SO I’ve now been sudying Japanese for eight years. In the first few years I was only so-so committed to spending the time on it. After my sabbatical here in 2007 I got much more committed to it and since moving here I’ve started using the Anki flashcard system which encourages me in a number of ways to study quite hard (1-2 hours per day typically, self-study, plus a one hour personal lesson every week). With both my teacher in the UK and my new teacher here, sometimes I’d feel like I was making no progress. That’s because they’re good teachers and are always pushing just beyond my confort zone, so I always feel like I’m working hard, and sometimes I’m failing at things. $WIFE and $COLLEAGUES do tell me I’m improving, though. Certainly I can read more of the kanji I see on the street and occasionally I can keep up with (some of) the substitles (part of the normal broadcast) on news programmes that $WIFE watches. I can even sometimes figure out the meaning of an unfamiliar word and its pronunciation because I already know its constituent kanji characters from other words (or on their own).
Today I managed something that I wasn’t sure I’d ever get to. When I bought my current laptop the store didn’t have extra power supplies available, and when I enquired later they don’t stock them as standard and advised going direct to ASUS. Before Christmas I checked with ASUS and they didn’t have stock. Today I checked their website and they had stock in, so I ordered two extras (I need one for home, one for the office and one for the bag). Yes, I do need these – once in the past three months I forgot to unplug the power supply at home when heading into the office – luckily I was able to keep things short in the office anyway and come back home for the rest of the day. Why this is relevant to my improving Japanese is that the Asus Japan website is entirely in Japanese and I was able to find what I was looking for, check they had stock and go through the whole ordering process, while being absolutely certain I understood everything on the way and without having to look any words up in a dictionary. I’ve done similar things before, though I usually have to ask $WIFE to help or at least look a few things up in the dictionary. Now, this is obviously not fluency. I have a long way to go yet. According to my Anki studies I’ve only completed the JLPT2 vocabulary and have another 3000 words/phrases to learn to get to JLPT1 (the highest level and supposedly equivalent to high school gradate Japanese, at least in listening and reading, with some claim to “writing” ability but no speaking test). However, it is progress. I was also able to have a real conversation with $FATHER-IN-LAW and $MOTHER-IN-LAW at the New Year family party without needing interpretation by $WIFE. My grammar used to be ahead of my vocabulary. I think it’s now the other way around and I must add appropriate grammar cards to my Anki deck and interleave new vocabulary with the grammar. I think it will take me until 2015 to be basically fluent and maybe 2017 before I think I could even approach doing my job in Japanese. But, it’s nice to feel progress and have confidence that the work I’m putting in is paying off.