Latest Posts

My new study method: the One-week challenge/immersion!

I think I got it at last! The method that suits me best to learn a language. Learning Japanese on my own has been a mess of trials and errors, of abandoned study plans and seemingly revolutionary but unrealistic study methods. But somehow, it has been fun trying different things, and designing study plans is definitely one of the reasons why I love learning things on my own.

But at last, I think that I have found a method that I can stick to, and that will help me improve my Japanese while being entertaining enough to not feel like hardcore study.

One-week challenge/immersion study method

My problem is that I regularly come up with things that I want to do on a daily basis, and of course, if these daily tasks pile up, it becomes impossible to do them all every day, and I end up dropping some of them.

As a result, I am always a little anxious because I feel that I am not doing what I should be doing. If I focus on reading, I think that I should work on grammar instead, and if I read the news, I think that I should be writing in Japanese instead…

Working on a weekly basis instead of a daily seems to suit me better: I decide on Sunday what will be next week’s topic and I stick to it during the week. I don’t need to worry about the other tasks, because they will get their week sooner or later.

Concrete examples

It might be difficult to set oneself challenges and difficult or boring tasks every week. But you can alternate challenging weeks and immersion weeks, as long as it is linked to your target language.

Examples of one-week challenge/immersion

  • Read one news article per day (translating it can be optional)
  • Read … pages in Japanese per day
  • Study 2 or 3 grammar per day
  • Write a page of a diary in Japanese
  • Watch … minutes of Japanese TV
  • Listen to 20 minutes of a podcast
  • Play a game in Japanese and write down new words you learn from it
  • Make translation exercises
  • Learn a text by heart by the end of the week (work on it every day)
  • Translate Japanese recipes and cook what you have translated
  • Talk in Japanese for … minutes and record yourself
  • Read one blog post per day on a topic you like

Instead of trying to do everything every day and end up panicking because I can’t, I will assign each task a week and record my progress in a notebook for personal accountability.

I see several benefits in this method:

  • First of all, it is not boring because each week is different from the others. The problem with doing tasks every day is that I am motivated during one or two weeks, and then every day looks the same. Focusing on a different thing every week allows your study to always feel fresh.
  • If you focus on one skill/material for one week, you will progress in this area. I mean that one week is enough to start feeling improvement. Maybe not much, but if you write in Japanese every day for seven days, you will find it less daunting by the end of the week. The quality of your writing might not have improved yet, but the act of writing in Japanese will be less intimidating and less difficult.
  • You need to focus on the task you chose for the week and stop thinking about all the other things you are not doing. If you think you should be doing another activity instead of the one you picked, just program it for the following week and free your mind from it.
  • If you write in a notebook the theme of the week and what you did each day, it will become a precious collection of your efforts and an invaluable history of your language journey. Also, your notebook works as a partner for accountability, and it will help you to not skip a day.
  • This system is highly customisable. Depending on the time you can devote to your language study in general or during a particular week, you can adjust your weekly challenge. It can be reading one page per day in Japanese as well as reading 40 pages.
  • You should not skip a week and make sure that you are always doing something in your target language. However, some weeks can be more relaxing than others. If you come from a challenging week, you can devote the next to playing games in Japanese for example. If you know one week will be particularly busy, you can focus on listening to a podcast every day while commuting or eating breakfast.

But what about building new habits?

Unfortunately, what this method does not do is helping to build new habits, because one week is not long enough. However, I am convinced that it helps to get used to doing a particular thing in our target language. If I have been reading the news in Japanese for one week, it will become something less intimidating to do, and it will be easier to open this news website in Japanese. If I spent the whole week listening to a Japanese podcast, the next time I open my app, I will be more tempted to listen to a Japanese podcast than an English one.

A word about my last Monday’s challenge

Last Monday, I tried a one-week challenge focused on reading and translating one article (mostly editorials) by Mainichi Shimbun every day. I stuck to it even if the last two articles (Saturday and Sunday) were a little too long for me.

Translating can double the benefits of a reading session

At least, this is how I see it after one week doing this exercise. Translating forces you to look up every unknown word and be sure you understood the grammar and the pattern correctly. More than that, you have to understand the implications of the sentence, what the author is hinting at, what he really wants to say, and so on.

When I only read, I focus on the general meaning of a paragraph, I want to be sure to understand it enough to be able to move on to the next paragraph without being lost. But I miss a lot of nuances or even sometimes, undertone, sarcasm or humour.

