Semie's Japanese progress & process log! Balancing life, disability, and making learning as easy as possible

Hello, fellow readers! Having just finished one of my biggest Japanese language goals - reading 風が強く吹いている - roughly two and a half years into re-starting my journey as a Japanese language learner (more on this in a later post) and eight months after making through my first actual book, it feels like a good time to look back on the very long and winding road I took to get here and some of the things I learned along the way.

The main driving factor behind what I’d like to talk about over the next few posts is tackling a time- and energy-intensive hobby like Japanese learning in ways that make the most of the effort you’re putting in. I’m coming at this as a newly physically disabled person coming up with ways to cope with very low (mental and physical) stamina, but I hope it’s applicable to anyone and everyone who is juggling multiple challenges and obligations in life.

More in the next post, but to wrap things up for now I just wanna share this screenshot from my Anki stats because you can clearly see when I started reading books :rofl:

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History, learning background, and all that

When I first started learning Japanese about ten years ago

When I first started learning Japanese about ten years ago, I read textbooks and watched videos and studied flashcards and all that… but none of it really stuck. A lot of these materials were/are designed for JLPT takers, and I used them because they were readily available and because I felt like standardized testing was a necessary part of my learning process. An assumption or habit from high school and college, maybe?

But one thing I learned from school is that you can get good at studying for and taking tests but still kind of stink at the subject you’re theoretically being tested on. So yeah, it did not go well.

As an example, I’m pretty sure more of my kanji knowledge came from remembering bits and pieces of Chinese from my early childhood than from any of my efforts in studying Japanese, even though I’d stopped using the former language entirely for at least ten years by this point in my life. And you would think, from what I said about getting good at tests, that I would’ve at least done well on the JLPT. Erm. I did pass N5, but that’s it.

“Ahh, I failed.”
“I’m bad at this.”
“It’s too hard. I can’t do it.”
With these thoughts, Japanese learning went on the backburner for many years.

And then, some stuff happened that changed everything.

Mental gears shifted, paradigms changed. Medical and disability things

There’s something I would like to say, first, as a sort of preface to this part. To me ten years ago struggling with failing at yet another thing I felt like I couldn’t handle properly, to anyone who might feel like they’re in a similar boat: please take care of yourself, take a gentle, non-judgmental, but thorough look at everything that’s going on in your life, and do your best to address anything that doesn’t feel right. This doesn’t have to mean dropping the things you find fun and interesting in order to achieve this, because those things might be exactly what you need to get you through tough times, but in the end improving your health is absolutely worth the time, money, and effort it may require (but you may not necessarily want to spend). In the long run, doing so will make everything you really do want to spend your time, money, and effort on easier, more exciting, and a lot more fun.

This is the very roundabout route I took to arrive at this conclusion.

After 20-ish years of chronic pain and just as many years of doctors’ visits and tests with no real results, I was finally diagnosed with something concrete in 2020 and had surgery soon after. This procedure had the unintentional and really unfortunate side effect of incomplete tetraplegia among other things, but it did also get rid of the spinal cord issue that made everything hurt for the past couple of decades. Until this point I thought I had gotten used to the pain, that I was dealing with it just fine. I wasn’t. It literally affected every part of my life, and I was just pretending it didn’t.

At the risk of stating something completely obvious… this is something I did not truly understand until the pain was gone: it is so, so much easier it is to have a hobby of any kind, to do anything, when you don’t have to deal with every part of your body hurting every single day. There was/is a lot to overcome as a result of suddenly becoming disabled (see below), but even with all that I still feel like the whole situation has been a net positive.

By far the biggest challenge after that surgery was learning how to use body parts again, but the biggest lesson was to just not think about learning and just do it. There’s no point ruminating over the act of standing or sitting or picking up a spoon… I just wanted to be able to move myself and put food in my mouth. Time spent thinking “I should be able to walk, why can’t I” was better spent doing physical therapy. In the beginning I just didn’t have the brain capacity to think, really, but eventually it sort of became a habit to just not think those types of consuming thoughts.

So when I decided to pick Japanese back up in 2021, almost a year later...

So when I decided to pick Japanese back up in 2021, almost a year later, I didn’t really think about it too much. Just another thing to learn on the list. This is also when I happened to come across sites like Refold and AJATT that promote language immersion, which discuss methods that go well hand in hand with that “just do the thing you ultimately want to do, don’t think about it, just do it a whole bunch” mentality.

And, as a final piece of the puzzle for now, I remembered a mostly buried, several-decades old memory: seven year old me learning English for the first time. My very first language learning experience! Thinking about Semie the third grader reading every book in the classroom book corner and eventually the whole elementary school library is what made me decide I needed to start reading books, watching anime, and playing games in Japanese because that’s exactly how I learned English.

Future posts will have more concrete reading/learning log type stuff, but this one is just full of stuff that’s been brewing in my mind for a bit and I wanted to get it out in the open. And most importantly: even though learning a language can start as a spur of the moment thing, a way to kill time for a little while, a distraction from whatever else is going on… it can also be a long-term and maybe even lifelong pursuit if you want. Even if you have to put it aside for a week, a month, a year, ten years… it will still be there, waiting patiently for you to come back. Please take the time to look after your health and prioritize making yourself happy and healthy!

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Almost in tears here this resonates so strongly with me. Thank you for sharing. I’ll be looking forward to hearing more concrete goals, but also thank you for this. :heart:

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Goals, goals, goals

Time-based goals

Read 200 pages/week.
Status: abandoned.
At first this seemed like a realistic goal, since I used my weekly pages read stats on Natively to set the page count at a number I was already reaching without trying to. But that just happened to be a time of year when I was doing really well, so it didn’t account for how I usually am day to day which is full of stamina drops and various other slumps.

