As 2021 comes to an end, I have been reflecting on my Japanese studies this past year. It has been about a year and a half since I hit the reset button how I have been learning Japanese. When I first started, I focused on studying grammar from textbooks and memorizing a list of vocabulary words each day. I put a lot of effort into it, but four years into the process, my comprehension and speaking skills were still mediocre at best. I went as far as working with a tutor once a week and seeking conversation partners to practice speaking, but any improvements were marginal at best. I felt frustrated and was about to give up, but a conversation with my good friend Ken would turn things around for me.
I vented my frustrations about my progress in learning Japanese with Ken, who is also learning Japanese, during a video chat. Ken told me about a YouTuber who runs a channel called Matt vs. Japan to pass on his knowledge on becoming proficient in a foreign language. Matt became fluent in Japanese using a method that focuses on getting input through immersion in a language. I should note that he became fluent while living in the US and speaks at a native level. After my conversation with Ken, I watched several of Matt’s videos and glanced through some of his articles about language acquisition. Matt’s videos and articles energized me and gave me a new hope in learning Japanese. He was realistic and said that it takes time to learn a language; after all, if it was easy, everyone would be doing it.
Armed with this new knowledge, I decided to employ similar methods that Matt used in learning Japanese. I put away my textbooks and stopped studying grammar. Instead, I started to immerse myself in native-level content by reading novels, news articles, blogs, etc. and watching TV shows, movies, YouTube videos, etc. that are compelling. Rather than trying to memorize a bunch of vocabulary words, I use flash cards in an SRS app called Anki to learn words, but I make sure that the words have example sentences because context is important. Although I do speak with my Japanese friends from time to time, my focus is getting more and more input each day through immersion in order to strengthen my comprehension.
Looking back on things, I realize that my original method of learning a language was probably not the best, and it was probably ineffective. I think immersion is a better method because it’s more fun as long as the input is compelling. I have read several Japanese novels up to this point and have learned so many words, phrases, natural expressions, etc. that I would never have learned from a textbook. I watch my favorite Japanese YouTubers and Japanese TV shows as often as possible. Although I don’t understand everything, I can feel that my comprehension is improving gradually day by day. As we head into the new year, at some point, I’ll start phase 2, which is recording videos of myself speaking so that I can improve my speaking skills. Additionally, I’ll try to do shadowing practice more often in order to improve my pitch accent.
I would like to end the year and this blog entry by thanking Ken and Matt. If it hadn’t been for both individuals, I would have given up learning Japanese. Happy New Year!
Edit February 19, 2022: I thought it was important to update this blog entry by providing the following link to a Reddit regarding Matt vs. Japan. I think Matt does give good language learning advice, and my Japanese has improved as a result of some of his methods (for the record, I don’t agree with everything he says); however, the thread on Reddit is an important reminder to exercise good judgment and good, critical thinking skills.