First Week Learning Japanese

It finally happened. I was shopping and heard Mariah Carey xmas music. RIP.

So the time has come this week that I’ve embarked on a new language learning journey and have begun my first forays into Japanese.  As I had expected, this is a really different mountain to begin climbing with a much steeper cost of entry compared to Spanish, and it’s been humbling, exciting, scary, and interesting, all at the same time.

Flashing back a few years to when I started learning Spanish, I had started with very little of a base in the language and built my fluency from the ground up, but worth majorly noting here, with Japanese, I’m starting from the basement, not the ground level.  Spanish and English are related languages in a roundabout way, and while there was a ton of unfamiliar stuff to Spanish, there was a baseline similarity in other places that made the language still feel pretty familiar.  Additionally, I wasn’t starting entirely from nothing, I couldn’t hope to actually use Spanish back then, but there were plenty of words and phrases I already knew from general exposure.  I grew up in a part of the US where Spanish is used fairly frequently, which is largely where my interest in the language initially stemmed from: familiarity.  I was starting from nothing learning the language, but I at least had some foundation to work off of.  Japanese is a different story, so different in fact that step one has been to learn a whole new writing system.

I am not entirely unfamiliar with Japanese, mind you, like any self-respecting trans woman nerd, I have watched just a ton of anime and used to be the most insufferable subs over dubs snob in existence, but I didn’t absorb any of the language at all.  I’m aware of what it overall sounds like, and know a very small handful of vocab, mostly related to food.  Japanese, also, is not related to the romance languages at all, so nothing in my repertoire of spoken languages offers me insight into etymology at all.  The only cognates I will know are loan words.  I am standing in very unfamiliar territory.

Being in this place, where I know very, very little, and am starting at the most basic building block of learning how to sound things out from looking at an unfamiliar writing system, makes me feel like an idiot, but in the best way possible.

People often, and I’m including myself in this, place quite a bit of their ego in doing things well.  Lots of people get frustrated and give up at stuff they’re not inherently good at, preferring to work at something they come to the table with at least some talent, even if they have room for improvement.  In fact, especially if they have room for improvement, it’s easy to find motivation in refining something you’re already good at and enjoy doing.  Starting out on a new language, though, you are bad at it.  Even if you’re adept at picking up new languages quickly, you start at the same place and stumble through the initial complete opacity of a new one, and as you hit the limits on what you can immediately understand and contemplate the vast, rising wall of things you don’t know, it’s sort of freeing in a way.

This isn’t a journey you’re supposed to start out knowing anything.  Messing up and needing to hammer something in over and over again until it starts to stick is the name of the game.  You are, stripped away of your airs and your ego and laid bare by a task that shows your profound lack of knowledge in something, very obviously an ape.  An advanced ape that comes with the capacity for many wondrous things that humans can do, but an ape nonetheless, needing to hammer at the bubble of stupidity that needs to be overcome bit by bit to learn something entirely new.  It’s a good thing to be made to realize every once in a while.  I am an ape and I know nothing.  Good to know.  I was starting to get uppity.

Let’s take a look at this week’s numbers.

Tuesday 12/14

  • Duolingo: 10 lessons, ~60 minutes

Wednesday 12/15

  • Duolingo: 10 lessons, ~60 minutes

Thursday 12/16

Friday 12/17

  • Duolingo: 10 lessons, ~60 minutes

Saturday 12/18

  • Duolingo: 7 lessons, ~45 minutes

Sunday 12/19

  • Duolingo: 7 lessons, ~45 minutes

Monday 12/20

  • Duolingo: 10 lessons, ~60 minutes

Total Time: 6 hours 30 minutes

Starting off with something that looks a bit on the low side, but there’s a method to my madness here.  I’m at the extremely early stage of learning hiragana characters, trying to hammer them away until I can read the sounds of the language—or at least the parts of it written in hiragana.  There will be a lot of learning to read in my future here, as Japanese has an intensely complex writing system to try and master, with katakana ahead of me as well as the slow acquisition of thousands of kanji to where I could be considered functionally literate in the language.  A lot of that’s going to come later on, but in order to do anything, I need to start with slowly absorbing hiragana.

And that there is the name of the game: slow.  I could plow ahead a bit on Duolingo, smash through the early lessons, which are fairly forgiving and hand-holdy, and plow forward into the next set of lessons, but I know I’d be doing myself a disservice.  Spacing out getting introduced and reintroduced to various hiragana characters over a longer window of time makes recognizing and recalling them easier and easier, and while that will eventually happen on its own pretty naturally, at this very early stage when looking at too many things at once causes it all to blend together, I need to enforce the slowness.

As I work my way through picking up hiragana, the length of time devoted and thus the speed will begin to increase as well.  The larger my foundation becomes, the less “new” there’s gonna need to be to confront every day, and the more time I can devote to it without getting overwhelmed.  I’m excited to get to that point, but I am definitely not there yet.

Things are gonna look pretty bare here for a while as I get there, but that’s okay for now.  It’s already starting to feel very rewarding to look back and recognize characters I’d learned days before and knowing the sound they make.  I’m excited for that to gradually become second nature to me.

As an aside regarding the transition away from the focus on Spanish, I have finished reading Harrow la Novena in my spare time and have started to read some English works that have been majorly on the backburner from this project.  I’ve also been watching Spanish-content youtube stuff fairly regularly since, as well, so it’s feeling like a real success story for me here, I am doubting that it’ll be all that hard to keep up my Spanish day to day.

Anyway, that’ll do for this week.  Next week has Christmas and all the family stuff that will entail, so strong chance things might be a little weird for the blog.  Something that remains to be seen.  Until then, TTFN.

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