Thursday, July 5, 2012

ヤッター! (...I guess?)

The good news: I completed Japanese 202 with an A!

The bad news: I'm not satisfied with an A... not really.

I guess I should be proud of the work that I did--after all, I was allowed to join the class despite the fact that I had not taken two prerequisite courses (Japanese 103 and 201), and had actually forgotten a significant amount of the grammar and kanji that I learned in Japanese 101 and 102 several years ago.  This handicap meant working extremely hard to get caught up in the early days of the class, and constantly having to do extra work throughout the course to fill the gaps in my understanding.

In this regard, I was successful, and this is what is reflected in my grades.  Not only did I relearn the kanji and the grammar that I had forgotten, I learned at least 64 new kanji (not counting the kanji that I had to teach myself in the process of catching up), as well as decent amount of new vocabulary and grammar points.  I feel like my ability to read Japanese silently improved the most, as I'm rapidly growing in my ability to decode kanji and see kana as groups of words, and not just individual characters.

However, my real purpose in taking the class was to gain a higher level of comfort in both my listening and speaking.  This is where I feel dissatisfied.  Though I know a lot more words and phrases than I did when I started the class just a few weeks ago (and can therefore recognize more words and phrases while I listen), I still sort of freeze up when I'm listening to Japanese spoken at normal conversation pace--in other words, the knowledge I've gained has not helped my confidence much.  Likewise, I am still very unsure of myself as I try to speak Japanese, still very self-conscious.  Perhaps it was the natural consequence of being the only student out of the three in the class who did not take Japanese 103 and 201, but my classmates were much more fluent in their ability to read aloud, much quicker to respond when asked questions.  My speech is filled with a high amount of stammering as I mispronounce and try to self-correct, pauses as I stop to think about which grammar to use and an air of hesitation that betrays my fear that I am speaking incorrectly.  This is very tough for me, as I pride myself on my expressiveness and fluency in the English language; I'm not used to struggling to express myself verbally.  And even though I grew in my ability to read silently, reading out loud has proved more challenging as I am so concerned about pronunciation that I still read the kana character by character and have to stop and think about which reading of the kanji I need to say (knowing what a kanji means while reading silently and knowing how to say it while speaking out loud are very different, as it turns out).

My professor was very patient and encouraging through all of this, and I appreciated her teaching style. I can't blame her for my lack of self-confidence--she created a safe and supportive environment, and I never shied away from trying to speak--I just became more aware of my limited ability.  Two weeks is a short amount of time and maybe too short to really see the fruit of speaking and listening practice, so maybe I am being overly hard on myself.  In any case, it is clear to me that simply having an A on my transcript for what now comes out to almost two years of Japanese is no guarantee that I will be able to speak or listen effectively.  I've got the knowledge--it's up to me now to USE that knowledge; to get out, away from CAJ and practice constantly; to practice enough that each conversation feels low-stake, so I do not need to panic about errors in my speaking or gaps in my listening; to constantly be asking questions and taking the steps to get back on track when understanding falls apart.

In other words, I'm going to need to be proactive.  This is so tough to do when the safety of an English-speaking community such as CAJ is so comfortable... but it's been 3 and a half years since I moved to Japan, and with each day that goes by, I become more and more embarrassed about my woeful inability to communicate and to understand in the way that I wish to.  It's time for a change in where and how I spend my time outside of school.

1 comment:

  1. Hmmm. This is hard. I struggle with this, too, as I'm in an intensive Russian course. My advice is to develop new associations with speaking the language. Speak it in a very fun, non-classroom setting. Get someone to help you practice while cooking or sightseeing, and make a no-English pact. Give yourself silly rewards for speaking — not for how well you do it but for how often. Remember that you'll probably live till 80 (or forever) and you've got a long time to keep learning whatever you want to learn.
    - Lainie