Language Evaluation

Earlier this week, I wrote a post about my search for an online tutor. I still have another Skype trial scheduled for this Sunday, but I decided to give the in-person tutor search another try. I had been avoiding a local language school since my first ever tutor, who wasn’t a trained professional, had worked there as one of her side-jobs. To be honest, I didn’t care to run into her or anyone who taught like her, especially if I was going to be paying more than I did back then. I decided it couldn’t hurt to put in an inquiry and I immediately got a call back asking me to come in for a free language evaluation to see if I could be placed. Because of my awkward in-between level, this had been a problem on Skype, so I was eager to see how they would place me.I went in the next day and was surprised to find such a welcoming and friendly atmosphere. The waiting area resembled a family basement due to the furniture and decor. The tutor who was conducting the evaluation ran in just in time and took me into one of the classrooms to begin.

The evaluation consisted of a short introduction and some small talk about my interest in the language. Rather than letting me do all the talking, the teacher made sure to ask a lot of questions so that he could gauge my listening comprehension, which honestly made it easier for me since I understand more than I can speak (lol). Anything I didn’t catch, I asked about in Japanese using the skills I learned from my last tutor. He also tested my reading by finding a random Genki passage. Little did he know, my last tutor completely bashed my slow reading skills and had me drill most of the Genki I chapter dialogues for weeks. I was golden. The final exercise consisted of writing my name on the board. I have only written my last name in Katakana a couple of times before and didn’t know how to interpret a certain sound. I told the teacher my Katakana was definitely weaker than hiragana, and he understood and helped me write out the rest. And… that was it. Only took 15 minutes.

Since my last teacher made me feel pretty bad about my language progression, I was expecting to be rounded down to beginner, but this teacher seemed honestly impressed. He told me that while I wasn’t as far along in the Genki textbook as his other non-beginner student, I was a far better reader and speaker. He told me my grammar comprehension was really good as well. I was rounded up to Intermediate (!!!) and was told I was better off taking private lessons as there was no one at their school within my level at that moment. Of course, they could have been flattering me to take more of my money, but they seemed genuine.

While I don’t actually believe I’m at an intermediate level and consider myself an upper beginner, it was nice knowing that all the hard work I had put in with my last tutor had definitely paid off. I would have NEVER been praised for my conversational skills in the past, believe me. Speaking has become a lot easier after being challenged the way I had and my reading has sped up after drilling almost daily. It felt good knowing it had nothing to do with a natural ability, it was my actual hard work that had gotten me to where I was. I wanted to bask in the praise for as long as I could, although of course I just smiled awkwardly and waited for the chance to escape. But I am immortalizing it here so I can come back and read it whenever I hit the next language plateau!

I’m still deciding whether I am going to take lessons with them or not. It would be a lot more expensive than Skype, but I might give it a try. Of course, I’ll be updating here with my decision!

Later!

L

Posted in Japanese Study | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

On the Hunt for a New Japanese Tutor

It’s been about 2 weeks since I stopped seeing my Japanese tutor now that I can’t afford her. It was a very productive 3 months and I’ve learned more about my learning style and habits than I ever have before! In the last 2 weeks, I vowed to take what I learned and apply it by hitting the books… and ended up doing a whole lot of nothing. I did a lot of passive learning, like reading texts aloud and watching dramas, which is ok but not the most effective for me. I lost the motivation for active learning once the pressure was off.

As someone who went through 4 tutors to date, you’d think I’d have this down by now. I even wrote a post with tips and criteria, but it’s more difficult to find a perfect fit now that I’m limited to online tutors due to price, and I’m also at an in-between level. I don’t want this post to sound like an iTalki endorsement (lately their marketing has been especially pervasive), but I really am grateful for the option to test out several tutors for a low trial price with no pressure to book another lesson. I’ve already tried one out and have another scheduled for next week, but I find myself truly preferring face-to-face lessons. However, I don’t really have a choice with my budget.

I have a new set of criteria for my online tutor search, and some of these may or may not be feasible, but I will continue the search.

  1. Availability – This still stands from my previous search, and with online tutors is the easiest criteria to satisfy. From what I’ve seen, they all have either evenings or weekends available to fit my schedule
  2. Price – I’m looking to pay anywhere from $20-$30 an hour for a skilled/experienced tutor, which doesn’t seem hard to find.
  3. Adaptability – Now this is where it gets tricky. From what I’ve noticed so far, tutors are either equipped to work with beginners or intermediate/advanced students. As someone who tutors English as a Second Language, I get it. It can be tough working with someone who has a foundation, but not solid enough to make full conversations with. I want someone who can work through my textbooks with me and help me practice those grammar points in conversation. My first tutor was not acquainted with my book. The next appointment I made was with someone living in a Western country, so hopefully they will be able to work with my current textbooks. I also want to learn some survival Japanese for my trip next year, but do not want it to be the sole focus.
  4. Challenge – This is most important to me. So far I’ve noted that I have the tendency to not engage with online tutors, and the ones I’ve had so far didn’t really push it. My in-person tutor TOTALLY put me on the spot. I realize I need a little bit of tough love. Encouragement is great, and I appreciate it, but I really need pressure. I need someone who forces me to speak and will expect me to put in study time on my own. No pain, no gain? I will say that while my tutor pushed my limits, she was very direct and not always the most tactful. I can do without some of the shaming.

