Well, it’s certainly been a while, hasn’t it? I can hardly remember what I spewed in my last post, but I’m fairly sure most of my plans came to a fizzle, anyway. Since then, I haven’t done a lot of reading, certainly very little studying, and next to no output, so I’ve managed to accumulate a pretty hefty layer of rust. On the other hand, I have been keeping up with my watching (thanks in no small part to an especially strong Spring animu season), so my listening has definitely improved and I don’t feel entirely lost.
Buuut, yeah – I’ve been slacking pretty hard since October, more or less, and it’s taken its toll. The past several months haven’t been especially kind to me, and despite what some may preach (and believe me, I wish it were so), it’s not always possible to keep up the immersion or study of a foreign language amidst real life crisis. I’ve done my best to maintain what I’ve built up, but frustratingly, I need to do a heck of a lot in all aspects of the language (reading, listening, output), regularly, or I will see setbacks. It’s never easy to come to grips with the fact that you’ve lost the ability to read a significant chunk of words and kanji you had little problem with only half a year ago, but I always take comfort in knowing that these things are many, many times easier to “relearn” the second time around; typically, a few weeks of intensive study and immersion will get me damn near back to the level I was at before, and I’m just about in the middle of that intensive period now.
A few weeks ago, I made a decision which I knew would force me to get back on track, and stay there. I’d been toying with the idea of taking the JLPT for some time now, but the closest test site was all the way in Atlanta, Georgia, which isn’t exactly a trivial distance from where I am in the murky bayou of Louisiana. Maybe one day, when I was ready, I’d make a road trip of sorts for it? Just for laughs, I decided to poke through the dates and locations of this year’s test sites, and something caught my eye: Houston, Texas? Now we’re talkin’ – roughly a four hour drive from here, compared to the nine and a half to reach Atlanta.
And so, the gears in my head began working… What if I were to apply for, and take, JLPT N1 in December? Certainly I’d have my work cut out for me; I’d felt quite comfortable with N2 practice tests the last time I tried, but N1 was another story entirely, mostly due to its huge variety of vocabulary and kanji (not to mention the dreaded listening section, still far from my strong point). But I’m the kind of person who tends to work best with a deadline on the horizon, just enough pressure to keep pushing me forward. By December, I’d have just crossed my fifth year of studying Japanese – wouldn’t it be cool to earn my JLPT wings* then? *(Putting aside the question of whether the JLPT is worth taking – I understand many of the criticisms, but for me as an aspiring translator and guy-without-college-credentials, I believe it is well worth it)
So I’ma do it.
This means I’ll have to spend a huge amount of time with the language again, like I did back in my glory days, but barring apocalyptic events, I have every intention of doing just that and ultimately, passing this mutha. My techniques won’t be anything terribly revolutionary, since I know what works for me – mostly drilling grammar sentences in Anki, the daily grinding of words and kanji in Read The Kanji (an excellent service which I highly recommend, by the way), perhaps the creation of another sentences deck in Anki made up of content from various literature (more on that later) and (most of all) as much reading and listening as I can possibly squeeze into a single day, every day. Shit is gonna go down, son.
Just a note on study methods and so forth: I’ve tried a lot of radically different things, and quite frankly, didn’t think much of them. MCDs are a good example – I liked how simple and straightforward creating these cards generally was, but I just never saw the appeal over regular ol’ sentences. Another thing was “ignoring grammar” which is a fairly loaded and largely misunderstood argument in itself, since no one truly “ignores” grammar, and “studying grammar” can mean about a thousand different things. But without taking the time to review grammar sentences, I can guarantee that I’d be much worse off. Take, also, the subject of output – many input-based approaches discourage speaking and writing until some magical point in time when you’re suddenly “ready” to do so, free of errors which will inevitably haunt you for life and so on and so forth. Taking a line from Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek, “My God. Pure ideology! My God.” Quite honestly, I’m not interested in the “method” anymore – it’s either do, or don’t, and the endless spew of language learning dogma is something I’m glad to be free of. Amen.
Oh, hey, one last thing. I recently dropped a few bucks (okay, maybe a little more) on a study device which I believe has been instrumental in nudging me back on track, and has pretty much transformed the way I study (and I just got done talking about how I’m going about things in a straightforward, not-so-radical manner – but bear with me!). As I believe I mentioned before, I got my first smartphone not long ago – not the fanciest of models, but more than enough to get the job done, and Anki on the go has been tremendously cool. Still, it’s not the ideal tool for reading, or typing, or pretty much anything that requires a screen larger than… well, that of a phone. That pointed me in the direction of tablets, one thing led to another, and now my iPad is basically my new favorite thing, and here’s why.
With a tablet, I find it so much easier to focus on one, single task at a time. I have the freedom to move where I want to, free of distractions and to my comfort (I can sit, lay down, stand – whatever I feel like), and the nature of a tablet means that multitasking isn’t as simple as simply seeing a long row of buttons on my task bar, each of them a siren’s call for my mouse cursor. Heck, I don’t even have Twitter enabled on this thing – my focus is simply on the one browser page in which I’m cramming my way through Read the Kanji (where typing usually doesn’t result in a train wreck!), or on that Anki deck, or that 青空文庫 book, or visual novel (many of which have been ported to iOS; much fewer to Android, but things are beginning to pick up on that front) or manga, or video or audio I’m streaming from my PC – without the temptation to check Twitter, or IRC and IMs, or my RSS feeds. And there’s something wonderfully immersive about holding a screen that’s a literal goddamn computer just a foot from your face, I ain’t gonna lie. And in the case of iPad (and presumably, other iOS 5 compatible devices), it also includes a godly popup dictionary which can be set to E→J or J→J depending on your language settings, complete with example sentences. I could go on, but I’ll save that for another post one of these days.
With Google launching their $200 Nexus imminently, I think now is a fantastic time to score a tablet for the sake of studying. I’ll never forgive myself for that sales pitch. But I’m sincere in professing my love for this little (and admittedly expensive) badboy, and it truly has helped me retain my focus and momentum, and often times, makes studying fun again. I’ll also admit that, had I not been toying with the idea of travel in the near future, I probably would not have made the plunge, but make of that what thou whilst.
So, yes, I’ve had a hard time these past several months, but that’s all becoming a distant memory now. I have goals in mind, and when that happens, few things can stand in my way. Perhaps 2012 will be my brightest year yet, and I see no reason why actual fluency can’t follow soon after. What is this strange feeling – optimism? It’s been a while, old friend of mine.