Learning Japanese: 9 Month Update

What I did, and didn’t do, in the last 6 months of learning Japanese during COVID-19.

When I last updated in April, I was still struggling to learn Hiragana, getting increasingly frustrated with Pimsleur, and wondering where I should take my Japanese study next. It was just the beginning of COVID-19 lockdowns, and who could have expected that we’d still be hunkering down, living mostly monastic-style lives divided neatly between work, chores, reading/studying, light entertainment at home, the occasional fancy meal, and bed?

No, I have not had much of a social live these last 6 months. But I’ve also stayed safe, and healthy, and managed to get into some pretty decent routines with my studying and some other aspects of life that I’ll get into later…

To start, I’ve been taking it slow. At first, no more than an hour per day. In April or May, I did start meeting with an italki tutor, Matsui, and together, we worked through the first 5 lessons of Minna No Nihongo, the book series pictured above. It’s quite a bit different than Genki, which I’d failed to guide myself through in the past – feels more serious and deeper, yet also slower. Gradually, I’ve managed to get the fundamental grammatical structures ingrained in my mind. Some examples of such:


If I’m being honest, the grammar comes easier than the vocabulary. Since the same patterns show up again and again, it’s easy to remember them lesson after lesson. What’s harder is remember than in lesson 2 you learned how to say “cafeteria” in lesson 2 (しよくどう)when I am never going to say that word again. If someone knew of a good way to internalize vocabulary without having to resort to endless flashcard drills and SRS, I would love to hear about it.

And then, nothing…

Despite my every intention, my studying came to a halt in mid-June. Why? Without getting too personal, let’s just say a new family addition arrived quite unexpectedly early and has demanded almost all of my attention since 🙂

For awhile, I just stopped. Not just Japanese, but everything – playing music, maintaining my Mandarin, etc. But, life goes on, and I’ve always known that learning languages, like any major undertaking, is a marathon, not a sprint. Everyone’s life is different, and some people have more time to study than others. From June until the end of July, I did nothing except for work on getting acclimated to my new role in life. Then I took a step back, and reconsidered – was learning Japanese something I still wanted? At this point, quitting would be so easy. I considered it some more, and thought I was ready to let Japanese go. Then, one day, I was watching one of the Showa Godzilla films that are now gloriously part of the Criterion Network, baby on lap. Unexpectedly, I realized that I was hearing things I knew – not full sentences, but words, and grammatical patterns. Ah, so it was working… I thought to myself. How great it would be if I could understand more. And that’s when I decided I wanted to continue.

I’ve been guiding myself since, just making a little bit of a time – I would say, a half hour, on most days, to work through Minna no Nihongo solo, often resorting to just copying the textbook and workbook component in full before spending a session or two dedicated to the listening portion. Before the end of the year, I hope to report that I’ve made it to lesson ten. And when I feel comfortable enough, I may start back up with Matsui, if he’s still out there. But for now, I’m just doing what I can, working through the material as my own life allows. I am progressing, at a pace that feels comfortable for me, and without neglecting other aspects of my life. And that feels good.

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