learning strategies, motivation / daily study
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How to start writing in Japanese

One of my goals for November is to write in Japanese every day for a month. I have been thinking about how to write in a foreign language if you don’t have a native to correct you, and I thought that I would write about it today.

If you are like me, writing is not as much difficult than discouraging. You take the grammar and the vocabulary you know, build your sentences, and while you don’t really struggle to write, you end up full of doubts and incertitudes: “what I wrote does not sound Japanese”, “it sounds like an example sentence, but I doubt whether a native would say that”, “is it even correct?”, “why do I keep using the same grammar over and over again?” and so on.

A method to write in English

To begin with, I would like to present a book I find truly inspiring. Originally, it is a book for Japanese who learn English and is called 『Q&A Diary 英語で3行日記』. This book was translated into Korean for Koreans who learn English and this is the version I have and will talk about. Sorry if it is confusing, but the version I have does not matter, as it is the method described in the book that interests me.

(Reference for the Korean version: 하루3줄 영어 일기, ALC 편집부 (지음), 정은희 (옮김), 한빛비즈.)

The purpose of this book is to help you write in English every day for a year. The book has 365 pages of prompts:

This is how the pages look like. The prompts are very varied from “describe how your room looks right now”, to “what is your favourite book?”, “what surprised you the most today” or “what do you hate being asked?”. All in all, I find them inspiring enough.

On the page, you have the prompt in the form of a question, a model in English with its translation in Korean, and some vocabulary related to the theme that you could use for your writing.

In the introduction, the author explains how to use this book depending on your level:

  • Beginners: just copy the text given as an example. Take the opportunity to note down the vocabulary you didn’t know if there is any.
  • Intermediate: use the structure given in the example and change some words and expressions.
  • Advanced: write your own text.

The first image shows how you can just copy the example. The second one highlights the words and expressions that have been changed. The third one shows a completely different text. (sorry for the quality of the pictures)

(Note: If you can find the Japanese version of the book, I guess you could use it to write in Japanese instead of English, using the translation of the example as a starting point? I don’t know if the Japanese translations sound natural in Japanese or if they stay too close to the English.)

How to use this method for Japanese

The first thing to do is to find a text in Japanese that would act as the example given in the book. You could use any material like a book or a textbook. I personally recommend using content that is updated regularly, like a blog written in Japanese. For example, if you follow someone who updates their blog twice a week, you could also decide to write in Japanese these same days. Also, I recommend choosing a blog or anything else that is about one of your passions or sphere of interest.

(I personally use two sources:

  • First, I use the column that Shigesato ITOI writes every day on his site ほぼ日刊イトイ新聞.
  • When I find the column too difficult or I don’t feel inspired by it, I head to the Hobonichi store and read the news written by the team working on the hobonichi techo (it is called “手帳チームNews”). These articles are usually very easy to read and always a source of inspiration to me!

I use these two related contents because I always enjoy reading Shigesato ITOI, I love stationery, I love the hobonichi techo, and I could write about it every day.

More recently, I have discovered the blog 猫な日本語 by author Yumi SHIMIZU. Her blog is updated three times a week, it is about daily life, cats and Japanese.)

The text you found will replace the prompts. The idea is to write about what the text is about.

Then, just apply the method. You can start by just writing down the text as it is. In this case, don’t just copy it word after word, but try to remember the whole sentence so that you can write it down entirely without having to check it halfway. It will help you remember the structures and grammar pattern. While doing this may sound too easy, it has more benefits than you think. You will get familiar with the way that different things are expressed in Japanese, you will gain confidence and you will practice your kanji!

The second step is to re-write the text replacing words by others, then replacing a whole expression, or even a whole sentence. This will bring you to the point where you will do the opposite: you will write your own text and use expressions and words from the original text in your writing.

Another similar method would be to summarise the text, especially if it is long. Here again, start by selecting the most important sentences of the text and write them down. When you gain confidence, you can start linking these key sentences differently, and ultimately, write your own summary of the text.

Things to keep in mind

In any case, try to use in your writing the words, expressions and grammar patterns you find in the original text. This will widen the range of expressions ready at hand, that you can use without even think about it. Even if you copy the text as it is, underline the expressions you find useful and would like to use by your own later.

As I said in the introduction, one of the most discouraging things to me is the feeling that I always use the same vocabulary and grammar, I always say the same things, it seems that I am trapped in a sphere of limited vocabulary and expressions. Finding inspiration in others’ writing is the best way to get out of my sphere and collect, little by little, new ways of expressing myself. It takes time, and it is not easy to measure the progress, but copying natives will increase the number of patterns and words you feel confident in using.

Conclusion

The method described in the book is so flexible that anyone can start writing in a foreign language. No matter what your level is, whether you can or cannot have a correction, nothing stops you from starting right now, by simply copying a text written in your target language!

4 Comments

  1. This is a great post – I’m definitely going to try the method you described! I am working on improving my written Japanese because like you I feel that my ability to express myself is a bit limited…

    Liked by 1 person

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