Now that I’ve typed up my criteria, it doesn’t seem as extensive as I thought, although I don’t have high hopes of finding exactly what I need at my price point. However, I will continue to search for someone who at least meets most of my needs and will keep pushing with my self-study time.

What criteria do you look for in a tutor?

L

Posted in Japanese Study | Tagged | Leave a comment

Upper Beginner Status

It’s been years since I first announced to everyone I knew that I was going to tackle the Japanese language. I guess it’s expected that friends and family are surprised whenever I still label myself a beginner. Of course, I don’t think I’ve put in half the effort in the past 5 years that I did in the past 6 months, and that’s partly to blame, but I think my time as an absolute beginner made me overconfident. I was absorbing so much new information and I felt as if every lesson was making an impact, and they were. I learned greetings, tons of vocabulary and TWO whole new writing systems (Kana). “2 years til fluency”, was my motto. I was on top of the world back then.

But of course, with experience came the realization that I was only barely scratching the surface of this complex language. The times I’ve remembered almost quitting were almost always preceded by feeling overwhelmed by everything there is to learn. To continue learning the language, I had to learn how to handle the blows to the ego and study hard to achieve any kind of result. In the past 6 months, I really have worked harder than ever before, and I am proud to say I’d label myself an Upper Beginner at this point.

It really is tough to gauge your own level, and there is much debate on this topic, but since I’m still at a level where textbooks are very beneficial, I use them as my guide. I’m currently studying from Genki II & Japanese for Busy People II. The first few lessons of JPFBP II I would still consider beginner level, but Genki II is a bit more challenging, grammar-wise. Therefore, I am comfortable stating that I am just entering upper beginner territory. (Yes!) And to solidify my status, my tutor recently introduced a grammar point that she herself labelled as “Upper Beginner”.

I’m satisfied with my current status even though “Intermediate” feels so far away. I’m sure it’s a lot more frustrating for Advanced learners who really don’t know how to place themselves in terms of fluency, as the label “Advanced” can mean so many things. I’m just in the preliminary stages of planning a trip to Japan in a year’s time, so entering the intermediate level by then is a solid and achievable goal.

What do you think your level is and how what did you use to determine that?

I will be posting soon about my trip planning process as the time nears and providing an update on my new tutor! Until next time!

L

Posted in Japanese Study | Leave a comment

Trying a Language Meetup Group

My current Japanese learning routine is working for me. I study around 5-6 hours a week from a textbook and supplement it with language shadowing. I also see a tutor once a week who helps keep me on track. My study time is productive and I see weekly improvements, but for awhile I felt like something was missing. While people in my life are accepting and encouraging, I wanted to meet others who could directly relate to the successes and failures I encounter while studying the Japanese language. I was no longer satisfied with reading online conversations, usually on blogs or forums that were dated by 3 years or more. I wanted to meet someone in the flesh and share the love for this language and culture as well as rant about whatever lesson was kicking my ass that week. Sure, complaining isn’t the most productive past time, but it helps release steam and my tutor understandably won’t indulge me for a second. So, it was time to swallow my fears and try a local meetup group.

I had been a member of my local Japanese Language Group for a few months. As soon as I joined, I browsed around their event page and was immediately intimidated by their language exchange meetups. I felt I wasn’t ready to converse with anyone, no matter how welcoming to beginners their descriptions seemed. Apparently, there were some like-minded individuals on the site and someone started a meetup where language exchange wouldn’t be a requirement. I immediately jumped at that opportunity.

I’ve been to two meetups so far and if I could summarize them in one word, it would be “home.” Sure, there’s awkwardness, but being able to discuss the highs and lows of our language journeys has been my savior. It’s been fascinating just listening to the different stories that brought people to this language. So far, I’ve met people with varying degrees of skill, and even a native speaker. We did get to hold some conversations in Japanese, but there was no constant pressure to do so, which I prefer at my current level. I got some help on my Genki homework from a more advanced speaker and I really appreciated that.

