The One Month Experiment

First thing’s first. I definitely had an EPIC loss of motivation about two months ago. Depsite all my progress, me being able to read an entire manga, starting to understand a Japanese video game, and generally “Pwning” Kanji, I lost pretty much all my desire to learn Japanese. This is pretty big, considering how much effort I put into and how intensely I have blogged about my ups and downs in Japanese. The reason I completely fell off the wagon is a mix of things. One I am no longer in Japan, and I haven’t had much chance to interact with Japanese people. Two, practicing Japanese study intensely by yourself can drive you crazy if you have no way to use what you are learning. For me, I ended up feeling like it was a colossal waste of time and energy. So I shut off anki, stopped reading manga and just tried to forget about Japanese. But this wasn’t easy. I mean, I want to be able to speak Japanese and read it without much reference. But I knew I was missing only ONE or TWO key components when I was in my massive study mode.

  1. A person to speak to frequently, possibly each day, or at least a few days per week.
  2. An easy way to digest Japanese reading (i.e manga).

Number 2 isnt’ really an issue. All I really need is a tablet of some kind. (It is nigh impossible to buy manga in Jamaica much less anywhere outside of Japan).

But number one, that is the ULTIMATE thing a person learning Japanese needs.  See, as weird as I am in my approach to language study, and despite whatever barriers I crossed in terms of showing myself I could learn Kanji, studying hundreds of words in weeks and make massive progress, it is almost impossible to go any further without actively speaking and encountering what I call “grammatical hurdles”. I will briefly touch on this and then talk about the experiment.

The Conundrum of the Grammar Hurdle

When I was living in Japan (and decidedly less gung-ho about serious Japanese study), there are expressions I learned solidy because I had to use them everyday. Such as 豚肉をはいていますか?

Buta niko wo haite imasu ka? Is there pork in this?

I asked that question of course, because I don’t eat pork, and most meals in Japan have pork, so I had to ask that question a lot. That isn’t a major grammar hurdle. It does however, hold the essence of a “hurdle” which is to me simply:

Something I cannot communicate that I discover in the moment I need to communicate it.

But say I’m winging some basic conversation, and then I want to say…

“ yesterday I was riding my bicycle and listening to a linkin park album.” This is what I call a grammatical hurdle because say I know the basic vocabulary, but the sentence construction might be lost on me.

Presently, I can say something like… kinou, jitensha no itte no ji ni, linkurin Paruku no arubamu wo kite imashita.


I have to double check that to make sure its 100% correct, because my grammar isn’t so strong right now.  I remembered the first time I tried to say something like that, I was stuck because I didn’t know much about “ing” words, otherwise called Gerunds. So in that moment, I had to learn how to say stuff with “ing” in it. So generally if you are doing anything, it’s the verb+ ite+imasu.

音楽を聞いています。(ongaku wo kite imasu). I’m listening to music.

But this isn’t really a Japanese lesson. See, a very basic, Japanese conversation, even one lasting a few minutes, will be chock full of these hurdles. So I have this concept of “grammar armour” that you build as you are able to easily hop over certain hurdles in terms of explaining yourself in Japanese.

So what happens is that if you :

Speak with reasonable frequency, you will encounter dozens of palatable hurdles that you will begin to master through constant exposure.

So what’s the catch? Well, you need to actually have these conversations and get used to using grammar properly while learning new vocabulary. I wasn’t doing that really in Japan, and when I came back home and felt this renewed sense of myself and my Japanese goals, I wasn’t able to have them and it was ungodly frustrating.

I’ve checked before, and sometimes I hit say, 15 hurdles that make me have to think about what I’m saying, and sometimes I figure out how to use other vocabulary and expressions to get to what I’m saying.

So again, I wasn’t talking to anyone, studying tons and tons of Japanese with zero outlets… so I knew that me packing on two thousand or three thousand Japanese vocabulary words and having horrible grammar is a tricky step to take.

So… I got supremely frustrated because I knew what was holding me back and I felt a bit winded about progressing without adequate help, or a language partner.

