There’s something about anime in the middle of the night

It’s twenty past midnight and I can’t sleep. I haven’t been feeling too well lately, to be perfectly honest. So to make myself feel better, I went to the kitchen and ate some carbohydrates (lovely white bread!!). Then I came back upstairs and watched a few minutes of anime on my iPad.

My understanding of Japanese is still minimal at best, and I didn’t have subtitles. But now the sound of the language is a bit like an old blanket or a teddy bear – comforting, almost in an ineffable way. Anyway, it has made me feel good enough to write this short post on my sadly-neglected blog. Life; I tell ya. Never easy, is it. (I actually wrote something last week and only just found out it never got published, something I still haven’t figured out how to achieve.)

Well, I guess I’m off to attempt to sleep again. おやすみなさい。

ただいまああああ!(I’m back!)

Hello lovely people of the internet!

Well, after taking an extended break from writing (in which I tried to get my life back together and only sort of succeeded) I can tell you, I’m back.

As usual, I cannot promise any new ideas, insightful commentary, or even quality writing.

However, there will probably be many things like this.  This is a song by Mariya Takeuchi (an artist I’m totally interested in but cannot find any songs of hers to download, paid or otherwise).  For reasons best known to the author of the video, it has been accompanied by a picture of a koala.

See you soon!

Japanese Lessons Work For Me

Hello!  Jessica here.

I haven’t been blogging much recently.  I think I must have finally hit life-saturation point.  I’m now doing so many things that some of them are starting to slip.  I’m in the process of going back to work/looking for a job.  Also, I’m learning how to drive in the UK (manual transmission + left side of the road + roundabouts = TERROR!! PANIC!! MAYHEM!!!).  So, not much being said here recently.

However, I am still taking Japanese lessons.  To be honest, I kept going back and forth about them for a while.  Are they too expensive?  Am I really learning as much as I think I am?  Have I actually gone over to the dark side, given that I started this whole Japanese thing the Khatzumoto, All Japanese All The Time way?

Maybe I’ll change my mind later, but for now I think lessons are great for me.  I’m learning grammar and being introduced to new vocabulary.  I know that a textbook is not the be-all, end-all of language, but now when I go back to look at “real” Japanese on the internet, MUCH more of it makes sense.  I no longer need to look up the reading for every single kanji.  I’m not getting so overwhelmed with it, and that lets me spend more time with it.

So for me, I think the current solution is to keep taking lessons, but also keep exposing myself to non-polite, anime, and Twitter Japanese.  Right now I’m mining sentences like crazy from this Twitter account.  (I think it’s supposed to be for Japanese people learning English.)

A Twitter Post in Japanese Every Day

I’ve been a bit distracted recently.

Hmm, maybe that isn’t the right way to say it.

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...I’ve been focusing on things other than Japanese recently.  Like learning to play the timpani/triangle/cymbals in the Taunton Concert Band (and not tripping over myself switching between them).  And doing a bit of paid music transcription work.  And, most excitingly, my new Canon dSLR camera (a photo blog is in the works, probably – watch this space).

So what I think I really need is a new challenge.  I like challenge.  So I will challenge myself to post a Twitter update in Japanese every day.

This could be difficult.  I estimate my total Japanese vocabulary at about 300 words, if I’m lucky.  And some of those words are boring things like “classroom” and “company employee”.  For someone who prides herself on her ability to express herself (even if it means occasionally making up words), this could be torture.

My main fear?  Making mistakes.  My equally main fear?  Being boring as hell.

Anyway, I’ll give it a go.  Maybe this will be like that Seinfeld episode where Kramer decides to make his apartment into “levels” and Jerry bets him he can’t do it.  And then Kramer changes his mind and Jerry says “then I win” and Kramer says “no, the bet’s off because I changed my mind”.  Maybe I’ll change my mind.  In which case, the bet’s off.

Japanese Language Is An Improvised Jazz Solo – Discuss.

I decided to make the title for this post sound like one of those dreaded essay questions from high school.  I don’t know what made me do that.  It just felt like the right thing to do at that moment.

I guess you could say I improvised it.

