How To Learn Japanese In 30 Days


Even though I’ve been living here for nearly ten months, doing bits and pieces of Japanese study, lately I feel like I’ve hit a wall of sorts. I’m just not making as much progress as I was at the start. I usually pick up one new word a day, mostly from my students. That sounds good, but 365 words per year? That’s pathetic.


I’ve been making all sorts of excuses – Japanese is too hard, I’m too old, I’m not smart enough, Japanese babies are special… etc. etc. But really, I’m just lazy. There’s no magic cure for illiteracy. I just need to do some freaking work. 


So, I’ve decided to go all US military on this goddamn language and beat it into submission using every weapon I’ve got. Shock and awe! Attack! Blitzkreig! (Not US, but whatever, it fits.)


I’m going to execute a 30-day invasion on Japanese. Every day for 30 days I’m going to do some serious work. Apparently 30 days is long enough to establish a good habit, while short enough not to be too scary. Every day for a year? Yikes. Every day for a month? Still kind of eeep but manageable. 


The Challenge

30 days of Japanese (language)-thrashing.


The Method

  • Learn at least 10 new kanji per day. 
  • Do all required SRS repetitions for kanji.
  • Max out SRS repetitions for the kana.
  • Do one chapter per day of a vocab/grammar textbook.
  • Listen with concentration to at least 30 minutes of adult spoken Japanese per day.


The Weapons

  • Kana – embarrassing as it is, my kana recall is far from perfect. I use iKnow.
  • Vocab/grammar – I’m using the book Minna no Nihongo. This book is entirely in Japanese. There is no English whatsoever. There is a translation/grammatical notes book available, which I have. I’m not endorsing this book, I have no idea if it’s any better or worse than others out there, but I got this one for free. Free! That’s why I use it. 
  • Spoken Japanese – I listen to children speaking Japanese for five hours a day. Even though I’m actively trying to figure out what they’re saying, they’re speaking kiddie Japanese. This isn’t really good enough. I also listen to adult Japanese while I’m driving around or doing household chores – the radio, online tv, stuff from youtube. I’m not really concentrating though, it filters in and out. 

Listening with concentration is different, I’m really trying to figure out what they’re saying, hunting for words I recognise. Right now I’m watching a Japanese TV show called Kimi wa Petto. It’s based on a really popular manga comic and was made in 2003. I’ve already watched the series (10 1-hour episodes) on youtube with the subtitles on, so I know what’s going on. I don’t have a copy of this without the subtitles, so I put the subtitled version on, and then minimize the screen. I tend to watch the same 10-minute clip 2 or 3 times in a row. Each time I pick up more words and figure out more patterns. I also watch whatever movies I can get my hands on. Previous favorites have included The Incredibles and Mean Girls. I must have listened to The Incredibles 50 times (mostly while doing other things).


The Support

  • I read at least one “motivational” blog post per day. Mostly I read Steve Pavlina. This guy is one of the most popular personal development blog writers in the world. I think he’s great. Some of his posts veer into new-agey spirituality, but I just ignore those bits and stick to motivation/time management/productivity. It really helps.


I’m posting all this stuff here partly to help other people and partly as a public declaration. I’m going to do this. If I don’t do it, I’ll… well… be ashamed. 


Wish me luck!



Oh, did I say learn Japanese in 30 days? Sorry, I meant FOR 30 days.


Stupid Kids


It happens every day.


I explain what we’re going to do. I have the kids give the explanation back to me to make sure they understand. Then I ask who wants to go first. Hands shoot up into the air. I pick a kid. A look of shock and horror crosses their face. They refuse to do it. Ok, who else wants to do it? Hands up again – MEMEMEMEMEMEME!!!!! I pick again. Shock and horror. Refusal. 


I explain over and over again that if you raise your hand, I will call on you. If you don’t want to do the particular task/game/whatever, DON’T RAISE YOUR FREAKING HAND!!


I know Japan’s all about the group identity, but sheesh.

I’m Not In The Business Of Selling, But If I Was, This Would Be Hilarious




via swissmiss

Japanese Kids Wear The Darndest Things II


Today, one of my 14 year old boys wore a t-shirt that said 


“Everyone say I believe fate but I don’t understood what say”.


