Chapter 7: English and the global perspective
Taking on the challenge of learning a whole new language can be quite difficult, especially if all you have managed to get is a C average grade in high school English class. So, when I set out to learn Japanese completely on my own a couple of years ago the chance of success was and still is very low. I have always been intrigued by learning another language, but I have always just been thrown into Spanish classes which are fun and all, but I was never able to grasp it. Even after ten years of taking Spanish in school I still cannot say a single sentence in Spanish. The reasoning might be tied to my struggles of comprehending different languages or Spanish might just not be an interest for me. Recently however, I have found a deep fondness for the Japanese language and writing as well as the cultures behind it. So I decided to take some steps to try and learn it. My methods for learning the Japanese language have been a struggle as I have tried to learn it through anime subtitles, an app called Duolingo, watching random videos, and a small portion from manga.
To start things off with what caused me to become so wrapped up in everything Japanese was when I watched my first anime. From the moment I first laid my eyes on the intriguing new art style I was hooked instantly. However, from the start I have always wanted to watch anime the way it was intended to, so that means it is time to turn on subtitles as each show is completely spoken in Japanese. From reading the subtitles to then interpreting the animations to go along with them, watching the anime presents some challenges for the viewer as the show must be perceived with mainly the eyes. Whereas if the viewer was able to understand the language spoken in the anime then they could offload some of the content consuming to the ears which would split the jobs for the brain and thereby make it easier to comprehend. This was the first thought that popped into my head while I was watching the anime “Nisekoi” and since then has started me down the path of wanting to learn Japanese. Just watching subtitled anime has not been a great way for me to learn Japanese though as two years later I only know a couple extremely common phrases for example one is はい (pronounced hai) which means yes or another こんにちは (pronounced Kon’nichiwa) which means hello. I created the graphic below to show some of the very common words and kanji that I currently am able to recognize. It shows the Japanese kanji form of the word on top and the English translation of the words underneath.
The one phrase I learned from anime that has stuck with me the most however is ごめんなさい (pronounced Gomen’nasai) which from what I know from just anime subtitles means sorry. However I only learned the pronunciations of those phrases, not the symbols themselves. For that it is time to switch to how I was able to take some steps in learning the kanji.
Cue Duolingo, which at the time my Spanish teacher was having me use to complete lessons on it so I thought it would be a suitable app/website to use for broadening my knowledge of Japanese. I remember when I first got ready to try it, I was all excited and ready to learn. I opened the top lesson and then I realized the task of learning the symbols would have to be done first in order to grasp it in full. Those symbols according to Duolingo are known as hiragana, which is a part of the Japanese writing system. Theres also katakana which I have not been able to get into yet. My adventures with the app have been very hit and miss over my time trying to use it. One of my main concerns about why I do not believe the app is doing a good job teaching is because for a lot of the questions you can just click on the words to see a translation. That would cause me to end up cheating on the answers to some of the questions which led to me not retaining the information as much. However as much as my experiences stated so far shed the app in a bad light, while writing this I would periodically take breaks to do some lessons and as they progress it stops letting you see the answers. The app has proven to work to at least some degree as even after a break of a couple months I was still able to recognize some of the kanji I previously learned. The reason for the break though is the main reason why Duolingo or any other self-taught method will not work for me. I possess a very fragile attention span due to my ADHD which causes me to lose focus when the tasks get too repetitive. Which is also one of the main reasons I struggle with online schooling as well. Even so, after I completed my first few lessons all I wanted to do was show off and set up my keyboard to be able to type in Japanese kanji.
At that moment everything I was working on at the time was dropped to get my keyboard set up and ready to go. The prosses was relatively simple to do after a quick YouTube search and I was up and running in under fifteen minutes. An interesting fact that stuck out to me from the video was that most Japanese and English speakers will just use a normal qwerty keyboard to type in both as windows allows for an easy switch between the two. Ever since I watched that tutorial I would get more Japanese related content popping up in my recommended feed on YouTube. One video caught my eye randomly, it was a simple video just using google translate to sing the counting numbers in Japanese and making a song out of it. The song was very catchy. So catchy in fact that it made it so much easier to remember numbers. He has made a lot of videos in that style and he makes quite interesting content, so I have stuck with watching his videos. Another Japanese youtuber I got into watching has a massive collection of Japanese manga and of course I wanted to start a collection of my own which brings me to my last point.
One of my most recent methods of practicing Japanese has been looking through some of my manga books that are completely in Japanese and trying to recognize some of the kanji and phrases present. This method seems to be the most effective so far in allowing me to remember the kanji and improve my reading skills. At the time of writing however, I am still unable to recognize most of the book but I will continue to try and learn more kanji and eventually be able to read completely in Japanese. This will allow more manga and other Japanese only media to be available for my consumption.
There have been many methods that I have taken to allow me to progress in my abilities to comprehend Japanese literacy. These methods include watching anime to learn by listening to speech and picking up common phrases, learning by using Duolingo, browsing the internet, or just by trying to read manga in Japanese. These have all helped to improve my knowledge of the Japanese language and I hope to further continue my studies of the language elsewhere. It would be nice if I took an actual class on the subject, so I do not have to rely on myself to be able to learn on my own.