I have finally studied 1,000 words in Japanese on Smart.fm. It has been about 2 and a half years of studying Japanese and I have sure come a long way, far more than 1,000 words could ever begin to express. I think this is a great opportunity for me to reflect on what I've learned and where I've been.
To be honest, like many other Japanese learners, anime got me into Japanese. When in middle school, I watched Dragon Ball Z and Gundam Wing, everyday. It was dubbed in English and I knew it came from Japan, but back then I was more interested in anime than where it came from.
In high school, anything that was animated was clearly uncool. It was just time to grow out of "cartoons".
Some years later, after starting college, I decided to return home for the summer and, bored out of my wits, Naruto happened to be airing on television. It reminded me of the action and dynamics of DBZ, with a whole lot less charging up. Once the reruns kicked in, I wanted more and the only way to get more was to watch them in Japanese.
The subtitles picked my interest and I began trying to match the English text with the Japanese audio. And what are the easiest words to learn? Curse words! When character makes a short exclamation, it's easy to pick words out and gather their meaning. My first words in Japanese? Sugoi, baka, and Ikuzo... valuable to this day. Luckily, it got me into bigger and better things.
I came to college to study graphic design and I have a passion for the visual arts. With this new found interest in Japan and the language, it only made sense to combine the two. Japan has some incredibly stunning graphic work, and even though I still watch anime from time to time, it is graphic design that enabled me to visit Japan and what keeps my interest in the language.
My school has an exchange program with a design school in Osaka, so I applied and I got accepted. The semester prior to leaving, an introductory language course was required, and I am sure glad I took it. I had unsuccessfully taken Spanish classes in high school and didn't learn a thing, but this on the other hand, was the best educational experience I've ever had. I learned that when one has the will and purpose for learning, they can learn anything. The class gave me the framework that I would later put to use in Japan, making all the difference in the world.
During the spring and summer of 2010, I started school in Osaka. All my courses were taught in Japanese, the students and staff spoke Japanese, my host family spoke Japanese. There were very few people who spoke enough English to have a conversation or even help me when I needed it. With that consideration, I spoke Japanese. I wasn't good or particularly sophisticated, but I could be understood and to my surprise, I could even have entire conversations in Japanese. It is the most satisfying experience to chat with a new person, only to realize afterwards, that you hadn't even used a word of English.
Now that I am back in the States, I have continued my study of Japanese. To prepare for going to Japan, I focused on survival. Now, I have the time to invest into the long-term study of the language. Thus, I've been dedicating time to reading Japanese and learning the kanji, which takes time. In addition, I've established a group to keep up my spoken aptitudes; something that's hard to do outside of Japan. And luckily, a friend I made in Osaka was able to experience the exchange the following semester, at the school I attend in the States. She's been instrumental in keeping up my studies, because she's the only one who's native language is Japanese; like a little piece of Japan, far away from home.
In the future:
I hope to return to Japan one day, and now that graduation is looming, those decisions will soon have to be made. I've met a few people who've had good experience with JET and although it is a consideration, that's not my goal at the moment.
On the other hand, I am using my design skills to create work using the Japanese language. What I've been studying in college is something that could make a path to Japan, either professionally or to continue my studies in grad school.
But lately, I have been expanding my interest in Japanese graphic design and turning it into more formal research (a blog called Gurafiku). A professor of mine was able to conduct research in Japan on a Fulbright scholarship and that is an opportunity I would love to work towards.
Either way, this is only the beginning. I'll make it back one day, on my own terms, when the time is right. Here's to the future and to many thousand new words and new experiences. Banzai!