So not only does this exercise boosts your vocabulary, but it also improves your reading abilities in general, the faculty to understand more than what is said, make connections and so on.

One week was the perfect format

Instead of trying to read the news every single day of my life and end up reading fast, without looking up words and without understanding completely what I am reading, I really studied the articles I read during this challenge. This was time-consuming, and at the end, I was glad that the week was over. But I stuck to it and I did it seriously because I knew that it was only for one week.

I wonder if doing something thoroughly for one week, with dedication and care, is not more effective than doing it every day but roughly and without really commit oneself to it. If I tell myself that I want to read the news every day, I will be tempted to pick an article that looks easy. If I choose a difficult one, I will start reading it, find it too difficult and give up, with the satisfaction of having tried and completed my task for the day. But I am not sure whether I really can make progress like that.

So yes, I will give up the idea of doing something every day (apart, of course, from studying Anki), and focus on weekly challenges.

Conclusion

I still need to try this method in the long-term, but I already feel very excited about it. We all have different ways of learning languages, and a good method for someone might not be suitable for others. I think that a lot of people like to feel free and just study what they want to study when they want to study it. As for me, I need some structure and a study plan to be effective. However, any rigid environment or routine usually wears my motivation down. This weekly challenge/immersion method might be the pivotal point between structure and freedom. It is also a good way to combine my desire to do a lot of things to learn Japanese and the lack of study-time in one day.

I’ll try to use this method for several months to see how it works!

Japanese Immersion: September week 2

どうぶつの森!

I woke up this morning to hear the good news: Animal Crossing is coming for the Switch! To me, Animal Crossing is closely linked to learning Japanese: it is a game I play in Japanese, and it created an unconscious association between “Japanese” and “a fictional world I love, where the smallest acts of kindness matter and make you smile, your efforts always rewarded, where everybody is nice and where animals talk”. I started playing Animal Crossing because it was a refuge against the real world where your efforts are not always appreciated, people are not always nice and animals don’t talk.

What is funny is that I watched Animal Crossing New Leaf videos in Japanese this week. I like the channel of a YouTuber called くるみ. I like how she creates stories (she’s dating the cat ジンペイ) inside the Animal Crossing world and makes a game released 6 years before feel fresh and new.

LDP election

But of course, my Japanese immersion of this week is mainly due to reading the news. I started a one-week challenge on Monday and I have read and translated into French at least one article per day since Monday (I am updating my progress on my post).

The most important thing is that reading articles about the LDP election has become easier and easier. Articles that go into details about Abenomics are still too difficult for me, but it is more because of the economy relative terms than the Japanese level.

The general feeling I get from reading about the election in Mainichi is that they wished there were more public debates. The head of the LDP will also be the next Prime Minister, so this election concerns all Japanese citizens, not only the LDP members or sympathisers. This is why Mainichi wished there were more open debates.

One must also add that there hasn’t been an election for LDP leader/Prime Minister since 2012. There was no other candidate in 2015, so they didn’t run the election. As they have a challenger to Abe this time, they should take this opportunity to question Abe’s politics until now. I don’t think that the journal supports Ishiba, the other candidate, but they support his demand for more open debates. The presence of Ishiba is a good opportunity to do a thorough inspection of Abe’s choices.

Unfortunately, the campaign period is very short and has been shortened by two events: The earthquake in Hokkaido imposed a necessarily break of three days, and just after that, Abe went to Russia. As a consequence, there has been only one speech and press conference on Monday. The local party members vote on Wednesday (19th) so the campaign period is almost over.

Some articles even pointed out that both the Moritomo and the Kake scandal didn’t have a satisfactory ending. Ishiba wanted to use it for his campaign. His initial slogan was 「正直、公正」 but he had to drop it because it was felt as an attack on the LDP in general, it sounded like a slogan manufactured by the opposition. Also, it was a way to admit that the actual LDP is “不正直、非公正.”

Abe will certainly win with a crushing majority and it seems that local voters are not excited about the election. Mainichi also regrets that both candidates’ propositions lack concreteness and are not appealing enough to raise the interest of the citizens.

Today’s debate

With Abe’s return to Japan, the discussions resume. Today (14th) took place a big debate between the two candidates. It is broadcasted by NHK and I watched it because it interests me and of course, it will be a good listening practice.

But I ended up dozing before my TV and dreaming of the next Animal Crossing game…

To be honest, I understood nothing at all. With a lot of concentration, I could understand what they were talking about, but I could not follow what they wanted to say. I am a little disappointed because I thought that having read a lot about the campaign would allow me to understand a little the debate… I guess I need more listening practice!

