Nihongo Jouzn't: Learning Something Daily

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Kamora Millan
October 30, 2023

Hello Once Again!

It's good to be writing again, and I hope everyone who's reading is doing well! Today I will be giving some pointers and realizations I have had with learning Japanese since arriving a few months back. I've modified a few of my methods but of course those changes have only enriched my understanding of the language and the culture together. As a quick aside before jumping into the main stuff, I wanted to mention just how surreal it is that I've been making my strides here in Japan, as coming to this country was always a far off dream of mine since childhood. Even though it's about halfway through the semester its finally settling in that I'm genuinely here and that there is so much going on everyday that perhaps I had a bit of a delayed response to it all. But I'm here—! And learning Japanese for me has been a really fun journey so far, definitely something I wish to continue doing in the future. I've always had a deep passion for learning about different cultures, and since languages are deeply interconnected with ones culture it was only natural to me to analyze everything I could about it. Different inflections and their meanings, how particular intonations in words are suppose to sound, along with a handful of other observations that I shall probably talk about cyclically like a hot dog in a 7/11. Ready? Alright let's talk how I've found joy in all of this.

Everything and Anything can be a Lesson

First things first let's talk about immersion. What does it mean when someone says to "Immerse yourself in a language"? To me, it means to try to absorb information from every conceivable outlet, no matter where the info came from.  And I'm not saying this to be reckless but rather saying this to allow yourself to diversify where your information comes from in terms of learning a language. For example, watching the news. I don't understand most of the words I see on a screen; however, I will pick out a few kanji and write them down if I keep seeing them around which is what I did with the word 天気 (てんき/tenki/weather). So now whenever I see those characters right next to each other I know it means "weather" and that stays in my brain through repetition of seeing it all the time since it's there everyday. Other places I've looked for some quick learning are from signs I keep seeing around, the labels on the sides of different food and drinks, listening to songs and looking up the lyrics, watching/ listening to anime or dramas—just every possible moment to learn a new word I will try to in order to just add to the cloud of knowledge I'm trying to cultivate. 

To be fair, I did not start out with this method entirely as before coming to Japan I studied by myself for the summer to try and familiarize myself with the language? I did it in such a way that most of the things I learned went right out my head, but at least it helped me tighten up my handwriting a bit! Everyday for about three months I would find ten kanji and write them down ten times each with all of their pronunciations because I didn't know a better way to study, so that was my routine. Filled up a few notebooks of me just methodically writing out kanji but it didn't really accomplish much because some pronunciations simply do not  appear all that often. It's much better to think of kanji as building blocks that keep stacking upon one another the more complicated they begin getting later on, or at least that's what I think.  Now I believe it is much more lucrative to learn words and then the kanji in them? And draw upon similarities when learning a few more words. For example one that I realized was the 気 in 天気 is also in the word 元気(げんき/genki) which can mean a bunch of things but usually means like "healthy" or "well" or "vigor" depending on the context. That same character is also used for 人気(にんき/ninki/popular) so yeah my point is learning the words and their pronunciations is better than going through the grind I went through.

Balance your Understanding 

It is important while learning a language to balance exactly what you're learning in terms of actual content: Reading, writing, listening, speaking and then sprinkle all of that with cultural comprehension as well since it will help in the long run. Another aspect I employ would be translation ability since I have a bit of a knack for trying to connect words back in forth in order to teach others since I personally get enjoyment out of it . But just focusing on one of these aspects will leave your full understanding of a language a bit lopsided which isn't necessarily bad however if you're aiming for fluency at least a decent amount of all of these will probably be required. For me, I would say that in this point and time my strong suite is speaking/listening since I have been making a point to try and use as many words and phrases in Japanese as humanly possible— but also listening to native speakers so I can improve my own pronunciations and intonations. By listening to other people talking I can sort of discern how to use certain words or the contexts of using certain words although if asked to write it out I would probably crumble on the spot. The moments I feel myself shine are when I am attempting to translate something from one language to another while with a group of people, since it always feels amazing when the puzzle pieces click and it makes sense both ways. 

Translation is certainly a tricky thing to get the hang of since between English and Japanese specifically, some things just don't have a clean translation without sounding strange in either language. An example (I know I'm full of these today) would be the phrase "つまらないものですが" which if directly translated means "This is boring but..." and is used when giving a gift to someone. Now, this direct translation can come off as a little strange since the thought "Why would you admit to giving me something boring?" may come to mind. Hence why having a some finesse when translating makes it more understandable. I would translate this as "It's nothing much but..." since that is a more commonly used phrase in English that holds the same weight as the phrase in Japanese in the exact same context. This is why sometimes if you attempt to use a translator between the two languages the phrases and words don't come out right, since they tend to translate the literal translation without any sort of cultural or contextual influence. So yeah, I'll keep working on my Japanese so I can translate between the two more fluently. And yes, the joke of me getting good enough to watch anime without subtitles may be a reality if you give me ten more years—

Rapid Fire Experience Time—!

It is once again time for me to wrap up this entry, but of course I have to cap it off with a bullet point list of different things that have occurred in my day to day! Like I said every day something occurs that I could genuinely talk about and analyze for pages, but I'll just give you guys the abridged version here:

It has occurred to me that I had no idea what a persimmon was as a fruit? I just assumed it was a strange orange because of the color but it really isn't—It tastes like a cantaloupe and I recommend it to everyone since they are quite tasty!

  • I had a moment on the bus where I saw an older lady getting on and I gave up my seat (I typically always do) but she thanked me in the most wholesome and heartwarming way that just made me hope that if my grandma was on the bus that someone would give up their seat for them if they could, you know? Give a little hope in the world from something tiny.
  • One of my favorite facts that shocks everyone every time is that the word in Japanese for bread is パン but in Spanish it is the same thing--pan. And in a few other languages too its really similar, so its always fun to point that out to people.
  • It has started getting cold here! After having those tricky days of being cold in the morning and the night yet being hot during the day, we are now experiencing a constant chill all day which is...Well I prefer the heat personally—I've gotten kinda okay at Dancerush Stardom and the few times I've played in Akihabara a crowd has formed to watch me play? Not too big but still a group of people regardless and I felt popular—I finally got an entertainment pass too so I'll be saving my scores from now on, but every time I think I did great I'll see some random Japanese person going absolutely killer on that machine and I just think "Dang...I wanna get that smooth with it" 
  • I have discovered that I really enjoy クジラ which is whale and has shocked literally every single person I have told. It is way too tasty and I want to order some more next time I get the chance! (I'll probably talk more about this another time since it may come as a bit of a curveball at the end here~)

Alright that's a nice way to round out this edition of ranting about things I have learned about Japanese. Although it seems daunting, honestly I enjoy learning this language, and I've had a ton of fun doing it both inside and outside of class. Perhaps its just a me thing, but it is super fulfilling when I'm out in the world and I can ask a question or hold a conversation for longer than three seconds without fumbling. With that being said, to my fellow language studiers, try to make it enjoyable for yourself okay? Everyone's method is different, so play around with it and find what works for you. With that being said, bye bye, Adiós and じゃね~!

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Kamora Millan

I am an extroverted, amicable and overall goofy nerd who loves throwing herself in the deep end and coming back to tell the tale of how I did it! I love anything about culture, history and languages. I try to write for your enjoyment~

2023 Fall
Home University:
Southwestern University
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