Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. ?
Check out the video and you'll see me introduce the project, answer most of the frequently asked questions about it, and try to give you some encouragement in your own language learning endeavours 😉 Seriously, watch it!
Also, I'd really appreciate it if you copied and pasted the Youtube link:
to your Facebook wall (or other favourite social media outlet) to share it with your friends and inspire them to follow along and maybe try to get into language learning themselves!
If you are in a hurry, here are some points dealt with in the video and precisely what point you'll find them in the video:
- Why do this in 3 months? Why not just take your time? 01:06
- Why the hell are doing this in Spain?? Why not just go to Japan now and spend longer there? 01:43
- Is this a scam? “Fluent in 3 months” sounds like a dubious claim. 02:56
- What do you mean exactly by “fluent”? 03:55
- I think “fluent” can only be used when you speak exactly like a native speaker, so you are wrong to use it like you do Benny 04:14
- What about all Kanji? 05:35
- How do you plan to do all this 06:24
- Some final encouragement 07:25
As I said in the video, I will be making weekly updates for the next month, and then one every second week for months 2 and 3, to show you my progress in the language, and then videos in Japan next year. All videos (apart from the one above) will be in Japanese so you can follow how my level changes with time. To not miss out on any of these, make sure to subscribe to my Youtube channel:
I'll also have loads of updates on my Facebook page, twitter, Google+, and have even already uploaded this mornings first ever attempt at Japanese (immediately after my first Skype lesson) on Instagram!
As always, I am aiming for fluency, which is B2+ on the CEFRL scale or N2+ on the JLPT, by mid-December. I've talked to a lot of people who agree with me that fluency begins where you can have relaxed conversations in a social environment. The conversation just flows. To reach this however, I've to go through the lower scales and work damn hard to get there.
What's this all about?
The reason I'm doing this is to firstly try to prove once again that you can learn any language anywhere. I'm in Valencia, Spain for the next three months, and while it does indeed have quite the international flare to it with lots of Europeans around, I find it unlikely that I'd randomly run into more than one or two Japanese people in the next months. So I am learning this language entirely online.
That means getting on Skype at least twice a day for 6 days a week for the next 3 months, and trying to speak to real Japanese people. Between these sessions, I'll be studying, but studying to improve my skills in that upcoming session, rather than for some unknown distant some-day point.
The great thing is that this isn't even going to be that expensive! Because I've been promoting my sign up link to italki, and I get credits if people sign up through that link and then get a paid lesson, I've earned more than enough credits to cover even the 150 or so private classes that I plan to have over the coming months. You can earn credits yourself after signing up by sharing your referral link on your blog/as a Facebook status update etc.
Even if I was paying though, I am surprised to see that there are loads of Japanese teachers on the site available for $5-10/hour! Maybe the scare tactics about everything related to Japan being monstrously expensive aren't so real after all…
Other than classes, I'll be studying flashcards to learn all the vocabulary I'll need to make my conversations run smoother, and a little grammar to give my sentences structure. I'm more interested in full phrases for the next weeks though, so that I can actually say things, so I'll be starting with my phrasebook before I get to course books.
All in preparation for my trip to Japan
While proving that “virtual immersion” is indeed possible, and while I do genuinely hope to inspire language learners over the coming months, no matter what language you are learning, what will be motivating me to keep going on a day to day basis will be the fact that I'm going to travel Japan next year.
Similar to my series this year on travelling Egypt (going down the Nile, into the Sahara desert, and up Mount Sinai), I want to use my Japanese to help me experience the country in a different way to what most English speaking visitors may see. I want to interview local people in Japanese, find interesting places to go and explore the country, without relying on hiked prices or on only those in the tourist industry who can cater to English speakers.
And of course, I want to record lots of videos to share the experience with you when it happens! I'll only be in Japan for a month or two in my first visit, so I don't want to spend my time there indoors studying books or getting lessons. I'll do all that now in advance, so that I can appreciate the country and its culture all the more when I arrive!
Timeline of the project
For the first month, all my videos in Japanese will be scripted. I will either be reading or memorizing what I'm saying in advance.
If I read it, it will be in the Kana phonetic script though. The reason that I do this is to emphasize that you can do something in your target language, even if you've just started because you can use prepared phrases. Many of our conversations follow very specific scripts initially, so why not simply learn these? You can indeed record a video just after starting to learn a language!
Some will be from my phrasebook, but most will actually be run through native speakers in my language lessons. I'll share a typical day learning Japanese with you, give you a tour of my apartment etc. A lot of my work will go into getting ready for these videos, in such a way that making the video is part of my studying, since what I would say helps me get used to output in the language.
For the second month, I will start to record spontaneous conversations with Japanese people over Skype (or in person if the opportunity comes my way). These will not be very complex conversations, but they will be almost entirely unscripted (apart from particular set phrases I'll have memorized) and completely spontaneous.
For the third month, I hope to get into more interesting chats, and interview people about very specific topics.
This is not all leading up to one big three month video (although I will try to do one the day before I leave Spain to go to Ireland for Christmas), but to give me the general level required to fully appreciate my time in Japan. While there, I'll record a travel video series with the focus being sharing my perspective on the culture with you. These will not be language updates, because travel videos require editing to make them more interesting, and I want to share other people's stories rather than have you hear me blabber on all the time. In China you heard from random people on a train, a Kung Fu master and more because of this approach.
