Today was the first ‘proper’ day of uni. I met my adviser, the very kind Reiko Seki, and discussed my subject choices. That was all fine; she finished off by suggesting that I at least attempt to take the exams aimed at Japanese students this semester, as that way I could get more than the straight “Fail” I got for not turning up for her exam last term!

Met up with a few friends at lunchtime. There’s a lot of freshers around, what with this being the beginning of the academic year and all. They’re so young… all that clapping and jumping, does make me laugh.

After lunch, it was time for the Class of Death. The Sakubun Hour.

This time, there are no furigana on the handouts to help you with pronunciation. It’s a veritable kanji feast; one is bombarded by complex sociological terms, with nothing but an overworked Nintendo DS for comfort. You stumble through your paragraph, tripping up (ironically enough) not on the kanji but on the hiragana. To make matters worse, when the person next to you takes over, they read on without a problem, their sentences are lyrical, they are more fluent than a parrot on speed.

So yes, another of those “I have sooooooooo much more to learn” type realisation days. Another “Right! No more English spoken at home” type days. Another “I’m going to write my Japanese blog everyday from now on” type days.

But I need some sleep first. I’m exhausted.


2 days later…

So, today I had my second class of the semester, this one concentrating on reading skills.

I must admit I was feeling pretty depressed on the way into uni. Sometimes the enormity of the struggle we’re faced with (that struggle being learning Japanese) just gets to be too much. There are times when you just think “what’s the point? I can live without the language”. This is how I felt last night when I was on the verge of looking online for opportunities to go and live in remote African huts.

Reading is not my strong point. It’s right down there, just above essay-writing. Thus, the idea of a reading class on a Friday afternoon did not enthrall me, but I must say, sitting here an hour after the class, I’m feeling thoroughly refreshed and ready to tackle the kanji once again.


The teacher. She is absolutely fantastic. 29-years-old, plays darts at a semi-professional level (almost unheard of for a Japanese women to be such a pro at the game), specialises in Japanese as spoken by the younger generation, teaches us the reading skills we need in order to make sense of the many different forms of Japanese text we’re going to be faced with over the next year or so.

We were given four passages to read, and then asked to answer the questions at the end of the sheet to check our comprehension. These four passages took up about a page and a half; we were given 6 minutes to do the lot. We laughed when she told us that.

I did better than I’d expected, skimming through trying to pick out the general meaning of the piece from the kanji that I recognised, and then looked for those key bits of grammar that act as signposts. All in all, not too bad. We then discussed where we’d gone wrong, and analysed why it was we’d selected the wrong answers where we had.

That was interesting: I’d not done that before, root around to discover the specific cause of such a mistake. The idea is, is that we do this consistently, and once we have identified our weaknesses, work on them.

Following this, we were given a much harsher piece. I really fell down here, unable to even figure out what the overall theme was (it turned out to be about the balance between an artist’s ‘innate’ artistic sense, and their artistic skill).

What let me down here? My inability to identify two key kanji, two characters that were repeated throughout the piece. Without these keys, I was simply stumbling around in the dark.

I’ve been studying the kanji ‘full time’ for just over two-and-a-half-years now. At uni in the UK we used The Basic Kanji Book, which is pretty good. I still use that series as I like the way it expands both your kanji knowledge and vocab at the same time. However, it’s not perfect, and when one has learnt several hundred characters they start to get mixed up in your head… That’s where Heisig’s Remembering the Kanji comes in, with its little stories to help you remember the writing and meaning. I use the knowledge I gained through studying that text everyday. I think it complements the Basic Kanji Book very well, although it cannot be used in a classroom setting, and ideally should be studied in your own time during the holidays.

Anyhow, back to today’s class. We were told, in no uncertain terms, that the majority of our study has to be done outside the classroom. It’s going to take up a lot of our time, and it will not be easy, but it is perfectly possible.

There was something about the manner of our dart-wielding sensei that really inspired me. She’s so convinced that we are all going to become excellent readers that it’s hard not to believe it. If we put the work in, it will happen. That I find tremendously exciting.

My Japanese isn’t half as good as I would like it to be, but I still get tremendous pleasure from those situations where I do understand what it being said / what is written. Sometimes I’m amazed by how much I’ve learnt – and feel positively clever for a few minutes, that is, until someone starts talking about something about which I have no prior knowledge.

I now have over 30 hours of MP3s that I’ve recorded with my mac, containing grammar, kanji stories, and vocab. Listening to the early ones proves to me that I am learning stuff, which is reassuring during those times when I feel pretty down about my language abilities.

I never actually thought that learning a second language could be so difficult; I have immense respect for the millions of people in the world who can speak multiple languages.

One Response

  1. I always trip up over hiragana and katakana… Bleh! In my placement test for this semester we had an interview part, in which we had to read a letter out loud from someone on holiday in China, and despite knowing the meaning of all of the kanji and what the letter in general was saying, I could only pronounce about half of them….

    Since then I’ve been feeling much more motivated to study and things, hehe.