Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Infrequent Updates

I'm not sure what it is, but I just don't fell like blogging these days. Even when I find myself with free time, it is difficult to sit down and do anything like this. And the more time that goes by, the more I have to try and pack everything into one entry -- or at least remember the notable things that have happened since last writing.

The photos are coming, as soon as I can find the time to work out how to get them from my phone to my computer at home.

School is school, and sitting in the office hasn't changed. I am still studying Japanese and living each day as per normal. Everyone is gearing up for Christmas and this month has gone pretty fast. Just over a month and we will be in the next decade. Contemplate that for a minute.

Mika and I went for a walk yesterday, and I kept coming back to the issue of learning Japanese. It has been a real struggle for me to motivate myself to actually study effectively or consistently. Renshuu.org has been a great help, as it is an interesting way to see what I remember. The way it is set up, where it tracks your review progress, is interesting enough to keep me coming back regularly.

Reviewing vocab -- the English meaning, kanji characters and pronunciation -- is about the highlight of my Japanese study. Sure, I delve into whichever chapter I am currently studying, from time to time; but I just feel as if I am not getting anywhere. It's been an uphill struggle the entire time since I began studying 14 months ago (from September last year, when my first JET-based study book arrived).

Part of me really wants to improve and be able to have a conversation in Japanese, if not be able to read and speak to people to improve more and more as I absorb more of the language. But the difficulty of it all, and having to read things over and over, only to not have them make sense or see how to utilise them, or even remember how they should be used or what they mean, has dissuaded me from getting enthusiastic enough about learning the language to really make good progression.

Things just do not make sense. The whole structure of it is so alien and the thinking behind how to say things doesn't even make sense to me. But I will keep trying and keep slowly making my way through my textbook, and keep coming back to review words and their kanji and what they mean.

I don't do enough speaking or listening practice. I think that's pretty obvious. It's not that I don't want to, it's that I don't ever see the opportunity to. Japanese TV? It's really boring and pointless. What they show on TV doesn't interest me. It all seems so foreign and uninteresting and doesn't make sense at all.

Speaking to people? I try to do this, but if they ever respond -- which of course is a pretty normal thing to do -- my brain freezes as I struggle to pick out the words that I know. And even recognising words doesn't really help, as I don't know the form, the tense, or the context within which they are being used. Not to mention that I have absolutely nothing to say to people to begin a conversation -- and blurting out random sentences from a textbook would only make people think I've lost my mind, I think.

That said, there have been the occasional times when I've been able to involve people in what I am struggling to grasp. And I do ask people -- especially JTEs at the junior high schools I teach at -- to explain things to me, or to check my attempts at Japanese sentences, or even to just try and elicit a response from them so that I can better understand what it is that I'm learning and practising and trying to embed into the language centre of my brain.

It's not all negative. I don't want this to be a gripe post about the near impossibility of learning the Japanese language. Perhaps I am just not happy with how seldom I tend to practise speaking and/or listening to the language. When you live in a country where the language is different to your own, you are supposed to have more opportunity to learn the language. But that just hasn't been the case here. After 15 months, there is so much beginner stuff that I just don't know, and it is frustrating week after week to not make any progress, or to make progress and then realise that I've forgotten what I should have learned, or don't fully understand it.

There was a festival in Nakamura from Sunday. Why it wasn't happening on Saturday didn't really make sense to us, but we found out that it hadn't started when we went into the city then. It was nice to go over and do some shopping, though.

Yesterday was a public holiday. We just stayed at home while Eddi's grandparents took her over to the festival. It was simply a lazy day for us. I even baked cookies from some cookie dough I had made the previous day. :)

So we have a four day week, I don't have Taisho chuugakkou today because Kitazoe-sensei is away, and I don't have any school on Friday. It's a good week!

Well, back to my headache-inducing studies / internet browsing. ;)




Stan said...

That sounds frustrating, Tim. I learned a few languages, years ago, but all were Indo-European; I suspect that learning Japanese would be a lot more challenging.

Is there a way to make it more fun? Maybe a classic Japanese story or collection of poetry or philosophy would entice you into the language without inspiring boredom or frustration. Even as I write this I'm sure you've already tried this approach, and others besides...

Timotheos said...

Thanks for your comment, Stan. I'd go so far as to say that learning Japanese is the hardest task I've set my mind to in all my thirty years. It would be great to be able to make it more interesting, but since when did textbooks hold anyone's interest? (Rhetorical tongue-in-cheek; pun totally intended).

That said, there are probably a lot of resources out there that do try to spice things up. Revision can be fun if done in the right way, and it all helps in the long run.

As far as any written works go, Japanese relies heavily on an ideogramatic system, much like Chinese. I have been learning kanji (what each means and how to pronounce them in context), but this too is slow going and will take a lot of practice and dedication.

I believe that the best way for me to improve is to constantly remind my wife to speak to me in Japanese as often as possible instead of being so soft on me and sticking with English all the time.

Stan said...

I'm sure that would help if you both managed to make a habit of it, and therein lies a particular difficulty: it seems somewhat perverse to communicate with someone less easily than one needs to!

A book I read recently described how Japanese uses a combination of ideograms and syllabaries. This probably complicates matters too. At the risk of proposing interior décor horror, would it help to put post-its of Kanji all over the house in prominent or appropriate positions?

Timotheos said...

It is a conundrum, to be sure. The reality is, we speak in English because of its ease for me; whereas, were we to communicate in her native tongue, it would be frustrating at my end until the point at which I can hold my own. It could become quite a balancing act!

As far as post-its and the like go, I think it would be far more helpful to simply throw some vocabulary around, whether in kanji form or not. I frequently visit a review website, renshuu.org (it means "practise" in Japanese) wherein I actually enjoy quizzing myself and tracking my vocabulary progress. This is the best method I have found to solidify the kanji that are thrown at me.

It has crossed my mind on occasion to delve further into the intricacies of linguistics as an overall area of study. Learning a new language is a good start and will hopefully provide a foundation upon which I can build deeper insight into language itself. Even within each language there are myriad cultures inherent, and this is part of what both intrigues and attracts me to linguistics as a whole.

Stan said...

Hi Tim, I thought you might be interested in this article: Is Technology Dumbing Down Japanese?

Timotheos said...

Thank you Stan. That was a very good read. I'm glad that computers suggest kanji for me when I type words in phonetically. Even at my beginner level, I can read more kanji than I could possibly hope to remember how to write. I will only improve both reading and writing over time.

Stan said...

You're welcome, Tim. Patient application is probably key to improvement, though it would be nice if there were shortcuts!