If you have trouble falling asleep tonight, you can watch it:

Have a good weekend!

Currently Reading: 『流星の絆』by 東野圭吾

51z12e2i1tl-_sx366_bo1204203200_.jpg

『流星の絆』by 東野圭吾, 講談社文庫

To me, the best way to start reading again after a long period of trials and errors is to start a novel by Keigo HIGASHINO.

The magic worked this time too, with the novel 『流星の絆』(りゅうせい の きずな). It is a very long novel (617 pages), but I am confident that if you like Higashino’s style, you will like everything, from the shortest short stories to the longest novels.

I felt committed to the story right from the beginning. I don’t know why I sometimes stay indifferent to what happens to the characters and sometimes feel immediately involved in their story. The author’s style maybe… Anyway, the beginning of the novel is completely engrossing, with a murder and a criminal investigation. This is exactly what I needed to start reading in Japanese again. After having made several attempts to start a novel, starting several books and giving up after a few pages, I was happy to feel engrossed in a story and read the first 100 pages without even realising it.

Given the length of the novel, I expect a somewhat complex story with a lot of different settings and intrications, a little like another novel I read and loved by Highashino: 『夢幻花』.

One of my goals for September was to start a novel by Higashino and try to finish it. I think that this novel is too long for me to read it in a month but knowing that I can finish it at all is a pleasing thought. As usual, Higashino’s writing style is Japanese learners friendly!

Read the news in Japanese: one-week reading challenge!

I have decided to try something new this week and start a “reading the news in Japanese” challenge.

I will read and translate one news article per day this week, starting today and ending on Sunday. I think that the more often you read the news, the easier it gets. Not only because you improve your reading skills in general, but because you get familiar with a certain vocabulary and know what the main topics of the moment are.

Which articles?

I like reading the site Mainichi.jp, so this is the news website I will choose. To avoid losing time every day in looking for articles worth studying and to be sure to pick a topical issue, I will choose mainly the editorials. As you can see on their website, they usually write two editorials per day so I can choose the topic that interests me the most (or even study both if I am motivated).

I also like the editorials because I find that they are the most interesting articles. The others tend to relate only the new facts concerning this or that topic. The editorials convey opinions and sometimes critics and I like the way they are written.

I might also pick political news, especially the ones concerning the LDP election

How?

I will read and also loosely translate the articles in French. I will try to translate the whole article to be sure that I understand everything and to force me to look up words or study a particular sentence pattern if there are passages I don’t understand well. But I will not try to make a beautiful translation, I don’t care if the French result looks weird, conveying the meaning is what counts.

I am reading the articles on my iPhone, using the Mainichi app. I don’t know how it works with other devices, but you can use the dictionaries on the iPhone to read easily in Japanese. I have downloaded a Japanese-Japanese one and a Japanese-English one. Also, it is easy to look up words on the Internet or access the Wikipedia page of persons and places.

I will add to Anki the words I want to remember too.

I have started using Tsubame notebooks to take notes while reading the news and I think that I will stick to it. I use the 30 pages A5 format. They are fountain pen friendly and I can usually hold my notes on a page or a double-page. I already finished one notebook that I use to study the news since I don’t do it anymore on my blog. I usually write a summary of the article, some useful words or names of people, and add citations when I find a passage is worth writing down. For this challenge, however, I will certainly use more pages per article as translating it will take more place than usual.

It is very encouraging to finish a notebook, this is why I like the 30 pages format. I also think that it would be nice to have a bunch of these carnets lined up on my shelves. I also think of indexing them to be able to find a topic easily later on.

Let’s start!

I will update this post every day to add the article I chose! If you want to do something similar or even work on the same articles, please let me know in the comments!

Monday:

障害者の不妊手術調査 記録なしでも救済対象に (editorial): A very interesting article on the difficulty to find records concerning the forced sterilisations that took place in name of the Eugenic Protection Law. Only 12% of the victims could be clearly identified because their names were found on official records. The article underlines the necessity to help also the victims whose name does not figure anywhere and shows that it is hard to identify them after so many years.

安倍首相と石破氏の論戦始まる: This is a short article about the speeches and press conference given by Abe and Ishiba. I found this article relatively easy to read. I don’t know what “参院選の合区解消” exactly is (for Ishiba, this is the priority topic) and I couldn’t find information in English (and I was too lazy to read about it in Japanese).

