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

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Two years and a half passed since I got back to learning Japanese after a 10-year gap during which I let the desire to speak and write fluently in this language to simmer quietly in my brain. As I wrote in the first post from this series of updates (link here), my sense of aesthetic is very influenced by the Japanese culture and I expect to progress as an artist and designer once I’ll be able to dive into this kind of art without the shackles of English.

After almost 4 grueling years in which I focused to create the Diamond Dust (Poems From the Black Sea) series of books, I can finally relax having published it and increase the time I spend learning and using Japanese every day. What I started doing differently now is reading easy Japanese texts. As long as I can use the crutch of furigana, I find it a lot of fun to read in this language.

I was already practicing reading in Japanese by making a habit of searching art keywords on Pinterest in this language, yet reading whole sentences makes the retention of the little Japanese I know a lot more lasting, it seems.

As life went on, a pandemic swept throughout the world and the way I continued to practice Japanese every day changed, but my motivation for one day becoming fluent in it did not wane.

My staples in learning it are still mobile apps. During the lockdown, I have stopped using Clozemaster but I have continued using Duolingo and JA Sensei.

Duolingo is very good for the ease with which a streak can be maintained so I have no excuse of not using some Japanese every day, no matter how busy and tired I may be. Meanwhile, Duolingo added a lot more lessons for Japanese which should be the equivalent of JLPT N4 by now, if the whole tree is finished (which is not my case yet). Duolingo also added a separate tab for learning hiragana and katakana. I already knew these from the usual Japanese course there, but I found the ease of learning how to write these better than on any other app I used and this time I finally found a way to use those Duolingo lingots (now called gems) by skipping levels when rehearsing lessons until I reach Level 5, the maximum one.

I also tried the Premium version in August: I didn’t find the offline lessons useful as they’d only clutter my phone’s memory. It was nice to do progress quizzes from time to time, but that’s about it.

Clozemaster seemed to reset the streak at the same hour each day, with no possibility of extending the streak if I happened to do the exercises in the early morning one day and late at night during the next day. This and the app lacking some visual crutch for the exercises (no images, old graphics) made me just uninstall it.

JA Sensei is still something that I use – I wish it had a streak to motivate me even more (it has some notifications now). Even here I changed the way I use the app, having downloaded the vocabulary from JLPT 1-5 and regularly reviewing and learning new words. Initially I decided to first learn the JLPT 5 vocabulary, then 4 and so on, but I noticed there were words I already knew from the upper levels and it would have been a pity to not review them as well. Nowadays I also rehearse pronunciation by using speech recognition when learning the JLPT vocabulary and I do my best to learn 10 new words per day and review a set of 30 words x 5 JLPT levels per day. For a while, I did phrase quizzes and kanji radical quizzes as well. Those kanji radical quizzes were extremely useful to guess the meaning of any kanji I may stumble upon and to search for the meaning of a kanji by using a print dictionary. The audio parts were also useful in getting used with Japanese sentences instead of words only, but for the moment, I focus on increasing my vocabulary with this app as preparation for heavier reading in printed Japanese where I may not understand the whole word, but I could guess some meaning if I saw the kanji side by side.

An app which I didn’t quit, but just put on hold is italki. I found it very cumbersome to schedule lessons and a lot easier to learn on the go with Duolingo and JA Sensei whenever I had some free minutes. Yet I admit the live feedback I received from the lessons there made the app worthwhile, just not on a daily basis as the other two.

A new resource I found is a website called supernative.tv with bits of Japanese from movies used as quizzes, including ones where the response was given by speech in order to practice talking in Japanese too. I don’t use this every day because it works better on the laptop than on the phone.

Video is my least liked format in which to learn, so forgive me if the idea of turning subtitles on in Japanese or English and improving my Japanese vocabulary this way is an idea that came to me so late.

The Covid-19 pandemic changed my plans about yearly JLPT testing which was canceled where I live. I was under the false impression that I could always just test myself with JCAT online, but it seems this test only works on tablets now. It’s also not free anymore, although if it worked seamlessly like last year, I would have paid for it.

As inspired by my child who is just learning her first words, I tried a couple of Japanese apps for toddlers learning this language. They are all in hiragana and katakana and the words are quite easy, but a lot of fun to use and easy to remember through the instant feedback I get from these toddler games. Inspired also by my child who learns a lot from music, I listen to Japanese songs from time to time, reading the lyrics on the screen, like this one I particularly like:

Ideas for the future include trying a laptop with a Japanese keyboard and operating system and also using VR and AR to force me to talk in Japanese, but in the meantime, my goal in the near future is to develop a habit of not only using Japanese every day (the easiest way is to just maintain my Duolingo streak and I already do that), but to read sentences every day.

Here are some resources I use for that:

Wikipedia in Japanese

MATCHA-JP.com/easy

This list of Japanese reading practice websites from TeamJapanese

I now reached a point where I make daily use of Japanese and for the first time in my life, I think I’m on the right path to become fluent in it. This doesn’t mean I don’t look for additional hacks to learn it even faster. If you know of any such resource for learning Japanese or learning a foreign language in general, I’d love to hear it!

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