Someone mentioned that the conversations we hold with each other have the potential to damage our pronunciation and encourage bad habits, but it is the furthest thing from my mind now that I meet with a native speaker weekly and expose myself to plenty of native content. I get some added pressure from wanting to improve in order to practice more of what I learn, but its mostly about connecting with other learners for me. We’ve shared tips and resources with one another and even shared music recommendations. (The struggle to find J-Pop I’m into!) We’ve even begun making plans to hold future karaoke meetups, which is a dream meetup for me, someone whose celebrated several birthdays singing the night away in many languages.

Looking forward to meeting more Japanese language learners! Does your city have a local meetup group? And if not, how do you satisfy your need to interact with other language learners?

L

Posted in Japanese Study | Leave a comment

Japanese learning Milestone: Finishing Genki I… Again

This past week I celebrated a very important milestone in my Japanese learning journey by completing Lesson 12 of the Genki textbook… for the second time. I have worked my way through Genki once before and completed it about 4 years ago. I’m confident that the second time around has been much more productive and beneficial. Back then, I never actually utilized the textbook the way I should have and as a result my communication skills were not where they could have been. I would quickly read through the grammar passages at the beginning of each chapter, ran through a few of the problems in each chapter with a tutor and spent most of my week either not studying, or studying passively by watching dramas. Through my tutoring sessions, I increased my knowledge and was able to pick up on more of the language than ever before, but was practically mute when it came to having an actual conversation.  After I stopped seeing my tutor, I tried to self-study after purchasing Genki II, but without a strong foundation, it felt impossible. Admittedly, I was also lazy to put in the work that’s needed for the grammar concepts and vocabulary to stick.

Since my first unsuccessful attempt at getting through and mastering Genki, I began the second attempt during the summer of 2014. I had a full-time job and a part-time internship going, but still had hours of free time on weeknights to dedicate to studying. I put in more effort into studying, but there was still something missing in my routine. I honestly feel like I had too many conflicting interests going on at that time and wasn’t able to dedicate more to Japanese learning. I also skipped many of the textbook problems after feeling like I had gotten the hang of the concept, and only picked up the workbook when I was in the mood for it. I quickly lost motivation after making it to Chapter 7. I felt like the only way to keep going was to join a class in order to keep my motivation. I was advised by a close friend to wait until after graduation and focus my time and money on getting my tuition and bills paid for the time being. I reluctantly followed the advice, and don’t regret it now. There would be more time for Japanese later on.

In the fall of 2015, I decided to take up the challenge once more. This time, I enlisted the help of a Japanese tutor. After working with a tutor whose schedule would always conflict with mine, I searched for another and in January of 2016, bumped myself BACK to lesson 7 to get a fresh start. My current tutor has given me the tough love I’ve needed and I now study at least 5-6 hours a week, mostly with the Genki book. I am much more confident in my skills than I was years ago, even though I know about the same I did then. Finishing Lesson 12 feels like a new beginning. I had already gotten this far before, but everything from here on out will be brand new to me. I am a lot more motivated and disciplined with studying and I am curious to find out where the older and more mature me will end up in 6 months to a year from now! I am also highly anticipating my planned trip to Japan in 2017. I feel much more liberated now that I don’t have to worry about schoolwork along with my Japanese studies and I can focus on it entirely.

So where do I go from here? The natural assumption would be to move on to Genki II. My tutor has advised that I skip it since she’d like to use her own shortcut methods in order to get me speaking more Japanese sooner. I already own it, so if the workload she gives me is not enough, I think I would feel more comfortable working from a textbook. I have really enjoyed the Genki textbook so far. I guess it’s natural thinking back on how many years we’ve actually been together.

Any beginners interested in Genki? Please read the incredibly thorough review from Tofugu for more information.

Until next time!

L

 

Posted in Japanese Study | Leave a comment

My Japanese is Too Slow

Japanese people speak fast. If you’ve been learning this language for any amount of time, you’ve probably noticed. It’s not that I didn’t see this problem coming. I knew that sometime in the future, speed would be a problem, but I didn’t think the realization that I speak too slow to be understood would hit me so hard. Hard enough to want to examine if this language is really for me.

This past weekend, I was working with my Japanese tutor and she had me read passages. She basically told me I was reading too slow for my level and speaking too slow to be understood. She gave me a challenge of speed reading all Genki textbook dialogues this week and see how I fare during a group lesson with other Japanese learners. The problem has nothing to do with my grammar. I’ve been studying hard lately and my teacher has praised me for having perfect structure. But as soon as I’m asked to read a line in Japanese at a natural speed, depending on the difficulty, my head starts to hurt.