Tuesday:

大坂なおみ選手の快挙 さらなる成長が楽しみだ (editorial): An article about Naomi OSAKA’s victory at the US Open. The article is not particularly interesting because it does not bring anything new: it mainly was about the finale and Naomi OSAKA’s reaction to it. The article says she gives a new image of the Japanese: ”人種や言葉の共通性だけではくくれない、新しい日本人像を大坂選手は示している”.

自民総裁選の論戦始まる もっと突っ込みがほしい (editorial): as I didn’t find the article on Naomi OSAKA challenging, I tried this one too. It looks at the two candidates’ speeches and press conference for the LDP election with a critical eye: neither Abe nor Ishiba made a speech powerful enough to attract people’s attention. Both candidates’ propositions lacked concreteness. The author regrets that there is no real political debate that could really go deep in questioning each candidate views and strategies. I can understand the article as a whole but there are some passages difficult to translate because I don’t know what it refers to exactly. For example, one should know a little about the political factions inside the LDP to understand what is meant by ”石破氏の腰が引けているように見えるのは、石破氏を支持する参院竹下派が対立の先鋭化を望んでいないことへの配慮もあるのだろう。” 🤔

Wednesday:

北海道で電力不足が長期化 政府の責任で危機管理を (editorial): This article was a little difficult to read in Japanese and I had to do a lot of work on vocabulary (all the words relative to electricity supply were challenging). The article is about the problems of electricity shortage due to the earthquake in Hokkaido. The earthquake damaged the main source of electricity supply of the island: Tomato-Atsuma station. HEPCO (Hokkaido Electric Power Company) said that we still have to wait until the station can work properly. Until then, the population is asked to reduce its consumption, which is a heavy burden on factories that are just starting producing again after the earthquake. I don’t understand the things relative to supply-demand imbalance and why it can lead to a further shortage, but the article does not go deep into these details anyway. The article calls for a distributed generation system which would have prevented such a problem.

The other editorial was about Russia, and I must admit that I am more interested in and more used to reading articles about politics and society than international relations. So I didn’t study it.

Thursday:

安倍政治を問う アベノミクス 勘定を回されるのは誰だ (editorial): There was only one editorial today and it was about Abenomics. Economy is really not my area, I must admit that I lack some basic knowledge to understand articles on Economy in general (no matter the language.)

I really tried to translate this article but I ended up skipping more and more sentences and finally gave up. It was the pattern “I looked up every single word (even the ones I knew, I mean) and I still don’t understand this sentence”…

Still, I think I more or less grasped the essence of the article: Abenomics might have allowed economic growth, but it will have bad results in the end (I don’t understand why or how). It is important to take the opportunity of the election to thoroughly question Abenomics: we must look at the whole picture, including the repercussions in the future and not just look at the present results. Unfortunately, people will start to focus on the negative side effects after the Abe era is over (in three years).

Friday:

経済、憲法などで舌戦 討論会: I didn’t study the editorials today because I wanted to read an article about the debate Abe-Ishiba that took place this morning. I can’t believe that I watched the debate, understood nothing, read this article, understood most of it without looking up words. There really is a gap between my reading and my listening level. The article is mainly about Abenomics and the Constitution, two points where the candidates disagree.

The article is just reporting what was said during the debate. I am looking forward to reading tomorrow’s editorial which will certainly be about the debate. Articles that convey opinions are more interesting than simple reports, I think.

Saturday:

安倍政治を問う 統治手法 なぜ不都合に向き合わぬ (editorial): This article was not very difficult but it was extremely long. It is by far the most interesting article I have read this week. I thought that today’s editorial would be about the debate Abe-Ishiba that took place yesterday. This is why I was surprised to read a very critical article about Abe only. It starts by saying that Abe’s response to the scandals Moritomo and Kake was not satisfactory. It goes on saying that some people think that Abe is covering up cronyism in both cases. It then gives the results of a recent survey: it shows that a lot of people do not trust or esteem Abe.

The article then says that Abe’s reaction to the scandals looked like an attempt to manage the situation in order to avoid unfavourable documents to be made public. Abe is so anxious to avoid any unfavourable article about him, that he refuses to give interviews to newspapers that would criticise him (like Mainichi). The article says that this attitude amounts to dividing the population into two groups: the ones who support Abe and the ones who are against him. Abe chooses to speak only to the ones who support him, ignoring the opposition and the people behind it. This is not the role of the politicians, who should try to unify rather than divide.

Sunday:

安倍政治を問う 対トランプ政権 懐に入っての成果は何か (editorial): I now understand that today’s editorial and yesterday’s are part of the same series called “安倍政治を問う”. Mainichi reflects on the characteristics of these (almost) 6 years with Abe as Prime Minister.