Hitting a preset page count quickly became unsustainable, as having this type of goal during rough weeks felt like I was falling short even though I had put in all the effort I could. So instead, I changed this to the same goal I have for PT/exercise, which is…

Don’t skip reading two days in a row.
Status: ongoing.
Skipping one day whenever is totally fine, just read something–anything, any amount–the next day. So far so good since I started reading in June. I feel a lot better about this than page count!

(Stretch goal/just for fun) Read for 90+ days in a row. Because my longest streak so far is 89 days and I just reeeeally want to add 1 to it.

Book-based goals

風が強く吹いている | L32??
Status: done!
I chose this book because the anime adaptation is one of my favorites, it’s a nice lengthy novel, and the content scratches an otherwise unscratchable itch as a former runner. Since I finished reading this in January I was also inspired to look up this year’s Hakone ekiden coverage on Youtube which was a lot of fun to watch!

All of 本好きの下剋上 (series) | L30
Status: just started part 2!
Favorite LN series, no contest. I really enjoyed it in English and then even more upon rereading in Japanese when I realized how a lot of Myne’s early misadventures hit close to home as someone who also randomly passes out on the street, internally burns up when overstimulated, and generally worries the daylights out of family and friends.

As I progressed in this series I developed vague aspirations to read ahead of the official English translation, which I tested by skipping forward in the series to try one of the part 5 volumes just before the simulpub came out. I couldn’t keep up! So now I’m just chugging along, one part behind junior bunko releases, which I love because I get an excuse to see the illustrations as well as the one Liz short story (!) we never got in the English releases.

Have at least one “new” book going at all times.
Status: interested but not totally committed yet.
I would like to spend the majority of my time on things I know I’ll enjoy, and one way of accomplishing that is to read books that I’m already familiar with and love in some way (saw anime adaptation, read English version, etc.). But leaning so hard on safe choices also kind of feels like a crutch sometimes, like I’ll read some passages less carefully since I can be fairly certain it’s not too important. I suppose this by itself isn’t necessarily a good or bad thing, though it would be nice to work towards being less intimidated by things I know nothing about. Plus, I’ve had a lot of good experiences with unfamiliar books I discovered through Natively or Amazon. I enjoyed these a lot:

On the other hand, I (think I) remember words the best when they’re part of a really good quote or impactful moment from a story, which are much easier to identify and recognize in books I’m familiar with. As a reader I like the idea of broadening my horizons, but as a learner I would rather have an easier time with vocab. I do tag my Anki cards with book titles, so I’ll have to look at my stats to see if this is an actual or only a perceived trend.

Goals on hold

Manga and video games
Status: on hold until I either get more energy or improve my vocabulary more.
This is hardly even a goal at the moment, just something I’d like to do more but am putting aside because lookups and note-taking are just exponentially easier with a text epub in ttsu and Yomichan on a PC, with Microsoft Edge to take advantage of its surprisingly good TTS when my brain really needs extra support. As a substitute for games and manga, I’ve been watching a lot of 実況プレイ streamers on Youtube and anime with Japanese subs. For some reason I’m okay not doing any lookups while watching videos, but I compulsively need to do so while playing a game or reading manga. Maybe it’s a degree of engagement/self-pacing thing.

Anyway, I like game streams a lot because many players are willing to read all unvoiced dialogue out loud, which is a big bonus even in something like a fully-voiced VN because those often have unvoiced protagonists. Plus I think my last manga binge went particularly well because of how much more I was used to seeing and listening to monologues and dialogues, so the casual watching seems like a pretty good way to continue for now!

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I see you already have it on your 読みたい list but I can only recommend あと少し、もう少し | L25 to scratch that same itch if you want more ekiden! :slightly_smiling_face: It isn’t terribly difficult and has all those good thrilling sports moments and a lovely cast of characters.

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Ooh, I hadn’t read any reviews or really looked into it beyond the blurb so I’m happy to see you recommend it! Thanks!

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Yeah, I can relate to that. My longest playtime of a game in Japanese was ~11.5 hours (with 670 vocab cards added to Anki) of Wand of Fortune R - a visual novel with stat rasing elements, which corresponds to around ~2.7 hours of playing at a leisurely native pace according to a 実況プレイ I saw.
Basically, I burned out right after finishing the prologue and before getting to the main gameplay loop. I promise myself to get back to it, eventually :smiley:

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Those numbers definitely make that “is it just me or are these lookups are taking a while” feeling very clear :sob: :rofl:

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Do you have any favorites? I haven’t been able to find anyone who I can understand what they’re saying when they talk and I don’t feel like I’m getting screamed at :sweat_smile:

Huh, wouldn’t have ever thought! Thanks for the tip!

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I have a recommendation, if I may. Recently, I found かやぽてち, and her channel is a treasure trove. She plays mostly VNs and adventure games and provides excellent narration with no fluff.

There is also edge-tts. With a little bit of trickery, you can use Edge’s TTS with anything, even on Linux.

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Books I read from December 2023 through February 2024:

I didn’t read as much as I wanted towards the end of 2023, but fortunately I had enough in me in February to power through a lot. Looking at results quarterly as opposed to weekly or monthly feels much less hectic and stressful while being more realistic for me, I think.

In my last post I was undecided on whether I wanted to have reading “unfamiliar” books (books that I hadn’t already read or seen a different language edition or adaptation of) as a goal, but looking at this almost half were books that fit that category without me making any particular effort. So leaving it to normal curiosity seems to be enough! Even picked up a nonfiction book for the first time towards the end which was surprisingly pleasant to read.

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