I get paid to correct grammar.



Frustrations of Teaching


Recently I’ve found myself increasingly frustrated with work. For anyone reading this for the first time, I teach kids from the ages of 2 to 18 in after-school English classes. The classes are held in a small private school. Two classrooms, two foreign conversation teachers, a Japanese grammar teacher, a Filipina helper and a Japanese office lady. The owner/”director” of the school makes an occasional appearance for a few minutes.


There are some problems.


First, there are just too many kids in each class. Some classes have fourteen 4-6 year olds. Now, in comparison to regular school class sizes, this is tiny, but for me, it’s too many. Mostly because I just don’t have the language skills to control them. I mean, if one of the kids says something horrible to another, and then gets pummelled, the pummeller gets in trouble and the pummellee gets an apology. It’s just not right. I spend so much of my time breaking up fights and trying to get the kids to concentrate that it’s exhausting. 


The second major problem is mixed levels in the same class. One class has a couple of kindergartners in with a bunch of 8-year-olds that range from smart to dolt and one sharp as a tack 10-year-old. The 10-year-old is bored out of his mind, the kindergartners don’t learn a thing and the 8-year-olds don’t learn much because whenever they don’t know the answer, they look to the older kid and he whispers the answer. It’s all kind of pointless. 


Lastly, the level that’s being expected is too high. The crunch came when I was trying to teach the kids the phrase “any”. As in, “is there any soda/are there any sandwiches”. We were playing go fish. The kids had to use the phrase “Do you have any fives”. They’re playing in teams, three 10-year-olds to a team. It’s the girls’ team’s turn. One says “Do you have any….. go?” Go is Japanese for five. Seriously. I’m trying to teach the particulars of some/any and they can’t count to ten. After having gone to classes at this school for seven years. Their parents have spent over million yen on classes at this school over the past seven years or so. Go convert that into your own currency and marvel. I’m spending my days drilling verbs like repair, shovel, type and revise when the kids’ grasp of be, do and go are shaky at best. 


Ugh. Sometimes I miss my desk job.


Cherry = Popped


Yesterday, May 25 2009, at 20.26 (Japan Standard Time), I felt the earth move.


It was a strange, nauseating experience.

My head swam, my stomach lurched, sweat broke out.

My face turned bright red.

My heart pounded and I was breathing fast.

I thought I might pass out.


My first earthquake.


I was teaching a high school class at the time, explaining the difference between a dramatic romance and a romantic drama in terms of film genres.


It didn’t even occur to me that it might be an earthquake.

I thought I was fainting, and I started trying to work out how many hours it had been since I had last eaten.

As far as I could tell, nobody else reacted.


Once I had recovered I asked the class – “Earthquake?”

None of them knew the word.

I mimed “earthquake” with my hands.

“Mmmmmmmm. Yes.”

“Phew. My first earthquake.”

“Your first time? Eeeeehhhhh! Sugoi!”


Cue spontaneous round of applause.




(Sugoi means great/wow.)


ETA – Checked online just now – 4.6 on the Richter scale, if you’re interested.

Let’s Enjoy Beering!

kids beerこどもびいる - child beer


Sometimes in work I have to go and hunt down the kids to make them come to class. Mostly they’re just chilling on the sofas, sometimes they’re hiding in the toilets, sometimes they’re beating the crap out of each other in the corridor. 


Today I had a class of boys aged 8-10. Not a single one showed up on time. I found them huddled in a corner, passing around a can of beer, taking swigs and then pulling faces at how disgusting it was. The Japanese teacher was looking on, laughing. The room smelled like beer. I was horrified. 


Turns out, it was children’s beer. Non-alcoholic, but it looks, smells and tastes just like beer. It’s marketed to children and has a picture of a child on the label. 


I had heard rumours, but didn’t actually believe it existed. I suppose it’s a great way to get children used to the taste of beer while they’re young. I, at the grand age of 25, am still not used to the taste. I just can’t drink beer. Maybe if I’d been trained from the age of 5 the breweries would have one more loyal customer…