1-year update on how I turned Japanese learning into an alternative art education

It’s been more than a year since I first took Japanese learning seriously and I’m amazed that I haven’t given up. I’m not fluent yet but I understand it better and better and I think I’ll publish 1-year updates on my progress in learning this difficult language.
I’m now somewhere between an absolute beginner and someone at an intermediate level. During this last year, there are two things I changed about my Japanese learning routine:
1. I used exams as a way to set up artificial deadlines even if I don’t count on those certificates to be useful on my resume. I don’t have any English language certificate but that hasn’t stopped me from using this language every day, in former jobs included. I only recently got a medical translation EN-RO/RO-EN certificate that proved its utility and if things go well, I’d like to apply for a similar certificate to translate from Japanese into Romanian in the art field only. I haven’t forgotten that I learn Japanese mainly to develop as an artist but I’d still like to try JP-RO art translation as a side hustle in a couple of years.
2. I didn’t read much in Japanese as I initially planned to but I kept on using Japanese to search for art on Pinterest using niche terms. The search results were so different from what I obtained with English only and it provided an impetus to keep on learning.

This year I had my first public speaking in Japanese in a local contest where I was allowed to pick my own theme. I talked about how different Japanese aesthetics is, how that impacted its traditional arts and crafts and how that made me finally learn this language. Actually talking about it is an exaggeration because I was so nervous that I mostly ended up reading my presentation but it was still a worthwhile experience and I’d like to participate again next year. Each contest participant had to answer one or two questions from a person in the jury depending on whether they participated as beginning or medium level speakers. The question that I received was what is my favorite Japanese art and the answer I spontaneously gave that woman helped me in crystallizing how the seashell book series will turn out, a project that I’ve been working on since 2.5 years and which took so much of my time that I didn’t even blog that much over here.

I always thought I like way too many Japanese arts but during that day on the scene, I spontaneously answered that my favorite one is Ikebana. It is sculptural. It can be mixed and matched with many other art forms like poetry (a genre that nowadays dominates my writing since I gave birth last year). It can also stand on its own without any other decoration and the classical form made from living plants only is a changing artwork unlike static stone sculptures. I also like the philosophy behind it as by using plants in different stages of life and by observing the same arrangement at different times of the day and on different days as it starts to dry out, one has an overview regarding the cycle of life and death. This is so much deeper than a boring, symmetrical bouquet of flowers.

Following this contest, I spontaneously enrolled in a Japanese course on Ikebana. It was and it still is held by the Japan Foundation. It’s free online and it combines Ikebana terminology with Japanese learning for beginners. Getting a completion certificate in the end was nice but more than this, being able to search for specific Ikebana terms by using Japanese jargon was awesome.

Last year I mentioned that I started learning this language as an alternative art education and the way this experience has directed my art was surprising. Too bad I don’t update this blog that often as I’m too focused on finishing that seashell book series. I love making art more than I love writing about it. Still, compared to the first blog post I wrote here, my art changed so much. I even wondered if I should change the site’s domain but I’ll take a decision once the book series will be finished, if not published.

Meanwhile, other exams I took and passed were JLPT N5 last December and JCAT this June. I set out to register to the JLPT every December (it’s held only once per year in Romania) and on JCAT every June so that I have two big deadlines per year to keep up with. I doubt a passed JLPT level below level N3 or even N2 could be useful at something or worth mentioning but the steepest learning curve is in the beginning and it helps so much with motivation. This year I’ll register for N4 and knowing that the exam will be here sooner than later, already made me increase the time I allocate to this language.

Yet on most hectic days, I only keep up with the streak on Duolingo and the one on Clozemaster which sums up my learning to 5 minutes per day. I thought this only allows me to maintain what I already learned but to my surprise, I progressed a bit as I received 120 points this summer after passing JCAT, a score that corresponds to a level between absolute beginner (JLPT N5) and medium learner (JLPT N4).

Other than this, I continued to play a bit with the JA Sensei app which is still awesome for practicing Kana, Kanji and vocabulary. It also has some lessons and audio quizzes but since those demand more focused time, I admit I neglected them lately. And since December will be here soon for the next JLPT level, I also started using a JLPT practice app again. I tried many of these last year, but the only one that stuck was this one.

Although during my last blog post, I thought about using italki to schedule lessons every two weeks, I ended up rarely using it because it is so difficult to schedule uninterrupted time. I ended up scheduling lessons before the Japanese public speaking contest and before the JLPT exam. Other than this, it is much easier to use apps on my phone during my downtime. Learning Japanese is a long-term investment in my personal development and it’s too easy to get distracted on hectic days. I find that mobile apps where I don’t have to wait on anybody else’s schedule help the most with keeping this daily habit.

Even if I use all these resources to improve my Japanese understanding and speaking/writing, I still love to follow up on new products and services to hack my learning on this awesome blog dedicated to Japanese learning only. Time is so scarce and Japanese is so different from everything I learned beforehand that I’m willing to try just about anything to speed up and become fluent in it, at least in the art field. Maybe when I’ll have more uninterrupted time slots I’ll even give virtual reality a try. Maybe.

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