Every Word

When learning a new language, a lot of people (including me!) have a natural desire to want to understand every single word they hear.

You can get away with wanting to understand every word you read.  After all, you have as much time as you want to look up a word.  The next sentence will wait for you.

Listening, however, is another story.  While you’re busy wondering what that word was, you missed to next two sentences.

So, what do you do?

You give up immediately on any word you didn’t catch and keep listening.  If you can get the gist of the sentence, that word didn’t matter.  Whether you realize it or not, you probably don’t always understand every word anyone says in your native language.  It’s just that your brain is very skilled at filling in the gaps in your own language.

I was thinking about this while listening to some audio today.  I got hung up on a word and, as a consequence, had to rewind the audio and listen to the whole paragraph again because I missed too much.  The second time, I let the missed word go flying by and I understood enough of the rest of the words to get the meaning.

If you have the time and can relisten and relisten and slow the audio down and listen again or check a script after you listened, then do those things by all means and figure out what you missed, but get used to the fact that, in conversation, you’re going to miss words here and there.  Don’t let it bother you.  If you can basically understand the meaning of what is said, you’re doing great, no matter how many individual words you missed.

In real time, we can’t be perfect, and that’s okay.  Just hang in there.





It happened to me.

It will happen to you.

Don’t let it get you down.

You’re busily studying Japanese, you’re making progress, you’re doing well and then, suddenly…you’re not.  You’re still studying, but you don’t feel like you’re making any progress.  What happened?

You hit a plateau.  If you visualize your progress in Japanese on a graph, instead of going up, you’re staying level.  Or, at least, that’s how it feels, and that’s the key point.

If you can say, “I know more Japanese today than I did yesterday” because you learned 3 new vocabulary words, then you are still making progress, no matter how it feels.

And plateaus don’t last forever.  There will come a point where you suddenly get hit with a great feeling of progress.

I’ve been in one of those annoying plateaus for a couple of weeks.  Yes, it was frustrating, but you just have to stick it out, and now it feels like I’m making progress again.  For me, the key moment came while I was in conversation with a friend and a couple of vocabulary words that I had studied but never used in conversation came out of my mouth, surprising me.  That was followed by a grammatical construction that I had studied but never used before.  Boom.  Instant feeling of progress.

But, you see, the point is that I was actually progressing all along, because I was studying the vocabulary and grammar.  It just took a while for my brain to shuffle it all into some kind kind of order and then make use of it.

That’s why you can’t let a plateau get you down.  As long as you are still studying, you are still learning.  It’s just that your brain needs a little time to process everything.

Keep going!  That’s all it takes.  Just keep going!


Off and On

Yesterday I ran into a guy I used to know slightly and asked the inevitable, “What are you up to  now?” question.

And he said, “Learning Japanese so I can get a job over there as a contractor.”

As you can imagine, he had my full attention, so I asked, “How long have you been studying Japanese?”

“Oh,” he said, “Just a few months off and on.”

Ah.  “Off and on is not going to do it,” I said.

“I know.”

And there we are.  Studying off and on doesn’t work.  It takes consistent (near) daily effort.  He knows that.  He has a goal, and his goal apparently requires him to learn Japanese, but he’s only studying it off and on.

I have met quite a few people who “want to learn Japanese” but who don’t seem inclined to put real effort into it.  And then, because they tackle it half-heartedly, they don’t  learn, they write it off as impossible and they give up.

Don’t be that person.  Learning Japanese is not impossible!  Here.  I’ll prove it:  日本語を学ぶことは不可能ではない。See?  Not impossible.

But you have to do it.  You have to put in the time and the effort.  That’s all.  Just do it.






A friend of mine went to Japan a few months ago, and he showed up on my doorstep bearing gifts:  4 volumes of the Princess Mononoke film comic and 2 volumes of the The Wind Also Rises film comic.