The day of the lesson, I came home and felt completely dejected. She was right. I have a lot of trouble saying anything without pausing mid-sentence to make sure I’m using the right particle or verb conjugation.And when reading more difficult passages, sometimes I’m reduced to sounding staccato as I read words kana by kana. Drop me in Japan right now and I’d survive, but wouldn’t be understood beyond that. I don’t know many other Japanese learners, but the ones I have been introduced to don’t seem to have this problem. Is it just me? When speaking English, I wouldn’t say I spoke abnormally slow, but I do overthink everything I’m about to say most of the time. The same thing happens when being asked simple questions in Japanese. Not to mention, I’m forgetting grammar all the time if I’m not constantly using it. Do I just have too terrible a memory to learn a language? Is it because I am living outside of the country?

I’m not throwing in the towel just yet. As a preliminary step, I will put more focus on reading Genki dialogues, as requested, but have also sought out easy manga and other reading material to read aloud. I’d also like to meet other Japanese learners. Are others having the same problem? How did they get over the hurdle? Luckily there’s a local meetup group in my city and I will be meeting other learners later this week. Hopefully I will gain some insight regarding this problem.

If in fact after doing some research and working harder I realize it’s probably just me or something out of my control, I don’t think I’d give up the language completely. I might stop paying as much as I am for my tutor and find a cheaper skype partner and take it a bit slower, as I previously was. If there’s one compliment I have continuously gotten from my tutor is that I’m a hard worker and push even harder when challenged. Will my work pay off? I will certainly post an update.

If anyone has any suggestions or comments about my situation, I’d greatly appreciate it. Until next time!

L

Update: For others struggling with the same issue, I found another resource I’ll be trying out this week that looks very helpful. Check it out if you’d like. I’ll be posting an update on whether any of my methods were helpful!

Posted in Japanese Study | Tagged , | Leave a comment

J-Pop Music Recs: 1995-2010

Feels like it’s been forever since I’ve posted about J-Pop! It’s probably because I’ve never been all that into it. Now that I’m getting back into studying consistently, I’ve also begun to recognize what a great study aid music can be when learning new vocabulary and grammar points. Concepts that I’ve found difficult to grasp stick a lot better when I have a line in a song I can’t get out of my head. So I’ve been on the hunt for new-to-me songs! The twitter account TasteJPop has been one of my main resources for finding great songs, new and old! So as a bit of an oldie, I’m sticking to what I know. Here are some songs I’ve discovered and am currently loving from the years 1995-2010! Warning: This list is pretty Pop/R&B centric.

スピッツ – ロビンソン (Spitz – Robinson) 1995

Originally fell in love with the amazing cover of this song by Ayaka when searching her videos on YouTube and this song came up on a playlist of similar songs. I feel embarrassed admitting this, but I had no idea this was the original until after about 5 listens when it clicked. Ayaka is one of those talented artists that can make a cover sound just her own. Love the original by Japanese pop/rock band Spitz just as much!

Continue reading

Posted in Music | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

21 Question Tag – The Japanese Learner Version

Tags are fun! Here’s a tag created by HangukDrama, originally titled “21 Question Tag – The Korean Learner Version”. I enjoyed reading her answers and have adapted it for Japanese learners! If you choose to do the tag, please credit and link to her page! I’d also love it if you linked your post in a comment, because I’d be very interested to read it. Here we go!

1. Why Japanese?

I’ve answered this question at length in this blog before, but the short answer: completely different from the 2 languages I grew up speaking, easy pronunciation, great entertainment and fascinating culture.

2 . Favorite Japanese dictionary?

Jisho.org

3. First website that you visit everyday?

I’m assuming this question was referring to a site related to the language you’re learning? If so, that would be r/LearnJapanese.

Continue reading

Posted in Japanese Study | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

J-Drama Review: From Five to Nine (Goji Kara Kuji Made)

from_five_to_nine-p1

Aside from watching Itazura Na Kiss 2 early in the year, I’ve taken a fairly long hiatus from the J-drama world. After my Japanese tutor prescribed J-dramas for familiarity with the flow of the language, I happily obliged and went out on a hunt for new dramas. This is one that was recommended to me by a twitter follower. I think Ishihara Satomi is the cutest thing alive, so my interest was peaked. I was initially turned off, but it turned out to be a really cute and entertaining story!

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Year: 2015

Starring: Ishihara Satomi as Sakuraba Junko and Yamashita Tomohisa as Hoshikawa Takane

Continue reading

Posted in Dramas | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Anime Review: Michiko to Hatchin (Michiko and Hatchin)

mich to hatch

So… this is my first attempt at reviewing an anime. I’m not an avid watcher of anime, but I fell in love with this one hard. I was inspired enough to try and spread the love with a review. I’ve tried my best to keep spoilers out. Ah, and this blog is dedicated to Japanese learning, so of course this review is for the sub. However, I think my opinions would still apply to the dub. Enjoy!

Genre: Josei, Action

Year: 2008

Starring: Yoko Maki as Michiko Malandro, Suzuka Ogo as Hatchin Morenos

Continue reading

Posted in Anime, Reviews | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment