Learning Japanese: Week 1 Recap


Note: This is not an advertisement for Pimsleur, there’s just no better image to summarize my first full week of learning Japanese.

So far… It feels like I’ve already been at this a long time! And yet, I really, really haven’t. I’m tempted to demonstrate some mark of progress, some superficial accomplishment, something for the gram as the kids say, and yet I will refrain from this. The purpose of this blog is not to craft some gilded image of my own progress or lack thereof. Rather, I’m hoping to just keep an honest record for myself and any others who may be interested. As my method to learning Japanese develops over the subsequent weeks, I hope that others will benefit from my successes and failures.

What’s Going Well

I’ve made it through 9 of these courses, so I guess that puts me nearly through 6% of the program.  The initial goal was to not break the chain, to get myself into the habit of doing Pimsleur every single day, being able to make that daily 30 minute commitment. I’ve found that I’m often willing to exceed that commitment. If I don’t feel confident with a lesson, I will spend extra time reviewing – thankfully, the app version I’m subscribed to has a lot of different review tools, such as games, quizzes, and flashcards, so listening to the entirety of the episode again is not required. I’ve picked up a few useful words and phrases: at this point, I can introduce myself, ask for directions, comment on the weather, order drinks, say thanks/no thanks.  It’s a start!

Lessons Learned

I am thinking that maybe I should not do Pimsleur at the gym, or driving, or while doing dishes, or while cooking… Theoretically, and maybe based on the marketing, you can do all of this, but should you? Tepidly, I say “no”. I am finding that the best way to do the Pimsluer  courses is to sit somewhere quiet, shut your eyes, and take it all in. It is when I’m fully focused on responding to the recordings that I am at my best.

Also, the people in the recordings talk fast – they enunciate clearly, but they stick to regular talking speed – this is different from (non-Pimsleur) methods I tried when I was learning Mandarin, where the initial voice recordings were painfully slow and the language always felt truncated. I think this is for the best. As I’ve said in the previous entry, my listening comprehension has always lagged far beyond my literacy in Mandarin, and while I attribute that partly to my own bad habits in those initial years of study, the lack of good listening materials available even one decade ago also deserves blame.

Anyway, because of this (and I don’t know if this is advised or not), I’ve decided that it’s OK to pause the recording to give myself time to think and formulate a response. This is helpful, and makes it feel like I have more input and engagement with Pimsleur, even when the lesson is going over my head. At the very least, the moments when I can’t keep up with the content feel more engaging, and less like I’m being trampled.

Other Observations

Articles are a weakness thus far, but I think I’m slowly picking up (or at least telling myself that). In Japanese, articles seem to often come at the end of nouns or before verbs, and thus far Pimsleur hasn’t spent an abundance of time explaining why certain words use one article while others might use another. But, for now, I’m trusting the system, and for the most part, the usage becomes more clear as the course guides to other examples (doko desu ka? [“where is?”] and doko de? [“where at?”] serving as my most recent distinction conquest). That said, it’s not all bad. The spoken language at least seems to have more in common with English than Chinese, probably due to Japanese just being a more adaptable language overall: I sighed with relief at “hoteru” (“hotel”), resutoran (“restaurant”), and biiru (“beer”).

Going Forward

The one thing on my mind right now is Hiragana and Katakana. At first, I thought I would have to explore that outside Pimsleur, but apparently (at least) Hiragana is covered in Lesson 30. I do not know if I will wait that long to dive in. At some point, I still do intend to move onto book learning, perhaps making Pimsleur a lesser component of my study – but not at least for a few more weeks. The Genki textbooks seem to be the most recommended, but I have to admit that I have not really thought too much about it yet.  I wonder if I could find someone reasonably qualified to guide me through it on Hellotalk?

This week studying Japanese has made me feel joy and excitement, but at times it has also made me feel overwhelmed, and anxious.At times I’ve felt tempted to break from my strategy and plunge into a wider world of learning, but patience and commitment to doing the foundational work upfront is key at this point. You have to learn to walk before you can run, and right now I am still building the habit, trying to maintain a level of engagement that feels productive but also healthy and respectful to life’s other commitments. As I have often heard, language acquisition is marathon, not a sprint.

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