I figured I’d try one of these as a study support. I’m at the point now where I can read several titles in my collection somewhat slowly, but comfortably…but the tradeoff for that is that I’ve been mostly neglecting active language study. So I’m using this to sort out what I’ve done so far, where I’m looking next, and keeping track of my progress. I’m not sure what sort of update schedule - maybe biweekly? I’ll probably figure it out as I go (or forget this exists entirely…I hope not).
My language journey has not been a straightforward one. Liberal use of the ‘hide details’ function here, because there is a lot.
How I got here, part 1:
Sometime around 2000 I got it in my head I wanted to learn Japanese on my own, specifically for reading. I bought several books, including the Compact Nelson’s dictionary and A Japanese Reader: Graded Lessons for Mastering the Written Language (Tuttle Language Library) | L20. I later bought several 2001 issues of 少年エース and, over the next few years, various volumes of manga. Conspicuously absent from this collection: any sort of proper textbook. (I got one of those little pocket grammar guides - Barron’s, I think - and no, it’s not an adequate substitute.)
This was, in sum, a terrible plan and is not recommended. I did somehow manage to brute force my way through あずまんが大王, to the point where I was reading entire pages without lookups by the final volume, and I also bought The Handbook of Japanese Verbs (Kodansha Dictionary) | L0 which addressed some of the grammar gaps. But it was a mess.
I then got married. My books moved with me, but I put my language study on hiatus for the most part, for roughly a decade and a half.
How I got here, part 2:
Jump to two years ago. Nearing the end of a school year of remote instruction for my kids, not doing a whole lot else. I needed something to do. I don’t even remember what precipitated the thought, but my brain went “why not pick up Japanese again?” My spouse supported this idea.
I started looking online for resources, and saw there was a lot more support for independent study than two decades ago. So I (re)started from the beginning. Found tools for practicing vocab, blitzed through the N5 stuff, slowed down somewhat for N4, was working on N3 vocab within 3 months or so (and being surprised that old-hat words like 友達 were considered N3, even knowing that these were unofficial best-guess word lists). Picked up a couple of my old manga volumes and started reading: very slow going at first, but slowly improved. Started sorting through reviews and opinions on apps, online guides, and reference books. I also started buying books again - a couple reference, mostly new media (including too many light novels. I am, two years later, about ready for LNs now, and it really depends on which LN). Brute forced through two LNs and stalled halfway through a third (which I do plan to return to at some point - I got distracted). Found Irodori (seriously underrated!) and used that as additional grammar review in anticipation of starting on Tobira | L22.
By summer of 2022 I started on Tobira, then got distracted by reading more and more native material (specifically, manga). By November I was beginning to switch to using a J-J dictionary (明鏡国語辞典; it didn’t go great) and averaging under 2 hours for 1 volume of manga. I also finished my first multi-volume manga read in roughly 20 years: 女の子が抱いちゃだめですか？, which was a major confidence boost. (It’s been hard finding things aimed at adults that are relatively easy to read and entertaining, but this one accomplished both!)
Now (April 2023):
Back at the start of the month, I finished the second volume of 勇者のひざには猫がいる in under two hours, with about five lookups total. My “comfortable” reading level on Natively seems to be around 24. I’ve self-described my reading level as an N3 kludge; that feels about right, considering. (I am, however, trying to make that N3 approximation less kludgey and more solid, and ultimately push beyond it.)
Now I use Bookmeter to check out samples of titles that interest me and read reviews, without relying (with obligatory grain of salt) on DeepL as a doublecheck or a quicksort for key things I want to avoid. I have a childrens’ dictionary now (三省堂例解小学国語辞典) that I can read comfortably and just enjoy skipping through the entries and reading the sidebars as its own thing. I’m getting a better grasp on my preferences for genre and fine-tuning my wishlists and purchases accordingly.
It feels like the end of the beginning, and a really great place to be. But it’s also the beginning of the next step, and I need to keep looking forward.
