Reactivating the Japanese: Base and Build

Greetings all. Today I felt like writing a post on the process I will be using to get back into Japanese. About two months ago, I made a post talking about my French studies and ideas on happiness relative to language learning. I took a very long extended break from Japanese, mainly because I don’t use it often in Jamaica, where I am now. But i don’t want to lose the language either. I was often battling a lot of things mentally at once in this language pursuit, but as i noted in that aforementioned blog post, taking it easy is step one. Too much pressure makes things stressful, and stress is the motivation killer.

So what have I been doing?

Well, my French presently is at a passable upper-intermediate level. Unfortunately I still have no way to speak French everday with someone, but my written and spoken French are vastly improving. I am presently watching Death Note in French as well, and I’m watching it without subtitles and able to follow the storyline reasonably well. (It has been HARD to find French subs for the series, so I just gave up after a while). But I “field tested” my French with some French girls I met here, one of whom spoke to me almost entirely in French the whole night. Yes, this is a great reason to learn French.


I kept up reasonably well (crashing horribly in some instances) but it showed me that my skills in speaking are what needs work, not necessarily weak grammar.

So with Japanese, my plan was to ease back into it as I develop French. Now, the languages are very different, so they aren’t confusing. I’ve had enough experience with Japanese to strongly understand the nature of its structure. I’m using the Michel Thomas Japanese foundation course as a refresher for grammar. I’m calling this refresher activity BASE and BUILD. I’m currently in the BASE period, which looks like this:


Phase 1

12-15 hours, refresh lower to advanced level Japanese grammar

Phase 2

50-100 hours, through speech & conversation regain reasonable conversational skill with improved grammar power

Phase 3

3-6 weeks restore reading ability of Kanji through re-exposure + enhanced reading ability through improved grammar focus.

I call this BASE because in my approach with French I like the idea of massive grammar strength relative to vocabulary first because you can go headfirst into more situations with confidence as opposed to knowing a ton of words and not really knowing how to say what you are thinking. I find this makes for a more stress-free transition. In French after testing  BASE (learning grammar to a high level rapidly with the Michel Thomas Method) I found I navigate very tricky territory stuff like the stuff below after only 12-15 hours total exposure:

I would have said it to youHe wasn’t there so I didn’t tell him. 

je vous aurait dit / Il n’etait pas la donc je ne l’avait pas dit.

So, if you are able to construct sentences like these after 12 hours of exposure to a language, you can feel VERY confident as you move forward. Oh there will be many snags, and false starts and hiccups, but you won’t be lose in the haze you were previously, you will sort of be squinting as you move along, able to make out the road, with a heavy wind hitting your eyes. My French obviously isn’t fluent but i’m able to handle myself okay. With Japanese, what was interesting about my previous hardcore study phase was that I didn’t really focus much on grammar. I was doing massive immersion and sentence reading and focusing on grammar in context. What i noticed was that my vocabulary exploded, but my understanding of some basic grammar was still weak, which affected my reading (and eventually lead to stress). So this time, my focus will be on strengthening grammar through the refresh in the BASE period which will lead to FLUID READING.  ( more on that later)

Less Time, Less Stress.

Since the Michel Thomas course is a maximum of 12 hours, it’s not massive investment of time. I went through the basic course easily after 4 days, listening to it while i exercised. I’m glad I did, because even though it felt very slow, I added some roots to understanding the nuances of “ga” again.

車があります。彼は、電話があります。( as for a car, it exists. he has a phone.)

I was also refreshed on understanding and contrasting ですが (desu ga) for the use of “but”.

東京に行きたいですが、時間がありません。(toukyou ni ikitai desu ga, jikan ga arimasen)

I want to go to Tokyo, but I don’t have time. 

These little things are quite useful to understand properly. “GA” can be a little funky if you aren’t solid on it, but now I am. To me the basic course didn’t cover that much territory, just some light past tense and some very useful basic grammar, but during this BASE period, the idea is to lift grammar weights.  Because I’m familiar with many different conjugations already like how to informally speak, this is adding on to what I know. I’m hoping the program exposes several grammar patterns I haven’t had a chance to internalize strongly. Stuff like tame ni, tame no, kamo, nano ka, etc.  I “know” what they mean sometimes, or I can look up the meaning, but I want to get it without having to look anything up . (Again the power of a program that emphasizes “Don’t take notes!”)

The BUILD phase is mostly about a routine that involves media and an approach relative to whatever goals one wants. So BASE is just to get control and a handle on the language, BUILD is whatever methods (immersion, playing games, selected media, structured conversations and reading materials). I will think on it more and make a better post. I find this way of thinking presently is more functional for me.

A cool thing to note about Kanji, muscle memory and reading memorization is that most things you spend a significant period of time memorizing remain in the brain. Meaning, if you see Kanji you have already studied and “sort of” remember what it is, that means that you need a regulated series of frequent exposures to 100% remember it. This means that I spent a godawful bit of time learning 2,000+ Kanji. Through a few weeks of regular exposure, I should be able to restore many of those words in my brain (since they are already there). I will write more on this later as i ease back into Kanji. I’m also dabbling with a few podcasts that i have the paitience to listen to now 🙂

I will post again when I’m finished the advanced series and see where it puts me in terms of grammar power.


About marcusbird

Writer, Designer, Filmmaker
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