Continuing our success stories series, here are the words of an AJATT reader named Adam; I added part numbering for ease of reference (and ran a quick spellcheck):
I wanted to contribute my story to the success stories page. I have been using your site and method for about 8 months now and absolutely love it, and figure I should contribute something. It’s kind of long so if you have to cut it that’s okay. Thanks for everything,
Part 1: Faulty Methods
I started studying Japanese during my last semester of college. They only had Japanese level 2 available so I lied to get in and said I studied elsewhere and that I would be able to catch up fine. (I was able to do this in about 2 weeks after studying hard) but this shows how ineffective college Japanese really is.)
I really wanted to improve my Japanese so I figured the best way was to study in Japan. Since I had no money, the only option was to go as an English teacher. So I moved to Japan shortly after I graduated, and ran into something that shocked me. No English teacher could seem to speak more than a few words of Japanese – maybe some important phrases, etc. And when they did speak a little, they sounded awful. It really made me worried, and think that it must be impossible [to learn Japanese]. I started to meet some of these teachers that had been living in Japan for 3, 5, 10, 15 years, were married to Japanese women, had children, and still had no Japanese ability at all. I decided I was not going to let this happen and I would never let myself fall into such a pathetic situation like this.
I cut off all my contact with the other teachers (spent all of my time at work studying when I had free time), made Japanese friends and worked my hardest to really improve my Japanese. My first year went great and I really felt I was way above any other foreigners I met. I was studying my ass off. I was probably putting in about 5 hours a day, which seemed like a lot at the time (though with my Japanese environment now it pales in comparison). However I was using so many faulty ways of studying that just didn’t work and it caused a lot of my great effort to be wasted.
A few methods I wish I had never used:
1) Using massive amounts of textbooks. I did get through them all. But after doing all the lame fill in the blanks, reading comprehensions, kanji exercises, etc. by the time I finished I had retained only about 15-20% of it. They were mostly incredibly boring so I never wanted to go back and review them. So I’d just go to the next textbook and continue this cycle. Textbooks are boring, no matter how many you do, your progress will be slow and they will never really help you get through to the real fluency.
2) Listening CDs. God, never use these. But Khatzumoto touches on this.
3) Listening to Japanese try to explain their language in English to me. There are some good English speakers living in Japan, but they are absolutely terrible at explaining their language. They give the wrong meanings, translate badly, and try to force their methods on you. I remember two examples. I was told ってか means `by the way` and that I should always use 僕 in all situations polite or impolite. You should’ve seen me try to start sentences with ってか and how wrong I sounded.
4) Language exchanges; Nothing but Japanese people trying to get as much English out of you, and hope that you really don’t have an interest enough in Japanese past a few phrases.
5) Japanese-English dictionary; Always Japanese to English never once Japanese to Japanese.
6) Dating a Japanese girl who was dead set on being an English master. This just lead to unending conflicts and a breakup.
Part 2: More Faulty Methods
Year 2, I finally started to realize that I had to get my hands on more Japanese materials and real stuff. However, I found new faulty methods:
1) Watching Japanese dramas and anime with English subtitles. This accomplished nothing.
2) Reading books, but every time I found a word I didn’t know, I’d look it up in English and then actually write the English word in the book. It took me forever to read books, was boring, and I never ended up looking at those words again.
3) Not worrying about mistakes at all, and thinking that Japanese people would correct my mistakes if I made them. This just caused unending mistakes that never got corrected.
4) I gave up writing kanji and figured I would never need to write them out so what was the point of studying the writing.
Part 3: All Japanese All The Time
In my 3rd year, I finally started to realize things on my own, before I reached the AJATT site, that coincide with it perfectly. I stopped using subtitles for TV dramas, started putting dramas on my iPod and just listening to them over and over. I also started reading straight without relying too much on a dictionary.
I felt like I put more time then anyone else into studying, yet I still wasn’t seeing the results I felt I deserved. I was understanding dramas and books but not to the level I wanted. Newspapers were still way over my head. I starting feeling as though this was as far as I or anyone could get. A decent understanding of Japanese but never really truly understanding it or feeling natural with it.
And then (*drumroll*) I stumbled across this website around November of 2007. At first I thought this guy Khatzumoto was just bulls****ing around not knowing what he was talking about. But as I started to read more of his articles I became intrigued and figure I would give the SRS system he talked about a try. I also started to use the listening environment he talked about (which I was already developing as well, but not to the extent he had recommended). I started listening to Japanese 24/7 (though I’ll admit I still can’t do it in my sleep — it gives me a headache), and I put in about 1000 sentences in Anki (though I also like Khatzumoto’s as well, but my internet connection wasn’t so great).
And immediately I was hooked. My level skyrocketed from doing these sentences (I started right off with Japanese to Japanese since my level was fairly good). I immediately decided that if this one thing was so good I wanted to go the whole way. I found out about the advice to do the Heisig method as well first (Which I always thought was the worst way to study Japanese), and after hesitation I finished the Heisig in SRS after about a month and a half. My level once again jumped up to new heights. I read through every article on the website (more than once) and it gave me incredible inspiration and ideas that I was so happy to finally found. Now, I’m up to about 6000 sentences, still doing the reviews of the kanji, and have reached new levels I never thought possible. I’m still going for the goal of 10,000 sentences (higher of course is the real goal). I get through about 30 new sentences a day now. I understand Japanese dramas and news and books really, really well, and am starting to feel more like a native speaker. I can read tons of kanji that Japanese can’t. I’ve listened to IWGP (Ikebukuro West Gate Park) about 200 times. I love Japanese and am so thankful to find this great site. I’m finally leaving Japan next month where I’m returning to study international business law in law school and hopefully will be able to continue to make use of my Japanese.
I wish everyone the best of luck. Have fun, don’t let other people get you down, remember your goals and use good methods.
That’s his story. Do you have a story you’d like to share? Email it to me! I can put it up here and it’ll inspire other people, and you’ll save me some writing!