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Learning Japanese after College

What is the minimum I need to do from here to some day achieve fluency?

  • 1 more year of classes

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • 2+ years of classes

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Individual study (in Japan)

    Votes: 1 50.0%
  • Individual study (in USA)

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Foreigners can never become fluent in Japanese! (har har)

    Votes: 1 50.0%

  • Total voters
    2

BakaGoyim

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I have some questions, mainly for fluent or near-fluent speakers. First, a little about me.
I've been learning bits and pieces of Japanese for about 5 years, but I've really only gotten serious in the past two. Last spring I did a semester in Kyoto at Ritsumeikan University, and I'm just about to finish my fourth semester of Japanese courses at the University of Minnesota. I can write about 300 kanji and read a few more, maybe 400-500. I had a really hard time in Kyoto because I'd only had 1 real year of learning up to that point. I feel if I went now I'd have a much easier time, though I still can't understand natives conversing with each other unless the subject is fairly simple.
It's one of my life goals to some day achieve fluency, at least to the point that I can hold a conversation without asking for clarification or repetition every couple of sentences. So, I have a few questions for those of you who learned Japanese and feel fluent or near-fluent.

1. Was there a point at which you felt you got kind of "over-the-hump" with Japanese, and it suddenly became easier to pick up new vocabulary and phrases?
2. Beyond conversation, what are your favorite recreational ways to practice your Japanese? (games, manga, watching the news, etc.)
3. How long would you advise someone to learn by classes before trying to go on simply with conversations and media.

Apologies if this is formatted poorly or has any other issues, this is my first time posting here.
 

mdchachi

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1) One hump that I recall was the point when I when I had enough vocabulary to ask questions about the language itself. And the grammar patterns to do it. Like for example, I may not remember setsubun no hi but I might know enough to say "What's the name of that day where people go outside and throw beans to ward off demons?" Similarly if somebody says something I don't know, I could catch it and ask what it means.
2) These days I just live life. In other words I don't do anything beyond conversation & email. Occasionally I'll watch TV or news if it's on but not regularly. As a result there's still plenty of vocabulary I don't know.
3) The more the better. Classes are helpful in that there's structure and you are forced to do homework etc. If you're highly motivated and will put in the effort by yourself that's less of a factor.
 

Mike Cash

骨も命も皆此の土地に埋めよう
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The biggest problem you're going to have can be discerned from the wording of your poll question: "What is the minimum I need to do...."
 

BakaGoyim

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@mdchachi : Ah, thanks. Right now I feel pretty confident that I can express almost any thought, but I may sound overly formal or stiff. I have some trouble understanding the non-grammatical phrases that my Japanese friends often use. I'm also just getting the hang of keego.

@Mike Cash : You're making some assumptions about why I'm asking that. I'm not using the results as a guideline for what I should do. I fully intend to go above and beyond that. Regardless of what people feel is necessary, I would love to study in Japan again. I may not be able to do it immediately as I have pretty limited financial means and will soon need to start paying off student loans, but this is a life goal and I'm confident my patience will outlast my poverty. Right now, I'm looking into returning to Ritsumeikan or enrolling in JET or ESL-teaching opportunities and figuring out how that jives with student loan repayment. If that's not possible I will at least maintain my current grammatical knowledge while grinding kanji and vocab until I can do one of those things.
 

madphysicist

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@Mike Cash : You're making some assumptions about why I'm asking that. I'm not using the results as a guideline for what I should do. I fully intend to go above and beyond that. Regardless of what people feel is necessary, I would love to study in Japan again. I may not be able to do it immediately as I have pretty limited financial means and will soon need to start paying off student loans, but this is a life goal and I'm confident my patience will outlast my poverty. Right now, I'm looking into returning to Ritsumeikan or enrolling in JET or ESL-teaching opportunities and figuring out how that jives with student loan repayment. If that's not possible I will at least maintain my current grammatical knowledge while grinding kanji and vocab until I can do one of those things.

If you already know that you really want to study in Japan again then I'm a bit confused why you're asking whether you need to or not. I had a great time studying Japanese in Japan even if only for a short time and I would happily go again, but I absolutely don't think it's necessary in order to be "fluent" (I assume you mean "able to conduct a conversation without issues and function in daily life"). If you feel you need more grammar then a textbook may even be more efficient than classes if you have the motivation to study by yourself.