I started the Handbook of Japanese Verbs a week ago and am currently a bit more than halfway through (the last 50 pages are all answer keys/appendices/index). I skipped the first section’s exercises, opting to write out the conjugation charts in place of that, but am taking notes on and doing all the exercises for the second part. Some of the forms presented I also recognize from my short foray into Tobira, so the Handbook also covers at least some N3+ grammar. I’m finding this very useful so far!
This has fallen by the wayside somewhat, between recent family visits and focusing on the aforementioned grammar work. I am currently about 25% through reading 牧場物語 3つの里の大好きななかま (2 of 7 chapters complete). It’s fine, but I definitely prefer nonfiction when reading kids’ books for language practice. (I also have not played this particular game in the 牧場物語 series, so I don’t have that to rely on either.) I also have きまぐれロボット for low-energy days, since each story is self-contained and only 4 pages long.
I had started and read through the first chapter of 乙女ゲームの破滅フラグしかない悪役令嬢に転生してしまった, but have stopped for now. Undecided if I’ll continue; this 300 page LN was compressed into about 3 episodes in the anime, and I think I liked it better that way. Being able to read that far in with an average around 3 lookups per page is something I’m happy about, though.
I’m using Ringotan for practicing kanji stroke order: currently at 762 kanji practiced (5/69/173/422/93, categorized from newest to mastered). The Handbook of Japanese Verb exercises also give me a chance to practice writing, and my penmanship is…well, it exists, I guess. On the other hand, there are a couple of kanji that have shown up in exercises that I haven’t gotten to in Ringotan yet, but practicing in the app has given me an intuition to proper stroke order. (I double checked each new kanji’s order after to make sure.) The app has its issues with accurate stroke detection (it could also be that my tablet is getting old and slower, too), but in general it’s been useful.
I’m trying to get back into podcasts for boosting auditory comprehension. Unfortunately, I’ve bounced off most podcasts I’ve tried, either due to poor audio quality, annoying music (often poorly balanced, to boot), or simply too hard for my current skill level. The two survivors so far have been Nihongo con Teppei for Beginners and Japanese with Shun, and the latter has audio issues (the music volume, in particular, is very unbalanced).
(Teppei’s production quality, on the other hand, is very good, so if anyone is looking for a beginner-friendly podcast and audio clarity is a priority, Nihongo con Teppei for Beginners is your best bet.)
For video, on Youtube I use both Shun’s vlog series and Comprehensible Japanese (beginner videos I watch as-is, intermediate I turn on the JP captions). Anime I leave to watching with English subs while keeping an ear open, with the exceptions of Bananya (due to length, familiarity, and presumed simplicity, but it’s surprisingly tough going so far) and The Saint’s Magic Power is Omnipotent (because challenge mode, I guess).
I need to get back to Tobira again. I also need to work on more auditory input - even though my focus is on literacy, I don’t want to neglect that entirely.
Now that I know I can write (though not well), I want to start collecting vocabulary. Get a book solely to write new words into. This will probably be better for learning than my previous method of using Akebi on my tablet and saving word lists per book/series (I mostly stopped using Akebi around November of last year, when I started to use 明鏡).
I have several volumes of manga I want to finish before summer: some continuations, some new. I plan to finish 牧場物語 3つの里の大好きななかま as well; it’s readable enough that even if it’s not super interesting, I can finish it for the sake of practice. I think I also want to give 異世界に救世主として喚ばれましたが、アラサーには無理なので、ひっそりブックカフェ始めました。 | L30?? a try and see if that goes better than 乙女ゲームの破滅フラグ (it’s the difficulty factor I’m unsure of here; if it’s similar I can probably do it).
Longer term, I am still debating whether to try N3 this December, leaning toward no. Travel logistics are the biggest factor, but I don’t have much confidence in my auditory comprehension either.
Well, I think that’s it for now. Aiming for next update around the beginning of May.