***

I grew up in a Midwest American town that boasted several ferocious school music departments.  Out of 1200 kids in my high school, 400 of us were involved in music.  I was in, among other things, the jazz band.  In jazz music, there will inevitably be a bit where the notes turn into slashes with chemical – looking symbols above them.  If you were the one who volunteered (or, more often, was forced into it), that meant it was your turn to stand and make something up on the spot – it was your turn to improvise.

Something a bit like this.

Something a bit like this.

Jazz improvisation instruction is full of contradiction.  One day it’s, “just play anything, there are no wrong notes, Miles Davis built a career on that concept you know”, and then next lesson it’s “These are the notes of a D Dorian scale.  When you see D minor, restrict yourself to these 7 notes and no others”.  Jazz is freedom and spontaneity, then jazz is hours upon hours of finding ever more gruelling ways to play scales.

“They” (music educators everywhere) will tell you jazz is like speaking.  You learn scales (vocabulary and grammar), but then when you take a solo (have a conversation) you forget all of those things and just make it up as you go along.  But that analogy never really worked for me.  Jazz improvisation is HARD and language (English) is EASY.  I didn’t have to sit and drill adverbs for an hour a day before I could tell someone they were going too “slowly”.  It was something teachers said and I never believed. Panic resumed.

However, now that I’m studying Japanese, I’m starting to get what those bespectacled, goatee’d lecturer-dudes were talking about.  I have spent months now learning the difference between は, を, and が and I thought I nearly had it.  But, when faced with a real live Japanese person, all of that goes out the window and I mess them up.  Also I know that か is at the end of a sentence when it’s a question.  I know it.  But I haven’t practised it in real time.  So I forget that too, and that’s easy. I feel like a bit of an idiot…

…just like when I would know the notes of a melodic minor scale, know them, could recite them, could play the scale on my instrument, but when faced with a performance situation – gone.  Out the window.  It’s a really dreadful feeling.

I think it comes down to the difference between knowing and knowing.  There’s knowing something with your head, and then there’s knowing something so well that it is a part of you.  After years and years of trying, I can now achieve passable jazz solos on multiple instruments.  I never feel like I’ve done as well as I could have, but the audience claps and the world keeps moving.  It was only partly due to practising scales.  It was mostly due to being faced with that real situation over, and over, and over again and playing some really dreadful solos in the meantime.  Now the notes are more a part of me than something that I think about.

That’s what I never understood.  English has always been a part of me – I don’t remember learning it.  And it’s such a part of me that I can say things that are wrong or don’t actually make sense (like “meese” is the plural of “moose” and “smack that b**tch up”) and they become correct in that moment because I’ve expressed myself in that way.

So until I get lots and lots and lots more practice, Japanese will be at the “ohmigodohmigodohmigod there’s so many people here and they’re all looking at me and Mr. Public School Music Teacher will be so disappointed in me if I screw this up” phase.  However, if I’ve survived it once, I can do it again.  In the meantime, people of Japan, ごめんなさい

Happy New Year (Even if I’m a Little Late)

Well, 2012 is finally over. No more Olympics, no more Diamond Jubilee. I guess we have to find other things to take up our time for the next year. Suits me fine – I was getting a bit bored of all the Union Jack bunting around this place.

Pikachu and Cyndaquil are my buddies.

Pikachu and Cyndaquil are my buddies.

I don’t really do New Years resolutions. I feel like that would be setting myself up for failure. However, given my current circumstances, I really do need to be getting on with things. Remember how I handed in my notice at work? The idea was that I’d have a couple of months to sort myself out another job. Well, it turns out that the breakdown I was trying to avoid happened anyway. Surprise! I’m now signed off on sick leave until the end of the month, at which point my notice period runs out anyway.