Now, I am all in favor of anything that is motivating.  Anytime you reach a new Japanese goal, pat yourself on the back.  I am a big believer in short term goals as markers on the way to long term goals.

Also, anytime you suddenly find yourself able to read something, pat yourself on the back.  I took up 第一巻 (volume 1) of もののけ姫 (Princess Mononoke) and read several pages without having to look anything up.  Cool!  Now, I will admit that the dialog was a bit sparse, but, still.  Any sign of progress is good.

I actually got messed up by casual Japanese.  Imagine that.

As you may know, when providing explanation, you might add んです to the ends of sentences.  In casual speech, this can become の, and I had forgotten that for a few minutes, so 「鳥たちがいないの」 puzzled me for a minute.  What the heck was the の on the end for?  Then I remembered.

Now I find myself wondering how closely the manga resembles the movie.  Did I just get given an accurate script?  That would be pretty cool…

Anyway, celebrate your accomplishments!


I did not want to review vocabulary today.  I just didn’t feel like it.

So I reviewed grammar instead.  Bunpro is great.

After that, I still didn’t feel like reviewing vocabulary, so, what did I do?

I reviewed vocabulary, of course.  After all, tomorrow there wold probably be twice as much if I didn’t review today!

After that, I found some time to continue reading the story of 永井隆.  I hope to finish it today and move on to the next one.  This story is sad.  The next one is also sad, because…Japanese.

I was talking with a friend in Japan who had recently watched an American movie and he joked that he didn’t know how to react to such a strange movie because it ended happily.

Sometimes you get into a study groove, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and that’s where I am right now.  I am simply continuing to do what I’m doing.  Grammar, vocabulary, reading, listening.

A Japanese friend has written a short story in English and sent it to me to correct.  So I am going to write a short story in Japanese.  I am thinking that it will be a very short story, but it’s a start, right?

And on we go.




Say What?

So, I am watching 鍵泥棒のメッソド again because that’s what I have to do in order to figure out what they’re saying.  There are a couple of problems.

Problem #1:  Holy cow, they talk fast!  Some of the sentences come at you like a bullet train and then blow past you at light speed.  I can grab on to a word or two and then it’s gone and the next sentence is screaming toward me.

Solution:  VLC media player or Audacity.  I haven’t actually tried this with Japanese, but I have used them for learning music.  You can slow down the sound so that you can pick out the individual notes.  I am assuming I can use it to slow down sentences and pick out the individual words.

Problem #2:  Men.  I don’t know if they are just trying to sound tough, but they are mumbling and grumbling and barely opening their mouths, so the words come out as a jumble of vowel sounds without much in the way of consonants.  Yikes!

Solution:  Um…I’m still working on it.  Listen really hard, look at the subtitles in English and figure out what the Japanese probably is, use the same solution as above to hear it better…

Problem #3:  Casual Japanese.  You know what I’m talking about.  Words are left out, familiar verbs are swapped for unfamiliar verbs and slang pops up all over the place.

Solution:  Ask for help!  Let a Japanese friend listen to the audio and hope they can tell you what the heck is going on.

But…I’m plugging away at it.  I’m on scene 3 now, so I haven’t made a lot of progress, but I have made some progress, so that’s good.

So, a new year is here.


Let’s make sure that, when next year comes along, we know a lot more Japanese than we know today.  We have 364 days and counting!


My New Year’s Plan

I am going to write a script.

No. That’s not right. I am going to transcribe a script. Which script, you might ask? (In fact, maybe you did ask, but I cant’t hear you through the screen). This one:

Why this one? Because I watched the first few minutes and it looked funny. I like funny.

I have a skype friend who plays me audio clips in English and asks me what they are saying word for word, and then we talk grammar and slang. I figure that figuring out what the lines are word for word in this movie will be good for me. And if…er…when I get stuck, I can record the audio and get some help.

I guess it 9s an ambitious project, but I’m sure it will be good for me or build character or at least help me learn some Japanese.