Taking the world less travelled

Going Gung-ho – November 2009

Posted by on Nov 29, 2009 in Language | 14 comments

Progress Where did the time go? It’s been over a month since I last posted, and I’ll tell you where I’ve been. Right here on the computer! Since the 19th of October 2009, I’ve spent 89 hours studying Japanese.

Some of you may know nanowrimo – an event which takes part in November where you attempt to write 50,000 words in a month. My goal of November was something similar, I wanted to see if I could attempt to study for 100 hours during November. The outcome is I’ll probably just be a little short of 70 hours, but I’m pretty happy with that! Next month I’m aiming for 80 hours – it might be a bit harder because it’s the holiday season but we’ll see how I go!

What follows is a long breakdown of what I’ve been up to during November!


My listening category includes watching tv/movies as well as other education specific audio. My main source was watching tv, I only include it when I am actively listening and not when I’m multi tasking or have background noise. I think when I have a larger vocabulary I will do more level specific listening to try and improve my listening skills. One TV show I do recommend to beginners is “My Girl” staring Aiba Masaki – the dialogue for the most part is spoken very slowly and simply as the main character is a young girl. Yeah, it’s a bit… but it’s easy study material!

There is one more day left in November, but it’s not like I’m going to drastically increase my study hours… With that in mind, in November I watched/listened to about 15 hours of Japanese.
December’s goal: 20 hours.




  • Grade 3 (primary school) short story book
  • Grade 1 and 2 (primary school) short story book
  • Manga
  • Novel for 10-11 year old girls

Reading is a skill that I really want to improve. One of my goals of learning Japanese is to be able to understand Japanese books in their native language easily. This month I did more purchasing of books that actual reading. It’s actually a bit strange, but out of all the different types of study activities I do, I find reading the most tireing. It may be the times of day that I read – usually on the bus on the way home from work or in bed before I go to sleep, but I always find after a page I need to close my eyes and go to sleep. This is frustrating!! But I am hoping with time it wont be so taxing on my brain or I will find time to read at different times and I will see a difference.

I started out with a reader for grade 3 (primary school) Japanese children. It is actually a pretty good book for learners because it is full of short stories, all kanji have furigana and at the end of the short stories is a short little quiz on the content of the story to see if everything was understood. There are also little dictionary type meanings under some words that must be knew/unknown to most 3rd graders which was helpful! My method of going through this was to first look up any unknown words and write them down in pencil next to the word. The words in the book are big and have large spaces between the lines, so it was perfect for this. The problem is that my vocab knowledge is so low that it was hard to infer anything and had to look up a lot of words. And I found the first story a bit unsatisfying. My problem is, I think, that I don’t like short stories in English, I like getting to know the Characters and going on a journey with them… So perhaps I shouldn’t expect to like them in Japanese either…

Still, I felt my first foray into reading Japanese literature a bit of a failure, I went and bought some books that are full of short stories for grades one and two (at the time I was thinking my main problem was vocab and perhaps something very simple would fill me with a sense of accomplishment). So far I’ve read a couple of short stories from the grade one book, and I have to say it does make me feel good when I can read through something and understand maybe 70% of it. I can infer meaning from the pictures and sometimes there may be a sentence I don’t undertand but it doesn’t bother me. I haven’t felt the need to use a dictionary yet even if I don’t fully understand something. There is also a cute poem in the grade one book that I liked. :) But yes, over all the stories are… a little strange and a bit confusing because I guess they are meant for young children – it’s satisfying in that I can read but what I’m reading isn’t satisfying, I hope that makes sense!

Manga. I have been reading a book for young teen girls, a high school relationships manga. Your everyday sort of stuff, nothing remarkable about the story line. I bought this book at the wonderful Book Off when I first got to Japan and started it then but didn’t get far. This time it was nice to open the book and understand more than what I did then. I am improving!! Yay :) I haven’t finished it yet (reading is slow!) and again, I think I’m getting too old for the school girl stuff, I want to move onto something more my age – damn I feel old sometimes! The problem with moving on is vocab/kanji with a lack of furigana etc. So again with the yay for reading but the story isn’t grabing me type stuff. Yeah, if I was at the stage I am now half a year ago I would have been over joyed but it’s a case of the grass is always greener – but I guess in a way it is motivating me to keep going.

Next: Today I bought some books that as far as I can tell are for girls about 10-12 years old. I’m expecting them to be tough. However, I feel like I’ll be more satisfied with them. Sure, they are still for young girls, but they are fantasy stories about (I hope!) strong female characters – these are my favourite type stories to read in English so I’m hoping that they will be more staisfying. So far I read the prologue of one, it was really easy! It was the main character introducing herself (introductions are about the only thing I’m good at in Japanese!) and about her history. I did it infront of the computer to quickly look up a couple of words in the dictionary (no writing down) but for the most part it was exciting that I was reading a “real” book. :) We’ll see how I go as I get into the story line more. I’m sure I’ll be complaining about it at the end of next month. It’ll either be too hard to read or the story line is too simplistic or something!!!

November Hours Reading: 5 hours
December Goal: To finish a book!

