The other day, I had a brief chat with two of my students. They were facing some problems with their Japanese studies. Their Japanese teachers encouraged them to use words that they did not know. On the one hand that felt like encouragement, but on the other, I felt that that was not suitable for their levels.
Back to the main topic – they were wavering because they were no longer sure why they were studying Japanese. At first it seemed to be for work purposes, but as time passed, their aims took a different turn.
Come to think of it, I was going through a sticky patch when I was taking my JLPT 2 (now known as N2) the second time. If the truth be told, I was depressed because of too much Japanese. I was exposed to Japanese literally day in, day out – grammar, vocabulary, Kanji, and so on. At that time, I was very fortunate to have a good senior whom I had met online. He was a JLPT 1 holder and he taught me Japanese vocabulary and JLPT 2 grammar. I told him about the problems that I faced; he assured me that it was just par for the course.
“It’s a symptom that people who study Japanese excessively or people who have no time to study Japanese develop,” he said.
Basically, when you have this symptom, the chances are that you will not remember what you have studied. He advised me to relax, to not touch Japanese for about a week, and to ask myself why I ever started to take up Japanese. This was when I really started to think about what I really wanted for myself in the future.
Back in the day, I, just like my peers, would be glued to the TV watching Japanese anime incessantly – Doraemon, Ronin Warriors, Slayers, Ultraman Tiga, and so forth. In fact, I had spent so much time watching anime that the songs, the lyrics, and the language just unwittingly started to grow on me. And I thought to myself, if I could understand the language, that would be simply fulfilling. I would always doubt the accuracy of the subtitles in the anime, though.
Later, I started watching more Japanese shows when I entered polytechnic. I had to rely on the subtitles, though. I can still vividly remember my mother nagging at me incessantly because she had to pay for the Internet. You bet! I was not born into a well-to-do family – Dad was out of a job and Mom became the sole breadwinner.
In my second year, I was lucky to be able to complete one free module of Japanese. Unfortunately, I was not able to continue due to financial issues at home. Later, I was conscripted for military service and started earning my pathetic allowance – indeed, that was the turning point in my life. Mom was no longer around anymore at that time. Then, I started to contemplate my future.
Fast-forward to January 2006, I started my language journey with Hougang Japanese Language School. I counted myself lucky that I met Seki-sensei, a very good teacher who took us for Japanese for beginners. It was she who introduced me to 国語, the form of Japanese that the Japanese study at school. Later on, I met Kitahara-sensei, the principal of the school who taught me up till JLPT 3 (now known as N4).
Halfway through my intermediate studies in mid-2007, I also tried two lessons of Kitahara-sensei’s JLPT 2 preparatory course. At that time, I was sure I could learn more because I had been doing a lot of self-study for JLPT 3. Later, I took the JLPT N2 examination (formerly JLPT 2). Naturally, I did not pass, surprisingly I was quite happy with my grade – I got 177/400 (pass mark: 240/400). At this moment in time, I can still remember it quite distinctly as if it only had happened yesterday.
It was January 2008, I went to Ikoma Language School to do their JLPT 2 course. I still remember Ms Bullet Train taking us for this course. That was how we used to call her because she would always speak so fast in class. She was a very good teacher, though. Come to think of it, I also took online classes from teachers based in Japan while I was at Ikoma. There was my other teacher who taught Japanese to beginners back at Hougang Japanese Language School. Later, she went back to Japan to continue with her own business. She was the CEO of an IT company then. So, there were 7 teachers altogether – my sensei back in the polytechnic, Seki-sensei, Kitahara-sensei, Ms Bullet-train, two teachers from Japan and my senpai. Before I forget, I passed my JLPT 2 examination.
That same year, in September, I joined my old company as an IT help desk agent. The company sent me to Japan for two weeks to sit in on meetings with two friendly Japanese men in their fifties. I was to learn Business Japanese at the meetings – how to answer phone calls, write emails, etc. That was a really good opportunity for me to learn. Over time, I learned how the Japanese do things at work (i.e. 本音 and 建前), how efficient they are, etc. I was fortunate that, with the wages they were paying me, I could visit Japan very often. At that time, I also attended Bunka to try their pre-advanced classes, but later I dropped out due to the standard of the students in their class. But I must say, Mizusaki-sensei was very good.
Later, I took the N1 examination in 2009 and failed badly. I got 180 out of 400. I retook it in 2010. The week before I retook it, I had been to Japan to do my last-minute revision. It had been very beneficial and it helped me score very well in the listening section of the examination.
Wow, what a long post with so many nostalgic memories! If you will do some maths, you might be able to guess when I started teaching.
Now, here is the message I want to get across to you – all the Japanese teachers, my students, and just whoever reading this post. In a nutshell, fire your own enthusiasm, strengthen your motivation, and pursue your passion for learning Japanese. Do not waver in your determination to take up or improve this language you want to be good at. When you get tired, get some rest; but never forget why you started.