I’ve always found summer to be a more active time. Despite the oppressive heat and humidity we have here in Japan, I still think the increased sunlight and ability to walk around the house in a lot less clothes just makes me do something more than keeping my nose in a book.
People always ask me what my favorite season in Japan is. And I have to say that while I’m working, I love the winter. But when I’m off, I love the summer. I guess if I could wear shorts and a sports shirt to all my teaching gigs, I think I would feel a little differently. Who ever invented ‘dress’ clothes anyway?
So while I’m still keeping my reading up of Harry Potter and slowly working my way through 1q84. I wanted to steer my studies towards something more, well, physical. Even if I can’t manage to arrange meet ups online, I want to challenge myself by doing some talking practice, specifically speaking incredibly fast so that I can get my comfort level up with the language and make it easier to listen to native speakers.
And also, at my level, I just need to be really comfortable with native materials. I’ve been sitting through some meetings in Japanese lately. And like all meetings, they are pretty boring. Listening to upper intermediate Japanese of boring administrative gobbly guck can cause some serious headaches. I would prefer to digest the content a little more automatically.
Overshot my Level
So, to this end, I’ve been trying to work my way through one video on FluentU a week. The main reason for this is that I want to create a manageable new habit. Realistically, I probably should be consuming a lot more, but I don’t want to get hit by a hurricane and have to drop it all and then try to re-establish the habit. The idea here is to start small and scale slowly so that I can keep it from becoming overbearing.
When I first started out, I overshot a little. I tried to go for an advanced video. And even though, I understood most of the video and vocabulary, I realized my ability to speak that fast and comprehend it at native speed, just wasn’t there yet. It was a news video on the Ginza Yanagi festival in Tokyo and it was chock-full of formal Japanese – things like おこなう and ひらかれます which I still have a hard time saying fast because well, I don’t use them that much.
So, I downgraded to upper intermediate. The idea being that I can practice this foundation more easily and get through videos more quickly, making it more motivating to keep studying. Also, I want to be able to speak and listen fast, like really fast, like native-speed fast, and so that aspect makes even relatively easier material a good challenge.
Also, I kind of feel like the ‘captions’ i.e. sentences taken from the video, are a little too long to practice word order exercises with at that level. Some of the sentences I was unscrambling were like 30 or 40 parts long. That made it immensely difficult to try to parse them all out. It was and is good practice because the N1 definitely has a few monsters that you have to untangle. However, now I want to improve speaking and comprehension speed.
So here is what I typically do to get through a video in a week. First, I watch the video without any help. No script of any kind (Japanese or English) and just try to pick up as much as I can the first time around. I might even repeat this once or twice to see if I can get some more details.
The point here is to get some freebie listening practice before beginning your speaking practice with the conversation. Try to get the main idea of the video. If you are feeling really ambitious you can even take notes about key words. This is great practice for the N2 and N1 listening sections, bonus points if you can take notes in kanji/kana.
I then download the transcript (a premium feature) and read it out loud a few times, without furigana at first. The idea here is to note any kanji I don’t know how to actually read. I might even circle a few that I have questions about or are unsure of the reading.
Then I watch the video a few times with the English shut off, following along with the script. FluentU really shines here because the script, in a big font, follows the video as you watch it allowing you to easily follow what is being said. At this point, I try my best to try to read along with the conversation, but I might not be fast enough with all the words. The words or parts that stumble upon I circle.
At this point I drill the points that I’m having a hard time saying. I also look up furigana for any kanji that I am still having trouble reading and couldn’t quite pick up from the video. I might read through a few times and try again reading along with the video. I do this until I fairly comfortable with it.
And then and only then do I go to the English and check my understanding. Usually, I just watch the video with the English showing and nothing else to follow along and get a clearer idea. And then afterwards start drilling vocabulary and captions to really bring it all home.
What does this Do?
The main reason I try to keep away from English until the last minute is because I want to ‘break the crutch’ that English provides. I don’t want to be doing double duty, translating Japanese into English and then trying to comprehend it. I want to try to do it all natively. So, I don’t use it until I absolutely need to.
I think focusing on just making the sounds, especially trying to do as fast as you can, tricks your brain into not thinking too much. This brings you closer to native speed with comprehension. And also pushing your muscles to work faster and faster breaks off that little safety latch that keeps stopping you from speaking at the speed you should be speaking.
In general, it just makes you feel more comfortable using Japanese, and makes it easier for you to take that mental leap and just think in Japanese and instead of reverting back to English.
Give it a Try
Have you tried FluentU yet? Most units allow you to download the first sentence of a video, so you can practice a little bit and get a feel of how to use this technique. Let me know what you think in the comments.
Be sure to also take a look at the JLPT Study Guide Plan month 7 for what to do to prepare for the big test in December.