as I learn Japanese. To do everything under one roof, I’m concerned that it’s going to get messy and make this blog inaccessible, forcing English language posts about Japan to be lost among piles of nonsense and experimentation.

I’m also pondering doing something over Twitter, though I’m not sure if that has the effect I want. I likewise don’t want to blast my followers with random bullshit in Japanese several times a day. But maybe they want that, I dunno.

What I’m thinking is that I want this practice to be self contained. I want to keep on with my normal-ish life and be able to interject some Japanese as needed without it overtaking my life. I don’t want to embarrass myself as potential JETs find this place and then laugh at my shitty language skills, nor do I want to make this blog inaccessible to those visitors, causing them to have to sort through tons and tons of posts to find something in English.

Floggings? Twits? YourTubes (probably not)? What do you think?

Now for the audience participation part of the exercise. What do you think? Do you want to see me fumble through Japanese here? Do you want me to send regular derps on Twitter? Does a separate and contained blog sound like a good idea? Do you have a batter idea? Leave a comment. For the love of god, someone leave a comment. It’s lonely here, and I think there are wolves.




  1. Hey buddy, it’s Quincy 🙂 I read what you had to say, and I’m honestly intrigued. I too am trying to improve my experience with another language, and can readily identify with the challenges you’ve described. I think a blog would be a great start, and I’d be interested to see how it takes form, changes form, and how it imparts onto YOU a better understanding.

    Comment by Quincy — November 27, 2015 @ 4:32 am

  2. Hello ^_^
    I admit that while reading this post, being myself struggling against japanese Language as well., I was often perplexed about what you were saying. I agree when you say that study kanji or grammar is easier when you put them into a context instead of simply memorize characters/reading and rules, but at the same time you make it a little too easy when u say that u could understand it just by logic. Of course it happens, but how many times it doesn’t? There are trouble also for kanji reading cause knowing how u read a kanji in a word, doesn’t guarantee that u will be able to read it correctly in another word simply cause it may be read differently.. so at the end.. I don’t know if u can avoid the tedious kanji Learning. Same for grammar, if you don’t know a rule, you can’t invent it by logic. Oh well, you can, I do it too lol, and sometimes it even works 😀 But above a certain level you need a knowledge that only the boring part of the study can give you.
    That’s what i think ^^
    But at the same time I believe that every person has his own personal way of learning so I am curious to see how you will improve ^^
    Gonna follow this blog and also the new one if you will open it ^_^

    Comment by dottdivine — November 27, 2015 @ 3:23 pm

    • Thank you for your comment, dottdivine (and Q) and for following. While the different readings of kanji do not automatically provide you with the reading of another word, that is something that you can learn in context.

      Having a base for Japanese already, I am aware of multiple kanji readings just from the vocabulary I know already. Once I begin to use and see those character, those readings become ingrained. For example, I know multiple readings for 行, just from the words that I know which all use this character, whether I realize that or not. The same is true for any new words and characters learned. I learn those reading by learning the words, not by studying flashcards, memorizing the readings out of context, or writing the character a million times. After I see a character in a few different forms, I can far better understand when one reading is used and not another, and the ability to both read and use that character will (and has) increase dramatically.

      It’s also worth noting that I’m not doing this in isolation and the absence of learning aids. When approach by a new word that I can’t discern from context (and even after I do discern it), I simply check that word in the dictionary, since I am doing this at my own pace. In speech, I can ask the speaker to clarify or explain an unfamiliar word, or note it for future look up. That same is true from grammar. I am not approaching this as Tom Cruise from Last Samurai, using only the target language and no aids; I am referencing grammar notes and dictionaries when presented with unfamiliar material. But I *learn* that unfamiliar material through the context found in the language, not through rote.

      This is actually an advanced level technique I have been both experimenting with and reading about from countless other second language learners, and a skill that native learners also use when presented with new material as well. This is precisely how (with learning aids) advanced learners progress, and I decided ‘hey, why wait any longer?’

      Comment by Scooter C — November 27, 2015 @ 11:11 pm

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About author

Scooter is an ESL teacher and Japanese anthropologist. He hopes to document his thoughts of living in Japan, continued cultural studies, and to provide advice for others looking to hop the pond.







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