Today’s editorial is about the relations with the United States and it critics Trump rather than Abe. I think that, even if the article wishes that Abe had spoken more about the future relations between the two countries, it does not critic Abe’s choices and position. The general idea is that Abe did the best he could with the new American President and the different threats he uttered. The article mainly focuses on the military and commercial aspects, two topics where Trump raised justified concern and worries in Japan.

This article was interesting, challenging but not too difficult but a little too long to translate for a one-time study session. Still, I hope they will continue this series, it is a good way to get a panorama of the last few years!

Japanese Immersion: September week 1

The main thing I did to listen to Japanese this week was watching episodes from 『ちびまる子ちゃん』.

『舟を編む』by director 石井裕也I also re-watched the film 『舟を編む』which is one of my favourite films. I love equally the novel by Shion MIURA (三浦しをん) as the film by director Yuya ISHII (石井裕也)

I really recommend this film to anyone interested in the publishing world, dictionaries and the pursuit of one’s ideal against sales and profit considerations. This film always makes me feel that hard work and dedication can always win against the lack of immediate recognition and approval. I also have to fight an impulse to buy a paper dictionary!

JapaNews24

I have found a YouTube live video called “JapaNews24 ~ 海外へ日本のニュースをLIVE配信” on the channel ANNnewsCH. I wish I had known sooner that such a live video exist. Apparently, they take broadcasted news in Japan, put them all together in a YouTube live video for people living outside Japan. I don’t know exactly when they add new contents, but it seems to be always news from the same day.

Anyway, I like watching it for several reasons:

  • First of all, easy access is the key to immersion in your target language. If I had to go to a website, select a video or have to wait for something to load… I would certainly never do it. To me, nothing is more accessible than YouTube because I already spend too much time on it.
  • The fact that it runs without interruption is also very useful. They have to cut the program for maintenance for several hours once a week, but that’s it. You can launch the video at any time and let it run.
  • It is much easier to understand the news on TV rather than on the radio. Not only do the images help to understand what it is about, but the text that appears on screen is also great support.

I am very glad that I have found that. I don’t watch it for long periods of time, but I took the habit of letting it run while I am busy with other things. The fact that it is easily accessible on my phone and that it is always current and fresh contents are two very appealing points.

It also helps in keeping touch with what happens in Japan, particularly with the recent typhoon and the earthquake in Hokkaido…

Liberal Democratic Party election

I try to follow the election, but it is not very exciting… 🙄

From what I understand, there are 405 votes from Diet members and 405 votes from the local party members. This being said, there are more than one million party members with the right to vote. I read that the votes are redistributed among the candidates according to the D’Hondt method or “highest averages method”… but here we are far beyond the range of what I can speak of with confidence. So, to summarise, there are votes of the Diet members and votes of the local party members and they are both equal: 405 votes each. The local party members have until the 19th to vote and the 405 Diet party members will vote on the 20th. The results, I think, will be announced on the 20th too.

There was a handful of potential candidates but most of them announced that they would not compete. With Seiko NODA’s announcement this week that she didn’t collect the necessary support of 20 Diet members to become a candidate, we know that this year’s confrontation will be a duel between Shinzo ABE and Shigeru ISHIBA. Their candidature was officially announced today but their speech and the press conference are reported until Monday due to the Hokkaido earthquake.

Abe is looking for a third mandate. He won the elections in 2012 and in 2015 there was no other candidate anyway, so they didn’t hold the election and Abe stayed at the head of the party. Abe’s main propositions are the Abenomics and the Constitution: he wants to keep both the paragraph 1 (Japan renounces war) and the paragraph 2 (Japan does not keep army forces) but add a clear mention of the Self-Defense Force. Shigeru Ishiba wants to modify the Abenomics and suppress the paragraph 2 altogether.

Even if there are two candidates, there is a general lack of interest at the local level for the election because the positions among the Diet members is clear: Abe will certainly win with a crushing majority. This Mainichi article says that 80% of the Diet votes will go to Abe.

People seem concerned with the participation rate at the local level. As our article says:

県内の自民関係者からは「首相優位が明確。大きな争点も見当たらず、盛り上がりに欠ける」との見方が出ている。

and

だがある自民県議は「国会議員票で安倍氏に圧勝ムードが漂っているため盛り上がっていない。県内では投票率が下がると思う」と予想。

There is also the possibility that some people might not vote in reaction to the Mori-Kake scandals.

