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From the Mouths of Babes: A High School Girl Shares Her AJATT Success Story

Hey Khatz,

I just thought I’d send you an (almost done) success story. My name is Mariah, and I’m a junior in high school; I’ve been doing the AJATT method on-and-off since the summer of 8th grade, but more on that in a bit. I was originally going to send you a success story after I had considered myself fluent or reached 10,000 sentences, but I just found something out that blew my mind and really encouraged me (not that I really needed encouragement, I’m having way too much fun with this anyway).

So, at the start of my AJATT journey, I was in a computer summer camp and bored. I was also binge-watching Naruto for the third time, and I have issues with not feeling productive, so I would tell myself that I was productive from reading because I would always read the subtitles.

Then I found AJATT and spent the next few days just poring over a lot of the posts. Eventually, I got the gist of it, and the next day stopped using subtitles forever. I’ll never forget the first episode of Naruto I watched without subtitles, and I was able to immediately imply the meaning of what a character said: 「無駄だ。」

I did the kanji, got bored at around 1700ish, jumped into sentences. I used the book All About Particles, which was a GODSEND, added sentences from anywhere I possibly could. I started out trying to cram like five new words into each sentence, but it made SRSing outright PAINFUL, and I eventually learned to just do one or two new words per sentence. Then school started again, and to try to “make the most” of the time I spent with Japanese, I just focused on “serious” stuff, like college lectures, news articles, etc. BIG mistake. I got too stressed and bombed out.

About a year later, started over, did ALL the kanji, a few sentences, just got bored, quit.

Another year later, I tried to do “lite” Japanese, just an hour or so a day, but I felt like I was depriving myself, so I quit.

Fast forward to this past summer. The kids in the Japanese class at my school were going on a 10-day trip to Japan that I was unable to go on (complicated circumstances). I felt like “This is unfair, I should be the one going, those idiots don’t even understand anything other than simple 敬語, damnit damnit”. At the same time, we were going to the beach a lot and whenever I got tired and/or freaked out from almost drowning I wanted something to read. I remembered some けいおん volumes I had at home and started reading them.

Then I learned that a class of kids from Japan was coming here in October, and that I could quite possibly host one. I was like, “Whoa, I don’t wanna miss this opportunity, better get back to Japanese…” So I started AJATT again, and I had already remembered a lot of words and kanji from my previous attempts, so I did about 600 kanji again and jumped into sentences. The kids came and I got to host a girl. I was over the roof. It turned out to be great, because she knew VERY LITTLE English so I translated a lot for her and she talked in Japanese with me.

After the kids left, I was still doing Japanese. I thought, “If they did a homestay in high school, maybe I could do one…” I started looking for homestay opportunities, and found one, and applied for the scholarship. The trip will be this summer, and be six weeks long, so I had a goal to work up to: be almost-fluent or fluent by summer 2014. So, I jumped right in. I’m still waiting on the notification of whether I got the scholarship or not, but if I don’t get it I’ll be fine; I’ll work full time over the summer and save up to either go during senior year and take the EJU (test to get into a Japanese University) or just save up for college (if I don’t get a chance to take the EJU, I want to go to International Christian University, or 国際基督教大学).

So I have a goal, and it makes it SO much easier to stick with it because of that. You see, before, it was “Isolate myself with Japanese, maybe be able to go to Japan and talk with people someday” to “Isolate myself with Japanese, and be guaranteed to constantly use it within two years.” It definitely makes a huge difference when I’m debating on whether to play video games with my brother or read manga.

So right now, I have a little over 5,500 sentence cards in my deck, and recently finished reading an entire Japanese novel front to back. I feel almost-fluent at this point, but really need to work on reading names as well as place names. I got Japan TV on Verizon FiOS, because I couldn’t stand the low quality Japanese TV I was getting online and it’s only $25 a month, man! The reason I decided to write this now was a podcast I just listened to.

You see, when I was doing Japanese in eighth grade, I was pretty boss with anime and some drama, but TERRIBLE with news. I had a lot of news podcasts on my iPod but could scarcely understand a word. I said, “I think I’ve gotten more boss, let’s see.” So I put on a 15-minute news podcast and understood EVERY WORD. I was like, “Whoa, I really am making progress! This is awesome!” I’m not fluent yet, but can confidently say that I almost am, and absolutely love where I am. I can really enjoy things so much more than I would have imagined now that I understand almost all of it.

Of course, it’s not like I really needed motivation. Honestly, I think I would lose my sanity without Japanese in my life every day. Whenever I get home from school, I play Japanese music to tune everything out, read comics on pixiv, read manga, watch anime, watch Japanese TV. When I’m at school, I read news articles and Facebook posts by Japanese friends. During the weekend, I read manga and novels, watch Japanese TV and anime, listen to Japanese music, and feel like I’m in heaven. I am just doing FUN THINGS in Japanese so it is SO DAMN FUN AND EASY.

