Learning Japanese: Month 3 Recap

In the past two months, I’ve struggled to find a method that really works for me. But two weeks into isolation, I’ve at least learned how to write the Hiragana from memory, and feel my sense of commitment renewed.

In my first month learning Japanese, I blogged extensively about my successes and frustrations using the Pimsleur app. I decided to abandon the app and its subscription fully after completing the first set of courses, once I was sure that it would never deliver the more holistic approach to learning a language that I crave: particularly, a solid literary component.

Upon quitting Pimsleur, I floundered. I tried Genki, but to no avail. I struggled to pick up and retain the vocabulary of even lesson one, because of one simple reason: I lacked a strong foundation of understanding Hiragana and Katakana. Genki doesn’t teach you Hiragana or Katakana, it just expects you to memorize it. I downloaded SRS apps designed for this very purpose, but it was to no avail. Even after sinking hours into these kinds of applications, I found myself able to recognize kana only in familiar contexts, but at a loss when it came to writing them out.

I need a tutor to teach it to me, I thought. Well, maybe. I headed back to Preply, where I currently have a great experience with a Mandarin tutor from Taiwan. I messaged with a few tutors, and many of them said the same thing, something along the lines of: “I’d be happy to meet with you, it’d be best if you learned the Hiragana first, though.”

It dawned on me. As a student of Japanese who is not at all content with only learning the spoken language and would like to spend at least an equal amount of time on the written forms, I was never going to be able to start learning Japanese until I learned Hiragana and Katakana. In retrospect, it seems so simple, but I was having trouble getting it through my own thick skull.

COVID-19 happened, and in either smart business planning or sheer luck, Udemy ran a sale. I said, “What the hell!” and bought this course for $10. While I was there, I bought a Pixel art course for $10 as well. What else am I supposed to do during the pandemic?

So… the Udemy Hiragana course is painstakingly slow. The teacher spends about 10 minutes per lesson going through each row of Hiragana, showing you how each of the individual Hiragana are pronounced, and then writing them out for you a couple of times. After the instructor completes a row, there are usually a five minute quiz where you must write out words the instructor speaks and then pronounce words she writes on the whiteboard.

Sounds excruciating to spend 10-20 minutes on just one row of Hiragana, but you know what? I paid for it, so I watched it all, following along with my own notebook, and taking the optional step of writing out the entirety of the Hiragana I had learned so far after each lesson… as it turns out, one week later, I can happily say that I know my Hiragana (just got to get better at those pesky voiced sound and p-sound alterations). Keeping them in my memory isn’t a problem, and doesn’t require an app, as it literally only takes like a minute or so to write them all down.

So, wow, I think I’ve accomplished setting that foundation, now I think I’ll go and book that Preply tutor 🙂

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