These two scandals, while very present in the news, did not affect Abe’s chances to win a third mandate. Among the reasons that speak for him are the economic results and the fact that people trust him to handle international affairs:

Shunichi SUZUKI (LDP member and member of the House of Representatives) points out the economic results and says that there is no need to change: (source)

“今回の総裁選は内閣総理大臣を決める選挙だ。日本のために実績を上げていただいた安倍首相を代える理由はない。これから選挙に向け、全力で安倍首相を応援していく”

and Taro ASO (Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance) underlines Abe’s ability to deal with Trump, saying that Abe is certainly the only one capable of being a good interlocutor to the American’s president:

“トランプ米大統領ときちっと話ができる人が今、日本の政治家で他にいるだろうか。安倍氏しかいないのではないか”

He also adds:

“安倍を選ぶか、石破(茂元幹事長)を選ぶか。その顔を比べてどっちがいいか分かるでしょ、深く考える必要はまったくない”

Does 顔 have another meaning I am not aware of? Or did he actually said “その顔を比べて”? 😮

Conclusion

I am glad that I am reading the news again. It is still very difficult to understand the spoken news though. When I watch the JapaNews24, I sometimes understand very little or nothing at all. There is no other choice than to persevere and continue listening to a lot of Japanese while learning new words through Anki!

Book non-review: I give up reading 『光』by 三浦しをん

光

『光』by 三浦しをん, 集英社文庫

I still want to believe that I will pick up this book again and read the remaining 60 pages of 『光』. If you follow my blog, you know that I have loved 三浦しをん (みうらしをん)’s other novel 『舟を編む』, but I cannot say the same for this one. I struggled to read 『舟を編む』because the Japanese level was too high for me, but I struggled to read 『光』because I was never able to get into the story.

The reason why I am not enjoying this book is better explained using Nancy Pearl’s four doorways into a book. I first heard of these four doorways on Kazen’s blog Always Doing and it was a revelation. It helped me understand why I love or dislike a book.

While I cannot really judge for the language doorway, I think that this book is mainly focused on the story and the setting. But to me, the characters door was completely shut. I couldn’t relate to any of the characters, they didn’t feel real enough to me. To be more precise, I found that they didn’t react properly to the things that happen to them or to the persons they love (and awful things happen in this novel). Their reactions, their emotions always seemed wrong to me, or rather, nonexistent. It was as if they could not catch up with the story, as if the plot went on pursuing its themes of murder and haunting past and let the characters behind, unable to follow. To me, they lacked a credible emotional response to their environment.

So yes, I think that the “characters” doorway is always important to me. I would even say, more important than the “plot” one. As long as I can follow everything that goes on in the mind of the characters and get to see why they do what they do, why they react as they do, and even if I don’t approve them, even if I hate them, I won’t be able to put down the book. I think of three completely different examples of books I liked because the characters doorway stand wide open to me:

  • Perlmanns Schweigen by Pascal Mercier: This book is all introspection, we spend 630 pages in Perlmanns’ head, the story is reduced to a several days conference with fellows research scholars in linguistics. Nothing much happens, but I loved this book because I ended up feeling and thinking like the protagonist.
  • Atonement by Ian McEwan: This is an example showing that I don’t need to like, approve of or feel sympathy for a character to be fascinated by the book. While I have to control myself to not feel hate and disgust against Briony, the mechanism that brought her to do what she did and stick to it were so perfectly described that I read the whole long passage twice and ended up writing it in my commonplace book.
  • 『ちょっと今から仕事やめてくる』by 北川恵海 (きたがわ・えみ). Another different example. In this book, the protagonist is hardly described, we don’t have long introspective passages or description to explain his behaviour. But everything Takashi feels and think is exactly what I (and I suspect, a lot of people) would have felt and thought at his place. The identification process worked perfectly.

All of this to say that I don’t care about how it is done (introspection, description, identification) as long as I can feel close to the characters. In 『光』, however, I always felt far from them. I felt as if I was reading a French Nouveau Roman (really not my thing, but had to study it at university). I was always puzzled by the characters actions and reactions, and I felt nothing that could make me feel close to them. While the story was the most interesting, I could not fight the feeling: “I don’t care what happens to them.”

As a result, I let the book lie down several times, picked it up again, and laid it down again. I have reached page 297, the story is hotter than ever, but I still don’t feel into it, so I guess that I will admit that this book is not for me.