In my previous attempts, I would tell myself “Oh Mariah, you need to stop watching anime, watch some news for God’s sakes.” I thought I would have to graduate from kid stuff to adult stuff in Japanese, but it got so damn boring that I couldn’t take it. I was hugely mistaken. I read so much manga it’s ridiculous, and I’ve learned so much vocabulary from it that it’s ridiculous! It doesn’t matter what it is; if it’s fun and you’re learning, it’s good.

I have a clear goal in mind, and I think I’ll be just about fluent by the time summer rolls around. This has been an amazing journey. I have some things that I’ve learned and that might help other people on their journeys:

  • Don’t EVER feel bad for reading manga or watching anime. It’s good for you and it’s Japanese and it’s FUN.
  • Don’t try to stuff 5 new words in each sentence card.
  • Stay away from the boring stuff, stay with the fun stuff.
  • If you’re cash-strapped, go to and download manga to your heart’s content.
  • Please don’t go hard on yourself. It does no good.
  • It’s really helpful to have a clear goal in mind so that you know all of this will really pay off, e.g. going to Japan or hosting an exchange student.
  • If you’re not having fun, switch it up. Find something you really like, no matter what it is! Naruto! Stupid dramas! Music! Hentai manga! There is no judgement!
  • Go to from time to time and post a journal entry in Japanese, and get a bunch of awesome Japanese people to correct it for you. I like this better than a language exchange partner because it’s more convenient (time zone differences, anyone?) and you don’t have to beg people to correct you; it’s what they’re there for.

So, of course, I have to give my thanks to you, Khatzumoto, because without AJATT and Surusu and all your helpful articles and e-mails, none of this would have been possible. You are AWESOME. I haven’t really done MCDs, but I actually enjoy sentences and it works for me. You have helped me so much in my journey. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Please feel free to post this on your site, cut out certain bits, emphasize different parts, whatever. I just really want to express my thanks and help out anyone else who may need motivation with their Japanese.

– Mariah

  9 comments for “From the Mouths of Babes: A High School Girl Shares Her AJATT Success Story

  1. Mariah
    April 11, 2014 at 00:23

    Hey Khatz, thanks so much for putting up my story!! I realized after the fact that I meant, not Thanks again!!! ヽ(*´∀`)ノ

    • 私の名前は"名前"です!
      April 26, 2014 at 10:33

      Wow. This is really cool. I’m basically in the same position that you were in when you started, and I’m hoping to achieve this level of awesomeness in Japanese by the time I’m about your age… do you think you could elaborate a little on your learning process? I would really appreciate the help.

      Thanks! 🙂

  2. Jumi96
    April 11, 2014 at 04:19

    Wow, that sounds awesome! I think I would also like to write something like Mariah in a year probably? Because the progress that I made in Korean within 6 months… I really want to show it to other people that they can see another proof that immersion is a worthy effort ^^

  3. Amir
    April 12, 2014 at 01:23

    Awesome story Mariah!
    Just be sure to not quit anymore, because that’s the biggest mistake an Ajatteer can make. ;]
    Keep your position and fight for your dreams, the confidence you have right now needs to be that ,which keeps you going ! (^_-)-☆ It’s great to hear that japanese is a part of your life now and that you’re happy doing it!

  4. Livonor
    April 14, 2014 at 00:21

    Anyone here knows how to apply to EJU outside of Japan

  5. Lunar
    April 15, 2014 at 07:23

    Maybe this isn’t exactly the right place but I have a bit of a question.

    Recently I made a deck for learning vocab – basically, two cards for each item, one where I have to type out the reading from kanji and the other I had to type out the English meaning, also from kanji. But since learning words in isolation isn’t exactly the best method, I switched to sentences. I still have myself type out the reading of the new word I’m trying to learn, because I feel like it involves me more in the reps, but anyway- my issue is that when I’m learning words in isolation it’s easy to recall the readings, while in sentences I tend to have a lot of trouble remembering the readings (meanings are ok). I wonder why that is and what I could do to make it easier on myself…

    • Sleeve
      April 16, 2014 at 06:49

      This is where MCDs can come in handy, it gives the best of both worlds. Find the word you want to learn in a real native sentence or paragraph and just cloze the word you want to learn.

      If you are still in the bilingual stage then you can add an English translation to the front of the card. Paper, electronic and online dictionaries are a good source of example sentences. This will teach you the English meaning naturally and help you guess the cloze. Never translate it yourself if you are at this stage, find pre-translated text or just provide the definition of the word on the back.

      Your only goal is speak aloud the clozed text. Some people suggest writing out the clozed text but personally this wasn’t necessary and just killed my enthusiasm.

      Don’t read the whole context text if you don’t need/want to, just read enough to be able to guess the cloze deletion.

      This will give you the benefits of sentence cards and the convenience of single word cards. Even though you don’t have to actively recall anything from the sentences it will be benefiting you.

  6. Ek
    March 30, 2015 at 06:28

    Thanks for sharing this! It’s a really wonderful success story and is just the kick I needed.

    I hope you get into EJU!

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