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Dec 17, 2010

Japanese is Possible

When I first thought about learning Japanese it was really just a game. I didn't think I could do it, I didn't think it was even remotely possible. I was one of those people who believed that you had to be a kid to really learn a language, and that kanji were impossible for a foreigner to understand and grasp. Because of this, I started my Japanese journey as a joke, just messing around to see what I could do and with no expectations of any amount of success. In those early days I tried a lot of things, mainly those products that are advertised as being easy, fast, and effective. But I learned so little that they did nothing but affirm my belief that learning Japanese was impossible for a native English speaker. And then I found (or iKnow as it was called back then) was my first experience with an SRS. By going through their courses I was able to learn the kana and actually begin learning Japanese – not that romaji crap that commercial products liked to push. I made it through a few of the Core 2000 courses and learned a lot, but I kept having trouble with the kanji – I still thought they were impossible to learn. So one day I decided to learn the kanji on their own, so that I would then be able to recognize and write them. I didn't know how to do that though, because I simply could not see any way to differentiate them. I began using the JLPT and grade lists of kanji, just writing them over and over to try and remember them – it got me nowhere. So then I thought about learning the pieces of the kanji, the radicals, and that is what led me to Heisig's book.

Heisig's book was the turning point. I took the book and tried it just to see if it would help me to remember the kanji – what could it hurt. To my surprise, I began to memorize the shapes and forms of kanji. Those mysterious symbols that had previously been impossible for me to unravel and remember were now simplified stories and keywords which fit together perfectly. At this point I realized that learning Japanese was not impossible. I could do it. I began to work my way through the book and after about two months I had completed it. I could now recognize, write, and differentiate the kanji – and learning vocabulary was nearly effortless. Then I started reading.

Reading in Japanese was one of the most intriguing and exciting experiences, because I was somehow looking at these strange symbols and understanding a story. I felt like a kid again, stumbling through my first book and finding I could read the words. At first it was incredibly difficult, with each word something new and different, but I kept coming back and each time I knew just a bit more. I can still remember the first few times I forgot I was reading Japanese. I'd be struggling along and then suddenly I'd be focused on the story, so caught up in it that I didn't have time to stress over every word. Ten minutes later I'd suddenly realize I'd been reading and understanding everything and this sense of glorious achievement would flood me. Those early days of reading are some of my best memories.

You may be wondering what my point is in telling this story. Well, here it is – learning Japanese is not impossible. I didn't think I could do it, but I did. You can do it too. If you have the desire to learn Japanese or any other language, don't let your fears and doubts stop you. I have never felt such a sense of pride and achievement in anything else I have ever done. If you want to learn Japanese, then I hope you will strike out and experience those same feelings by overcoming your doubts and doing what you once thought impossible.

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  1. Thank you, your post is very encouraging! I'd like to learn someday.

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  3. As said above, thanks for this encouraging post!

    I'm currently thinking about adding a small diploma in Japanese to my current course I'm undertaking, so I'm glad I stumbled upon your blog.

  4. Good point on learning the radicals. The commies really messed up Chinese with simplified characters.

  5. I've never responded to this? I remember reading it before. It's truly an inspirational post. I know that feel of thinking you'll never learn the language, and the feel of picking something up and actually knowing how to read it. It's people like you that really give me confidence in learning the language.