I find the four doorways very useful to analyse one’s relation to a book, and I am very grateful to have learned about them. I can now conclude by saying that, while the characters doorway was not open to me, the story and the setting, and I guess the language too, are wide open. If the plot matters more than the characters to you, by all means, read this book (it has rather good critics on the internet, which made me lose half my confidence and courage to write this non-review, haha). The story is gripping enough to have me continued this book for so long in spite of my lack of interest in the characters. To be more precise, I still want to know what will happen next. I just don’t care about the protagonists, so I don’t care if it turns out well for this character rather than that character or vice versa.

If you like stories of past crimes coming back to destroy the present, and if you are not as picky as I am on your relationship with fictional characters, you will certainly like 『光』!

September, at last!

September is here at last! (I don’t like Summer in Korea because it is too hot and the air conditioner everywhere makes me sick.) Only four months to go before the end of the year…! It’s time to look at the goals we set for ourselves in January and make some last adjustments to be able to end the year with a feeling of accomplishment.

I always feel a new energy in September: I want to set new goals, and I am sure that I can achieve more during these remaining four months than I did until now. But let’s be honest with ourselves: if we could not perform well on a certain objective during the past 8 months, we probably won’t be able to achieve it until December.

I think that a good way to define realistic and doable goals is to draw a third column table:

  • In the first column: Write the goals you want to achieve, ideally.
  • In the second column: Narrow it to something realistic.
  • In the third column: Transform the second column into weekly tasks.

To give you a concrete example, I bought a History book in July. In my language learning journal, I now see, written with my own hand in the category “goals for the year”: “Finish my History book this year”. It is still possible to finish it by December, this would mean read 3/4 pages a day. Three or four pages a day does not seem daunting, and my first reaction was “I can do it, Let’s do it!”. But of course, if I have not been able to go very far in my book until now, there is little chance that I will really open it every single day for four months. So I reconsidered my plan:

September, goals, motivation!

I like to set weekly objectives. If you have been over-enthusiastic for your yearly goals, and if you know you won’t have much time to study in Autumn, I recommend narrowing your objectives and dispatch them into weekly tasks.

I personally apply my three column technique to all the things I want to achieve and end up with a bunch of weekly tasks. If you have a journal devoted to your language study (or any other support), create a weekly page where you list all these tasks and check them when you do them. If you don’t really have time to study during the week, I recommend starting your weekly page with the weekend. You can do as much as you can during your resting days, and you still have the whole week to complete the remaining tasks you were not able to do. If you start your week on Monday and cannot study during your working days, you will see no progress at all on your to-do list, and it might be discouraging to stare at it for 5 days without checking anything. Plus, you will feel like you have a lot of things to do the weekend and this too might be discouraging.

Of course, all objectives are not easily divided into weekly to-dos. For example, I want to improve my listening skills. I could decide to listen to at least 2 hours Japanese pro week, but I don’t think I want to measure the time I spend listening to Japanese like that. What I can do, however, is dividing my listening program into two parts:

  • Passive listening: just letting Japanese enter my ears while doing other activities.
  • Active listening: working on a short passage and try to understand it completely by looking up words, or repeating each sentence, etc.

To me, a realistic program would be:

September, goals, motivation! 2.jpg

I like the idea to not set in advance what I will be listening to, so that I am free to decide during the week, depending on what interests me at the moment. Writing down what I have listened to or watched allows me to feel a sense of achievement and to evaluate whether I am always listening to the same kind of things or not. If it is the case, I will try to diversify my resources a little.

Conclusion

I often think that it would be great to just go on reading things in Japanese, watching films in Japanese and studying Anki without tracking my progress so precisely. But I know that I tend to get easily discouraged because I am prompt to think that I am not good enough, I can’t help but compare myself to others who are better (not just with Japanese) and feel that I will never get good at anything. As a result, I have tried and started a lot of things in my life and given up the majority of them. That’s why setting short-term and accessible goals is important to me, as well as tracking my weekly activity. Even if I can’t feel any direct improvement in my Japanese level, at least seeing that I have been active and done several things to study Japanese during the week is enough to encourage me.

Japanese Immersion: film, anime, magazine and news!

I am quite happy with my immersion in Japanese this week! I watched the film 『ちょっと今から仕事やめてくる』and several episodes of 『ちびまる子ちゃん』. I also spent a lot of time reading and translating the magazine 『趣味の文具箱』. Finally, I started reading the news again.