So, clearly I need to consider sorting myself out. We can’t be having this again. This is my current list of things I’m doing:

  • Keeping up with Japanese sentence reviews in Anki and adding new ones if I feel up to it
  • Working through Julia Cameron’s The Prosperous Heart, which involves writing in a journal and taking long walks (bliss!)
  • Generally being nicer to myself and cutting back on the self-loathing, to which I have become addicted (this is mightily difficult, but Cyndaquil and Pikachu are helping)
  • Improving my singing voice through self study (this book. It looks cheesy, but it’s what they used at my music university and so far it seems to be working)

As for what I’m going to do next, you know, do next, as in, I’m-an-adult-and-I-do-things-and-the-world-changes-as-a-result, I haven’t got a clue. However, I think that perhaps that’s not so important right now so I’ll just continue to go with ‘the flow’ like the hippy I’ve secretly always wanted to be. I think I’ll go light some incense and listen to sitar music.

Anyway, Happy New Year! If 2013 is nothing else, at least it will be interesting….

5 Hesitations I Have About Teaching Myself Japanese, Plus Proof That None of Them Matter

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Okay so I’m learning Japanese. You will have noticed that by now, probably. But what I may not have said is that I’m teaching myself. I have never taken a Japanese class, and never had a Japanese lesson. I’m working through Tae Kim’s Guide to Japanese, putting the sentences into Anki to learn them, but not paying too much attention to mundane things like grammar rules. I have several dictionaries and All About Particles by Naoko Chino. But other than that, I, uh, watch a lotta anime and listen to a buncha music.

But then I started to have all these doubts. How can I teach myself something I don’t know? As one woman at work put it, “how do I know if I’m saying it right?” (This woman then proceeded to make vaguely-Asian, racially-offensive sounds, so maybe we won’t worry about her so much.)

So here are my doubts, and here are the reasons I’ve decided they don’t matter, mostly taken from observing children (but not in a creepy way! Oh no, I shouldn’t have said that-now I sound even more creepy. I swear I’m not a weirdo!)

1. I might be pronouncing it wrong.
There aren’t all that many sounds in Japanese, so this isn’t as much of a worry as I would have with, say, French (which feels like a national emergency in my mouth). But still, I’m avoiding romaji and doing it all in hiragana, so I might mix up て and と without knowing it. And then of course I might be getting the r/l “lip my stocking” sound wrong.

Yeah, and I met a 5 year old Australian kid who called the Queen “Abithabiz”. What an idiot. I don’t know him anymore, but I can only assume he got sorted out eventually. So will I.

2. I might be making other mistakes.
Like the word for “minute” (分). Sometimes it’s “ふん”. Sometimes it’s “ぷん”. Depends on the number. I’m bound to screw this up.

However, there is a 2 year old running around North London who, as a result of being in a house with a tennis fan during the Summer Olympics, refers to the Union Jack as “Andy Murray Flag.” (And then everyone laughs, so he keeps saying it. But he’ll probably be okay.)

3. I don’t know grammar rules.
I’m more “exposed” to grammar rules than learning them. I’m not studying tables full of verb conjugations though, and isn’t that the first thing you’re supposed to do when learning a language? “Amo, amas, amat, etc.”?

Then I remembered that “am”, “is”, and “are” are conjugations of the verb “to be”. I bet I didn’t know that when I was six. It didn’t keep me from talking. (Actually, no one could get me to shut up. Not much has changed.)

4. I’m not getting experience constructing sentences of my own.
I could be, granted. I could tweet in Japanese or go on Lang-8 or whatever. But I don’t feel like it. I wouldn’t know what anyone said back to me anyway.

Well, if I lived in Japan I wouldn’t have a choice. I’d have to talk/write to communicate on a day-to-day basis. But I don’t live there so I don’t have to. Let’s instead imagine that I can read books and understand spoken Japanese but cannot speak a word of it myself. Number one, I don’t think that’s really possible. Number two, even if it is, I’m willing to take that risk. I can mime or whatever.

5. I’m not necessarily learning ‘textbook Japanese’.
This may sound silly at first, but hear me out: if I don’t learn Japanese in the order that other people learn it, how will I find anything in common with other Japanese learners? I won’t know the same words. I won’t be as good at the polite form because I watch too much anime.

Okay it still sounds silly. Life’s too short to worry about such things.

So there you have it. Now if you’ll excuse me, my flash cards won’t review themselves, so I have to go now.

P.S. This is my first post from my new iPad. I’ve had a brief falling out with the undo button, but otherwise I’m in gadget heaven.