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I’ve been using:

  • Kanzen Master JPLT 3 Grammar book
  • JET program language course – intermediate level
  • review book for beginners/JLPT 3 level

kazenmaster I’ve been spending my time learning/reviewing JLPT level 3 grammar, using Kanzen Master JLPT 3 grammar guide. This is a good book, mostly all in Japanese with a little bit of english to explain the grammar point. I would have to say with JLPT level grammar, about 90% I already “knew” – knew in that I had encountered it before. A lot of it, however, still isn’t firmly in my head, like giving and recieving (I don’t know why I have trouble with this!), passive and causatives. Also transitive and intransitives. Much work to be done! There were a small amount of points I hadn’t learnt before but I think these ones will be quite simple to master.

Over all I do recommend Kanzen Master JLPT 3. I have no intention of studying the JLPT at this stage, but I like the way everything has been grouped into like forms, there are example sentences that are going to be at my level and there are quizes to check if you understood. Now, some of the quizes are easy in that “Oh, I just learnt that this grammar point you need the verb to be in the “te” form, so I’ll just choose the only option that is in the “te” form, even if I have no idea what the sentence means.” – I haven’t tried the exercises yet futher in the book so I’m not sure if they get harder than this.

My method of study sofar has been just to copy out the “formula” and then to copy a couple of the example sentences. It hasn’t done much to stick I don’t think, so now and into december I plan on paying a bit more attention into and really nailing down those passive etc forms. I’m hoping to have really got a solid foundation by the end of December – enough to move onto JLPT 2 level, even if I haven’t completely mastered them.

I do have a concern that with the JLPT 2 level, because I am (I imagine) not familiar with the grammar that it will be harder for me to actually understand what the grammar points are trying to address only through example sentences. I am planning on buying Kanzen Master level 2 so I guess I’ll see if it’ll be enough or if I need to supliment it somehow.

I have also been “studying” haha with the JET course. Now, a lot of bad things have been said about the course, and I believe last year they redid it alll. I think it’s not so bad really… but it isn’t really what I want to do with studying, if that makes sense, I would rather prioritise and do other things. Also the first book has been easy in that I am familiar with most of the grammar covered. So what I did is I wrote out all the grammar points and an example sentence, like what I did with Kanzen Master. Then I did the review exercises near the end of the book, compared it to the answers. I did fairly well, so I just went ahead and open book test style did the test. I still have to send it in, but I am satified that the JET course gets me studying and doesn’t seem so bad. I’m scared about the Dec book though – the dreaded transitive and intransitive verbs!

Last but not least, I’ve been doing this quiz book that tests kanji, vocab and grammar for JLPT 3. I did it back in Sept/Oct and scored fairly well. I picked it up again a week ago to see if I’ve improved. Happily I have improved. This time around I’m going to focus afterwards on the things I fail to see if I can really nail my short commings.

15 hours of study
December goals: Finish Kanzen Master JLPT 3.



Yeah… Smart.fm has turned a bit to shit in my opinion, but I actually finally started using it. They have been upgrading a lot which has been frustraiting (it usually goes down for maintenence when I want to study) and I don’t use the new study program at all, but I have been spending every night studying vocab at smart.fm.

Vocab is a huge weakness for me, so I want to make a mass effort to really get my vocab up there. My goal of November was to study 1000 words, and right now I’m just short of 1500 – I’m hoping to reach that magical number tomorrow. Already I can notice the difference through reading my manga. There are shortcomings to smart.fm but I am enjoying (for the most part!) using the “iknow” interface. Once I master some lists I plan on upping my listening skills and doing the dication – I did a couple already but I think I’ll get the most benifit from that and the brain speed aspects of smart.fm once I have “mastered” the lists.

31 hours, (hopefully!) 1500 words
December goal: to get up to 3500 words studied (+2000 words)



I get a lot of “writing” practise mainly through copying out my grammar books, but in this case writing corrosponds to when I physically create my own writing. I was planing on writing at 8lang regularly, but then I decided not to. I am going to save focusing on output (writing and speaking) when I am a bit futher into my studies. That being said, the small entries that I’ve done at 8Lang have been most helpful and I think it really is a fantastic resource. In the future I hope to keep a daily type log there.

November: half an hour
Decebmer goal: I don’t really plan to focus on this in December.


What’s Missing?

One noticible aspect missing from my log is speaking. For one, I think it would be hard to measure speaking unless I was to get up and say a monologue of some kind… At any case, right now I don’t feel confident in my speaking. Sure I can give one word responses and I can ask questions at stores if I think about it first, but I am not up to the level where I can have a conversation with people. I may add this to my spreadsheet at a later date, but for now I am not so worried about speaking and have no intention of measuring it in an “hours” format. At any rate, as my vocab and listening skills increase, I have found I have been more confident to speak, in particular to my students, and that has been satisfying/enough of a measurement for me. I can feel I’m inproving and that’s the main thing!

If you can think of something else I’m missing from my studies, feel free to leave a comment! Also if you have any questions or comments on my methods I’d love to hear them from you. I feel like, right now, I’ve never been so determined to get good at Japanese, and I feel like I’ve never gone this gung-ho at studying. Let’s hope I can keep up the momentum! (but still find the time to post… eep!)