『ちょっと今から仕事やめてくる』

ちょっと今から仕事やめてくるThis film by Izuru NARUSHIMA 成島 出 (なるしま・いずる) is an adaptation of the novel (same title) by Emi KITAGAWA 北川恵海 (きたがわ・えみ). While I loved the novel I have mixed feelings concerning the film.

As long as the film follows the novel, I found it quite okay. The actors are good, the setting is good, the slight deviations from the novel are good too. I loved the scenes at Takashi’s workplace, that really convey the daily’s nightmare to work there.

The end of the film is however completely different. While the novel mainly focuses on Takashi, the protagonist, the film wants to give more place to Yamamoto, the other character. At some point, it leaves the novel behind to follow its own step and add new scenes to the story. This is where I felt like watching a cheap TV film with too many good sentiments and happy smiles to my taste.

But even if I didn’t like the end, I enjoyed watching the film.

『ちびまる子ちゃん』

The death of Momoko Sakura made me want to watch the anime adaptation of her most famous work: 『ちびまる子ちゃん』.

I thought I would watch one episode, but I ended up watching a second and a third one and now, I could not tell how many I have watched.

It is a very good listening practice to me. The level is low enough for me to understand most of what is said, so it is not discouraging and still provides some challenging parts and an overall good contact with daily Japanese conversation.

I also find these episodes funny and interesting in themselves. While reminding me of some similar episodes of my own childhood, it gives interesting insights into Japanese school and traditions.

趣味の文具箱

趣味の文具箱 46I have been reading and translating some passages of the magazine 趣味の文具箱… a magazine on fountain pens!! I didn’t know there were magazines on fountain pens at all, but finding one in Japanese is really a sign that these two hobbies go on well together.

The magazine is published four times a year and I have the issue 46.

The magazine has 160 pages with different articles and several pages devoted to the “New Stationery Collection”, which is a display of new fountain pens by brand. It is nice to see what exist on the market, even though most pens are far too expensive for me. The articles are interesting. In the issue I have, the dossier is about choosing, using, washing and taking care of your fountain pen. There is also an impressive display of tools used to take care of the nib and an interesting interview with a Japanese designer working at Lamy.

Japanese Immersion - film, anime and magazine 2

I can really feel the difference between reading something in Japanese to read in Japanese and reading something in Japanese because the contents interest me. In order to try some new study approach and do something I never did before, I took some paragraphs, copied them into a notebook in Japanese and translated them into French (all this is also a pretext to use my fountain pen). It didn’t feel like studying at all, I enjoyed doing it because I am so interested in the contents I translate.

By doing so, I have realised how translating can boost your reading skills. While I am reading only, I satisfy myself with a general comprehension of the sentence. Trying to translate it, however, forces me to analyse more closely what I am reading, and doing this helps to improve my reading ability in general, or at least, I think so.

Military service exemption for Son Heung-min?

The Asian Games are going on and though I am not following it, I will watch the men football finale tomorrow. Not only is the finale Korea-Japan, but if Korea wins, the players will get a military service exemption. Everyone is looking at Korea’s football star Son Heung-min (Tottenham) to see if he can avoid going to the military (the service is 21 months long…). I have no idea how Japanese feel when they play against Korea, but Koreans are generally very happy if they win against Japan. This and that put together, I guess that Korean fans will be on fire tomorrow!

Anyway, this made me open Mainichi again and read an article on this topic. I was very pleased to see that I could read it comfortably and without looking up words (guessing from the kanji the words I didn’t know or never learnt like “兵役免除” that I understand but cannot pronounce).

This passage explains that Korean football players can get a military service exemption if they win a medal at the Olympics or a gold medal at the Asian Games:

韓国の成人男性には28歳までに21カ月間の兵役の義務がある。サッカー選手が特例で兵役免除されるためには、オリンピックで3位以上の成績を収めるか、アジア大会で優勝することなどが条件となっている。

  • 兵役免除・へいえきめんじょ: exemption from military service

Conclusion

While I still have a hard time opening the Japanese novel I started some days ago and still don’t feel like reading at all, I am glad that I am still in contact with Japanese in other ways.

I feel now, more than ever, how important it is to have various ways to be in contact with your target language. There are times when some doors seem to be shut (for me at the moment, reading novels), and having other paths to explore allows you to stay in touch with the language, to discover new ways to study or new passions, and to improve different skills (listening instead of reading for example). Writing this Friday post (or knowing that I will have to write it), greatly helps me to stay active in looking for Japanese resources or things to do in Japanese.

I highly recommend writing or listing everything you do in your target language in your language study journal or any other support. A weekly basis works well for me, but it can be different!