The Progress as of May 2011

This is more of an autobiographical post than anything else, so if you could really care less about how I got from knowing nothing to being able to write small, boring paragraphs, go check out the other posts or something.

I’ve always had some sort of interest in Japan, for as far as I can remember. If we had to do a project about a country in school, I would always gravitate towards Japan. Maybe it all started with my love for the Pokémon franchise or the interest is embedded in my DNA. Either way, my interest in Japan exploded when I was in 6th grade. Some people might be frowning or rolling their eyes as this clichéd situation of how I became interested in Japan, but hey, it is what got me interested.

I was sitting in choir, waiting for the bell to ring for the class to start and I saw three girls reading books with similar covers. The girl on the front cover looked quite familiar – it was Sakura from Cardcaptors. I asked them if they were reading Cardcaptors, in which they replied “no”. After seeing the title being Cardcaptor Sakura: Master of the Clow, I knew they had more or less lied to me. I remembered the series from watching it on Kids WB after Pokémon aired. That night I dragged my mother out to Barnes & Noble and picked up the first volume. It took a while to get used to reading the format, but once I was used to it, I fell completely in love with manga. Reading Cardcaptor Sakura: The Master of the Clow was the key that unlocked my true interest in Japan, as well as unleashing an inner otaku that eventually got locked away, and happiness. It led me into watching familiar anime shows in Japanese (Sailor Moon, namely, and eventually Pokémon – I eventually watched series most people probably hadn’t heard of, cared for, or were really only popular on the Internet). With the new interest in anime and manga, I wanted to do something else – learn Japanese.

Between the explosion of my interest in Japan, and more prominently, anime & manga, and 2009, I scoured the Internet for words to build my vocabulary, for the most part. I did learn a few notable words/phrases from manga (the honorifics and baka to name a few) and anime. I bothered a few online friends to teach me – only one managed to teach me months and numbers. I checked for websites that would give me the resources I wanted to help me learn Japanese. I occasionally bought books from the bookstore that claimed they could teach me. My parents got me two dictionaries for Christmas one year. My mother also got me Rosette Stone as well one year.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t looking in the right places for websites that could have guided me into the right direction of learning Japanese. If I’m remembering correctly, a large majority of them were anime/manga-related. A few of them had word lists or a very brief introduction to Japanese. I learned words from these list, which in my mind, meant I was learning Japanese. I realize now that is an inaccurate statement and caused confusion among my classmates (who believed I had mastered the language or I knew a lot more than I really did). It would have been more accurate to say “I am highly interested in learning Japanese, so I am using all the sources I discover to build a vocabulary”.

All those websites failed to provide me with something I needed for learning Japanese – a structured lesson. I really didn’t know where to begin or what to start with. I wanted to be able to talk about things as much as I do in English, but I didn’t know where to start because I wanted to start in so many places. I didn’t stop striving to figure out a structure and ways to learn Japanese.

Eventually I found RealKana, in either 2008 or 2009. My memory is being horrible right now and refuses to tell me. I’m leaning towards 2008 though, because I recall telling my English teacher in 11th grade about learning what I’m about to tell you the year before (and 11th grade was the 2008 to 2009 school year, going by the American school years). It was a rare day that I was horribly longing to learn Japanese, to the point it was making me angry. Knowing I would have to learn how to write hiragana and katakana, as well as being jealous that my best friend at the time knew how to already and only knowing a few characters when I browsed through the manga I had in Japanese, made me want to go learn it. I can’t remember how I stumbled upon RealKana, but I’m extremely glad I did.

When I first started using it, I just selected one row of hiragana and the matching row of katakana, using trial and error to get the readings right. I gradually began adding in more until I got to the ta row. I had been going through Pocket Monsters Special volume 10 while learning the kana as a test for myself. It was beginning to frustrate me that I could read about half of it and not the other half. I eventually told myself screw it with the gradual additions of character rows and just selected them all (both hiragana and katakana). Within a few hours, I had learned all of it. Well, how to read it anyway. I constantly used the manga to test myself and continued to read it to make sure I didn’t forget kana.

It wasn’t until I transferred to an online school for my senior year (2009-2010 school year) that I seriously started studying Japanese. The first thing I did was learn how to write hiragana and katakana by using an application on my iPod Touch called iKana. I basically repeated the writing test over and over until I learned all of it.

For my Japanese class, they made us use Rosette Stone, which I was okay with until about the third or fourth lesson. Then I wanted to break my stupid screen. I could already start pointing out major flaws with the way the program was in the way of learning Japanese  (which I’ll write about in a later post). When I got into Japanese IIB, I approached my teacher and asked her if I could switch to a textbook instead. Since my school was awesome and allowed for personalized courses, I switched to the Genki textbook.

I had bought Genki I a few months back after reading about it somewhere online (though I don’t particularly remember where – maybe Tofugu perhaps?). I could tell right away that Genki was a great fit for me. It gave me a structured lesson flow that I’ve been longing for and grammar explanations in plain English.

Admittingly, I didn’t actually finish that course because I had to graduate, but I did continue on with my studies and using the Genki textbook. I contacted my teacher and asked if she did tutoring – turns out she did! I continued studying Japanese and had her correct my work, answer my questions, and explain things to me when I was confused or wrong.

My progress as of writing this entry isn’t really too far – I’m only in Lesson 6 of Genki I. You can blame most of that on laziness. I’m actually ashamed at myself for not being farther in the textbook. However, I want to make sure I know my vocabulary and grammar before I move on to the next lesson. Though, I started lesson 6 this week and I’m pretty sure I’ll be done with it later today or tomorrow.

I’m very excited to see how far I’ll be getting!

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