My memories from my high school days are quite limited, mostly just socializing and parties are what I can recall (and the occasional school event). I must admit I don’t remember anymore why or when exactly I started learning Japanese, but looking at the blog’s archives (currently offline) it must’ve been sometime in 2006.
I recall trying to write blogposts in Japanese, and just falling back to using Google Translate (and Babelfish) when I failed. Thing is, while I learned some words and basic grammar, I couldn’t make that next step forward, after which I could’ve said I know the language.
However, at some point along the road I found an online Japanese dictionary developed by sld, who in turn had Sesam on his blogroll. Back then Sesam was still studying in Japan, and I asked him about how that happened. He told me about the MEXT government scholarships (look for more info on the homepage of your country’s Japanese embassy), and while I hesitated some before applying, in the end I did take all the exams and by some miracle (probably, by chance I said just what they wanted to hear on the interviews) I got accepted.
At that point (2008-2009 winter) I hadn’t really touched Japanese whatsoever for a year or so already, so even that little I “knew” before was erased to close to nothing. To the point that when I came to Japan and started studying at JLC, I had to start from scratch (learning hiragana etc). One of my favorite stories from that time (to illustrate my level) is how at the welcome party I proudly announced to a fellow student that I’d arrived next week (sic).
I spent my first year in Japan in Tokyo, studying the language, hanging out (and partying like a madman) with fellow students and doing some sightseeing too. Those days were quite well documented here in the blog. The curriculum of JLC was tough, tougher than anything I had to face before (or since), and being surrounded by people smarter than me, some outright geniuses, was a really humbling experience too.
We were thought from the basics. The syllabaries and the notorious kanji, grammar and vocabulary, reading, writing, listening, and lots about the culture and education that could help us survive in the university years to follow. By the end of that year my written Japanese was at a stage that I could write my graduation essay (though of course with help from the teachers), and I could express myself to a certain degree verbally as well.
My grades weren’t all so great though, nor did I want to take an entrance exam if possible, but I wanted to come to Kansai nonetheless – thus I ended up with Shiga University. As lacking as it is in more ways than one, the Japanese language education is top tier. At least my teacher was well beyond awesome, and in my first year at the university (since I took Japanese as second language) I think I improved a lot. Beside the usual language class stuff like reading and listening, she even let us experience some of what simultaneous interpreting feels like.
Moving to the countryside Hikone after Tokyo was a huge change as well, and while I got to live in a dorm for foreign students for the first year, I couldn’t live without interacting with Japanese people beyond shopping and teachers. I joined the university’s light music club, and I think that was huge thing to help me improve. While Japanese students in general were afraid of me (the big scary foreigner), so making friends in classes was pretty much out of question, a club’s environment is entirely different. I was treated as one of them (though every now and then something less than them), and I can say that I made some good friends through the club. That everyday communication with people of the same age and interests definitely helped my Japanese improve a lot.
My first year at the university also marked the start of something that would (dare to say) define my life since then, and definitely contribute tremendous amounts to my Japanese proficiency. I started translating. It’s all because a new season of Digimon started airing. A friend asked me if I wanted to do it, and I agreed. That was the beginning. 2011 I joined another group and translated a few episodes of Gosick, which was enough to get me deeper into the scene. Then when the translator for Madoka at gg was fired, I was picked as replacement. After that, there was no stopping it. For years I translated lots and lots of shows – certain seasons going near ten a week.
Through translating, I learned a new way of looking at the language and thinking in two languages at the same time. I also got to encounter lots of expressions that I probably would’ve never heard otherwise. Some shows were challenging because of the sound and voice acting quality, some were difficult because of the sheer amount of text involved, some because I simply didn’t know enough Japanese to handle them, and some because of the use of puns and wordplay. I got to know new parts of Japanese culture, and some were definitely worth the effort involved.
These two: translating and actively using Japanese in real life (and on twitter), I think have contributed maybe the most to improving my proficiency at the language. Last year I had the “pleasure” of taking part in the notorious Japanese jobhunting rush (就活) and just this January I managed to break my own former record of 4-5000 characters a day by writing 16000 characters, the bigger half of my graduation thesis, in a single day.
That’s about the story of my relationship with the Japanese language – if it was an useful read, that’s great.