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Join the conversation and post a comment.

  1. GoddessCarlie

    Congrats to anyone who reads all that. But… you probably should have spent your time studying Japanese!

  2. pachipachi

    Thanks for the whole report! And nice to hear you back!

    I’m interested in the Grade 3 short story book you are mentionning. What are its references? It seems to be exactly what I need! Even if I have the same preference for longer stories in my native language.

    About smart.fm I’ve also tried it a while ago with the “Japanese Core 2000” steps and some of the Hiragana Times ones. But I’ve stopped… it’s not really handy when you have several lists, it does not handle what you have to work on next well. And also it was very slow: requesting so much time to load screens, new lessons and so on… Finaly I found out that the lectures were not usable from my new note book so I completely drop it.

    But as you mentionned it in your post, I went back to the site, and… wow it seems to have changed a lot. I’ll maybe give it a second try!

  3. Daniel

    Where do you buy these elementary-level books with the short stories? :geek:

    • GoddessCarlie

      Depends where you live…. I bought them from my local book store ;) But if you are overseas amazon.co.jp has them.

      • Daniel

        Ah, right from the source then! I’m in Canada, but have you ever had any troubles ordering from the Japanese Amazon site when you’re not in Japan? (Aside from probably high shipping, or knowing what everything says as a newbie)

        • GoddessCarlie

          I’ve shipped from Japan’s Amazon to Australia before. There is an English button in the top right hand corner – not all information will be displayed in English, but when you are entering your shipping details etc all that will be in English so no worries there :)

          The only problem I had was yes, Shipping can be expensive (but it always is when shipping to Australia – damn being at the arse end of the world!) and it takes a loooong time, about a month (Same if I order from amazon.com – it seems to take a month, much longer than from anywhere else, so I don’t know what’s wrong with Amazon).

          • pachipachi

            I’ve ordered from amazon japan and got delivered withtin 3 days. It was so fast I couldn’t believe it !

            The shipping was expensive, but as I bought several books, that was still less expensive than ordering in France. But the customs taxes were some bad surprise ;)

          • GoddessCarlie

            Damn you and your three days!! I wonder why it always took so long to get to Australia. Anyway, Amazon in Japan is a dream. Usually next day and cash on delivery!

  4. CarolinaCG

    Hey there! I hope you don’t mind, but you just gave me several goals! And I’m gonna post something similar on my blog, adapted, of course.

    I’m a college student, majoring in mandarin chinese and japanese, I’m still a freshman. The japanese I’ll have in the end of the course will be really basic, something like JLPT3 (we are using Minna no Nihongo). However, I bought myself the Japan Times books, the Genki’s and An integrated Approach. During the week I need to study like 85% and the rest for japanese. With those goals of yours I might change that!

    I’ve been reading your blog for quite some time, lightly, as soon as I have time I’ll read it hardcore.

    Thanks and take care!

  5. alchymyst

    Nice! I spent the entire November doing NaNoWriMo (and some Japanese) :P

    Which book for young girls are you reading? That sounds like something I can handle. I read manga too, but sometimes I feel like reading a *book*. :D I have a Kinokuniya in the city, I should probably go see if I can pick up something like that.

    Agree with you on smart.fm. :( I am quite disappointed with their latest revamp. I’ve been spending more time on readthekanji.com and renshuu.org, doing some quizzes and making sentences for grammar points (which is pretty good practice, I think).

    • GoddessCarlie

      I’m hoping to do another post soon about the book I’m reading, but so far it’s been very hard but very rewarding. What I did was just went into the bookshop and made a decision based on the front cover and pictures inside (there are maybe one picture per chapter) to gauge if I think I’d like the story or not, plus of a little read. I bought the two that I could understand the first sentence I read (even if I couldn’t understand anything else). The strange thing is I’m finding it much easier than the grade 3 book I was reading – I’m thinking because it is more dialogue sofar rather than description.

  6. Nukemarine

    It may not be much help to you, but turning your viewing pleasure into a reading pleasure is made easier by using drama scripts. At Kinokuniya there are drama script books. In addition, at seesaa.dramanote.com there are some scripts online but you get a more limited selection (but usually they’re the popular ones anyway). I think of each episode script as 1 chapter out of 10 to 12 chapter book. It’s usually fairly simple to follow along as you already know the story. Plus, it doesn’t take an advanced level to get pleasure out of it. Early this year when I really began reading these, I was at 1500 words from Smart.fm and still burned through 300 pages of scripts from various series (mind you, there were many, many words and grammar concepts I didn’t know).

    At a more advanced level, one can “subs2srs” a TV show, then later go through the script and mine unknown words and phrases of the non-dialogue portions. You’re left with about 10 to 15 pages of material that you know very, very well. That makes it the perfect reading material as it’s tailored to your level. This gets you used to reading at a natural pace.

    At an even higher level, you can later print out multiple scripts from various shows you watched and shuffle them up. Now every page is a quick shift, almost like having random play on your iPod. Useful for not zoning out while reading and keeps it entertaining through multiple readings.

    Hope it helps, and keep up the good work.

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