Listening to hundreds of hours of Japanese helps to get a lot of what is going on, but the super processor called your brain connects in the dots in its own fashion. So while I might be able to watch some Japanese comedy, or even a TV show and laugh at certain point and not entirely understand what happened, the “gist”, it’s not technical enough to grow from. I would need to be using the grammar patterns i’m hearing in speech, then hear them again and again to really get things solid. This can only really happen through active speech.

So… here’s where the experiment comes in.


A friend of mine from Japan is coming to visit me for about ten days near the end of December. This friend happens to also be a qualified Japanese language teacher. I’ve had some pretty interesting conversations with her about language learning methods and though we differ on some points, she’s pretty cool. So she’ll be hanging with me… which means that for 10 days, I will have unrestricted access to a Japanese language teacher who is willing to speak to me often, explain grammar, language and talk to me about my weak points.

But the catch is that I haven’t done much Japanese revision in about eight weeks. So I haven’t done any writing, reading, or anki in almost two months. Luckily, there are several hundred Japanese words now stored in my long-term memory, but a buttload of them I need to refresh. So the experiment is to see:

Can I with my armour of vocabulary and a solid period of time with a Japanese friend who is a teacher, significantly take my speaking and grammatical understanding of Japanese to the next level?

This is the experiment. So my friend will come to Jamaica late December and leave maybe the 7th. It’s the 6th today, which means I will do about two weeks of revision and basic grammar practice, and then when she is here, I’ll chat tons of Japanese, work on grammar as much as possible, while attempting to reinforce vocabulary I already know. So this process will take one month.

I already started some anki revision today, and even though I haven’t studied anything in eight weeks I could easily read some long sentences with words like 解説 (kaisetsu/ solution)(which was one of the first words I learned in the Core 2000)

See, it would really suck if my friend came to Jamaica and I didn’t have my vocabulary base up to scratch to help me speak, because as I’ve said in a few blog posts before, if you have a massive vocabulary (or a decent one) you focus waaaaay less on what to say versus how to say it . This brings me back to the entire idea of massive grammar attacks in conversation. I found that if you know 1000, 2000 or more Japanese words, you will begin to read Japanese more smoothly, and you’ll be concerned more about grammar than knowing what 京都 (kyoto) is.

Despite how frustrated I get, a lot of Japanese people I meet say then when I speak its at a somewhat intermediate level. But I know that my active grammar is pretty weak. I also know that if I just had regular conversations I would be soooo much better. But as usual, I’m not going to sweat it. This time I have an opportunity to really get my Japanese up (grammar in particularly), and I have one month to do it.

There isn’t much I’ll be blogging about right now since I’m mostly going to be doing anki revisions, some Japanese writing here and there, and watching media to get back into the listening aspect of Japanese. But I’ll post whatever observations I make in my personal improvements as I try and speak as much Japanese as possible over that upcoming 10 day period.

Cheers for now.

About marcusbird

Writer, Designer, Filmmaker
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3 Responses to The One Month Experiment

  1. KAS says:

    Good Luck.

  2. Paul Nogas says:

    Good to hear you’re back in the game! is GREAT for working on improving grammar. Tae Kims was a good start. It helps you understand the basics. But only recently thorough Lang-8 have I found that I’ve finally started to start thinking in Japanese to make sentences rather than thinking of a sentence in English then trying to apply japanese grammar rules to translate it. (hopefully you know what I mean by that).

    • marcusbird says:

      Hey man hope you are well. I’m trying to stay motivated with this thing here to see where i takes me. I’m signed up for Lang-8 but i didn’t like it because I was getting way too many corrections on certain things, with different versions. It didn’t make me feel like I was getting anywhere honestly. I feel like when I get a better grasp on grammar and feel comfortable posting, then i might head back to it.

      In terms of thinking in Japanese, I know what you mean. I definitely think that comes from doing what you are doing, which is engaging people in Japanese, in writing or speaking. I find it a little easier to write Japanese than to speak it (which is weird) but I my goal is the mastery of some key grammatical elements so that I won’t be afraid of sites like lang-8.

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