I will however at some stage in Japan record a completely spontaneous and unedited video where a native speaker interviews me and lets me do most of the talking, so that you can truly gauge what my level is at, similar to what I did at the end of my Arabic project. Unless I have a huge setback in the project, I'm very confident that I'll reach at least the lower intermediate B1 stage if I can keep working very hard throughout the project, but also feel that I have a real chance to reach confidence B2+ fluency. No promises, no guarantees, but I will be trying my best and am more confident than ever!
Fixing issues that held me back in previous projects
That final Arabic video demonstrates a lower intermediate level, and at the end of my Chinese project a school independently evaluated my level and also decided that it was lower intermediate. This is not fluent for me. At this level I hesitate a lot, and need people to slow down for my benefit, even though I can still have some interesting chats with them.
My biggest issue with Chinese was that I learned it in the country that speaks it (yes, very counter-intuitive as the “biggest problem”!) and dealing with the cultural issues and difficulties in making friends at the same time as learning the language, slowed me down a lot, because it was very stressful (plenty of Internet trolls didn't help, but that's another story). I solved this issue in the next project by learning Arabic in Brazil, a place I was relaxed in, and because of that I zoomed forward to lower intermediate stage in precisely the timeline that I had hoped for!
The issue in my Arabic project however was that there was a huge lack of good materials to help you learn dialect, and Modern Standard Arabic was not useful for my travel purposes. My speak-from-day-one approach is very effective to get to lower intermediate stage, but to progress from there I really needed good learning material, and to add structure to what I had. My learning approach really does require that I go back to grammar books intensively to fix all my issues when the time is right. Not at the start, but definitely when I'm ready for it.
So, the biggest issues in both projects really were what I described above, not that they were “the one true hardest language“. As such, I've solved the issue I had with my Chinese project by learning Japanese in advance of going (so when in Japan I can focus 100% on cultural differences, having already worked on the language issue) and in a city where I know I can take my one day a week off to chill out and recharge my batteries after a hectic 6 days of virtual immersion.
And of course, there are plenty of good books for learning Japanese! This solves my biggest issue with learning Egyptian dialect, with is unfortunately frowned upon in the Arab world, where MSA is preferred even if way less useful. I got lots of great advice from people regarding Japanese learning materials and will test a few different things out and stick to what works for me, and share my thoughts on them later in the project.
With these two big issues effectively solved, I'm hoping that nothing will stand in my way of genuinely reaching my target this time 🙂 Follow along and see how I do!
Spoken focus; very little Kanji until the last month
Just so we're clear, I can't sit the JLPT exam because 1) they take place at the start of December which is too early for me, and then in the summer, which is well after the project will have ended and 2) I am focusing on speaking so I know right now that I'd fail the test at the end of my three months because of its written component.
Based on my experience with Chinese, and the many conclusions that I had after learning Chinese, I am confident that time spent learning 2,000 Kanji (which can indeed be done in 3 months if that is your focus) would not be a worthwhile priority for me. I am simply not passionate enough about reading, and I can and will learn the language almost entirely without it.
I will however be learning Kana. In fact, apart from some basic phrases, that's my priority today and I'll record my first video of the project in Japanese on Wednesday, which will involve reading a script entirely written in Kana! You'll see that on Friday (all my videos will be somewhat out of synch like this, uploaded a day or two after recording them to allow for editing and subtitles to be added; I will not be doing that editing/subtitling work though, as it's very time consuming and am outsourcing it to an affordable assistant so that I have more time to learn the language).
My flashcards will be in Kana, my teachers on Skype will explain something to me by typing new words in Kana, and I have learning material that is centered around Kana. I expect this to be less sustainable as I advance further in the project, but it will be more than fine for now. In December, I'll get into Kanji to have what I need to function well in the country (signs, menus etc.), although I already have about 100 Hanzi from Chinese that I'm confident about. I won't reach an upper intermediate reading stage, but that's fine because that is simply not part of this project.
We all learned to speak before we learned to read and write, and as Idahosa explains very well, way too many of us have a “visual addiction” when it comes to language learning and should focus way more on sounds. This is especially true now that I've heard that Kanji don't have consistent pronunciation (even Chinese Hanzi has that!!)
I can deal with such complications much better as a confident speaker of the language, than I can as a beginner. I won't avoid real reading, but I will definitely postpone learning it until I've handled much more important things first. Some people give equal footing to speaking-listening-reading-and-writing, and the academic approach gives an almost 25-25-25-25 spread, and I think this is a mistake. Language learning should be mostly spoken first and then mostly reading later when more spoken practice is not what would help you progress. In my top languages, reading helps me progress way more than speaking does, so I have adjusted my focus accordingly.
This will require some tweaks and a special learning approach since so much material and so many people insist on learning Kanji first, but I'll do what it takes. You'll hear more about this as the project continues!
I hope you enjoy following along!
Once again, subscribe to my Youtube channel at the top of this post for the weekly updates, or to my email list in the top-right of this site for monthly updates. Even if you are not learning Japanese you will find me present my story in a way that I find applicable to any language learner.
And once again, I'd appreciate it if you shared that video (or this blog post) with your friends. I'm hoping the transparency of my “zero to hero” attempt with Japanese will force people to realize that it is all about hard work rather than talent or being the right age, and that others will follow suit!