I wouldn't call myself "fluent" in Japanese yet but IMO the best way to study a language (once past the most basic stages) is always a) find some methods you can enjoy rather than seeing as a chore, such as watching TV or chatting with friends, ways that expose you to natives actually using the language b) do this pretty much every day, even if only for a short time, and make a note of new vocab or phrases that you think are interesting/useful. Make sure whatever method you pick you do it regularly.

In my case, finding some Japanese friends to text chat with online has absolutely been the most useful thing to go from "I technically know all these words and grammar points but struggle to put together a sentence" to "I can have a conversation without thinking too much about it". Similarly when I was studying Italian, which I do consider myself fluent in, taking a course in Italy where I actually talked to people every day instead of studying grammar points and texts was really the key to getting over the "hump".
 

BakaGoyim

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Well, I'm just interested to see what people think. If I do need to wait a few years before going back, I'm curious if I'll be able to make real progress in the meantime. I guess I'm really just trying to get the perspectives of some experienced speakers, how they came to fluency and what they found were the most essential and most challenging aspects of that journey.

I think one of the most challenging issues for me to overcome, is that I can be kind of shy, and I get anxious if I don't know how to say something just right. From learning Spanish, I know that it's best to just do your best and usually people will understand the jist of what you're trying to say and sometimes even correct you.

Thank you for your input. I think I will try to start doing some text chatting.
 

cocoichi

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I don't have the feeling Bakagoyim is trying to find out how to become fluent in the shortest amount of time. I think it comes from a logical reasoning: becoming good at a language is quite abstract: when is good actually good enough? How many words/kanji would do, and how well should you know then, and within how many seconds should you be able to recall them? do you want to measure by standardized tests, or through your own opinion on how a conversation went? language study can be quite overwhelming, so I think it is quite natural to try to make things measurable, and creating checkpoints.
 

madphysicist

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Well, I'm just interested to see what people think. If I do need to wait a few years before going back, I'm curious if I'll be able to make real progress in the meantime. I guess I'm really just trying to get the perspectives of some experienced speakers, how they came to fluency and what they found were the most essential and most challenging aspects of that journey.

I think one of the most challenging issues for me to overcome, is that I can be kind of shy, and I get anxious if I don't know how to say something just right. From learning Spanish, I know that it's best to just do your best and usually people will understand the jist of what you're trying to say and sometimes even correct you.

Thank you for your input. I think I will try to start doing some text chatting.

If your question is "can I make real progress without being in Japan or having formal classes?" then the answer is yes, absolutely you can. I have been learning largely like that, with only 1-2 months of formal classes in Japan and learning by myself both before and after (I passed N2 recently, and can have a normal one-on-one conversation with occasional difficulties, for an indication of my level). You need motivation and spare time, but it's certainly possible.

I am also very shy and feel embarrassed to try speaking another language when I know I'm not good yet. That's why I think chatting via text is a good start - it gives you practice formulating sentences without you feeling "on the spot" in the same way. Of course you'll also need some listening practice - I watch a lot of J-dramas for that but I'm sure there are loads of materials out there and you can find something that interests you. So my advice is do some chatting and listening every day for at least, say, half an hour, write down interesting words or phrases, and repeat that for a few months to a year. You might not be "fluent" by some arbitrary definition, but you will definitely be able to have a conversation.
 
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seifip

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1. I wouldn't say that there was any point in time when learning vocabulary became easier, but rather there were many distinct situations where learning particular vocabulary was much, much easier. In particular, I found I learned expressions and new words almost effortlessly when involved in common activities with good people I enjoyed spending time with (and who did not speak English). Of course, to do that, you may first need to reach at least a basic conversational level in the language, as mdchachi mentioned.
2. One thing I found super effective (tried it for the first time when on a road trip with some Japanese kids) are words games, and in particular the game where you need to memorize a string of vocabulary items and then repeat it adding a new word each time. So the first person says 花, the second 花・池, the third 花・池・電線, and so on. Unlike shiritori, this game really forces you to remember the word and its meaning, as the most effective way to win is to form mental images/memory palaces of the vocabulary chain.
3. I'd stick to conventional resources (whether online, or real-world) until you reach roughly JLPT N3, then move onto Japanese language textbooks writtein in Japanese until N2, then concentrate on actually using and consuming the language as much as possible after that.
 

Mike Cash

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@seifip What is your connection with the commercial website you link in your signature?
 

Mike Cash

骨も命も皆此の土地に埋めよう
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Hey Mike, I'm the co-founder of LinguaLift :) Is it against the rules to link to it?

Yes, common sense, really.

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