Monday, 6 March 2017

Framing a Japanese Language Learning Project

As many of you reading this blog know, the International Chito-Ryu Karate-do Federation (ICKF) will hold its Tri-annual World Championships "Soke Cup" this year in Kumamoto, Japan. The championships will take place on August 12th and 13th at the Kumamoto Prefectural Gymnasium (Pictured below).
(2010 Chito-Ryu Karate-do Soke Cup, Kumamoto, Japan)

I have been very fortunate to have competed in this tournament representing both Canada and Japan and it has been an honour to compete alongside of my good friends and fellow karate-ka each and every time. This event was originally scheduled to take place in Kumamoto last summer. However, it had to be postponed due to the devastating earthquake that hit Kumamoto hard in the Spring of that year (see "Reflection on My Changing Perspective" for more information on the earthquake, there are also Internet sites provided on the page which offer detailed information).

Although I qualified for the Japanese National Team by winning the Grand-championship award at the ICKF All Japan National Championships (see "Focusing on the Goals not the Results Changes Everything!") and was looking forward to competing one last time for Japan last year, I have since decided to retire from competition. I will focus my time and energy to helping strengthen the relationships of the international membership.

I have been appointed to the position of Chief Liaison of the Public Relations Division of the All Japan Chito-Kai and as such am a member of the organising committee for this year's Soke Cup. I have been charged with the responsibility to coordinate a staff of translators for the event and am excited about the opportunity to help members of the Chito-Ryu community communicate more effectively with each other to develop and strengthen friendships with one another. This responsibility has caused me to consider ways to facilitate better communication and in this respect I would like to use this blog to help people who may be thinking about preparing for their trip to Kumamoto by learning some Japanese.

Over the next few posts I will provide you with some helpful Japanese language learning materials. In each post I will share with you something beneficial that I have found useful in my own language studies, but I  recommend that you perform your own online searches as well. From personal experience I suggest focusing on learning applicable phases and practising the correct pronunciation of the phrases you are learning. With regards to vocabulary building I recommend focusing on verbs.

When learning any language there are some simple steps that one can take to increase success and sustain motivation. There is an abundance of information online that can help you frame your learning approach, but the bottom line is that as a language learner you must do the work. Therefore, motivation plays an essential role in the success of your studies. I believe that we can maintain our levels of motivation by knowing the purpose of the endeavour. Understanding the purpose also helps us form more effective goals.
(Japan image from

In this post I will introduce you to the following information on how to learn a language in 7 days written by Ed M. Wood and presented by multilingual twins,  Matthew and Michael Youlden. Unfortunately the support site, Babbel does not offer study guides for Japanese so I will try to relate the tricks to our goal of using them to learn Japanese as the study tips may help to frame your study approach. Visit the site in the link below to view the video or read the 7 tricks in more detail:

7 Tricks To Learn Any Language In 7 Days (From The Superpolyglot Twins Who Did It)

Trick 1 - Get to know why - The tip here is to clearly define your goal(s) at the very beginning and then plot a route towards the achievement of your goal(s). In this case, your time line would start today and lead to your trip in August. As you continue your studies and practise of the language you should develop proficiency and confidence which will peak during your time in Japan, very similar to your physical and mental preparation for the competition.

Trick 2 - Get Sticky - They recommend mapping and labelling your immediate environment in the new language as the very first physical step to learning. This builds and reinforces passive associations without drastically altering your daily routines. The visual stimulus will help you familiarise yourself with the vocabulary however, since Japanese is a 漢字 kanji (character) based language there is a debate regarding whether it is better to label in romanji (alphabet) or kanji. Either way I recommend that if your goal is to develop communicative competence you should worry less about spelling and more about phonetic pronunciation even when labelling.

Trick 3 - Get a Partner - "There are few better motivations than a peer with the same goal." I totally agree with this statement. Whether you are training for competition, studying for a test, or learning a language, the importance of a training partner is massive! With a partner it doesn't matter what your motivational trigger is, i.e., competition or a sense of responsibility, the mere presence of a training partner will add the type and amount of intrinsic pressure needed to 'force' yourself to do the work even on those days when you are tired or don't really feel like it (sound familiar? I'm sure you have experienced those days when you didn't really feel like going into the Dojo to train, but you got that phone call from your training partner who persuaded you to go and that night becomes the best training session of the week. Thank you Fabian Massol for those times you called me!).

Trick 4 - Prepare Mini Motivations - It is now March, 5 Months out, you need to create "landmarks" on your route towards your over all goal. The article suggests that these "landmarks can consist of small challenges" such as real like interactions in the target language which force you to prepare areas of vocabulary to overcome them. They state that "gratification will come with the completion [and] will serve to spur you onto even greater heights."

Trick 5 - Eat the Language - They suggest finding ways to tie everything you are learning together. You could surround yourself with the food, music, movies, etc. "so that even in your down time you can prime your mind towards the language and... trigger further areas of interest and motivation." In hind sight, this is exactly what I did when I was a high school student. My room was filled with anything and everything Japanese. Looking back, my interest in Japan at that time was obviously an obsession, but I do think it all contributed to my Japanese communicative competence. (A more detailed example of how to use this trick is provided below)

Trick 6 - Use What You Already Know - Don't wait for perfect mastery and try not to think of the subject matter; Japanese Language and Culture as something totally foreign. "Find pleasure in drawing parallels and making comparisons between the language(s) you already know and your new language." This would be easier for someone who is already bilingual or multi-lingual, but Japanese is still tricky because of all of the perceived cultural differences. Try not to focus on the differences, rather look a little harder for the similarities. Being Karate-ka there is already a lot that you know about Japan. Focus on building upon this base and deepening your understanding of the Karate-do related concepts.

Trick 7 - Variation is the Spice of Life - These tips can help you to frame your study plan, but remember to try new things as well. Your new language could open doors to finding out new things about yourself. A new language, a new culture can be an opportunity to develop a new you.

I have spent almost half of my life in Japan and I know that my experiences here have and continue to affect me deeply. There are somethings that I can only use Japanese to express my true intent. These experiences have made me think that if this is the case than communicating true intent is more important than the language we are bound to.

We need to free ourselves from the bounds of language and develop our communicative skills so that language becomes what it truly is; a tool that we use to express our intentions to others in an attempt to create a condition of shared understanding. So, use what you have learned together with your training partner(s) and beyond. Example of Trick 5: 
Go to the Asian market on Saturday morning and use the Japanese phrases you've learned to buy some produce to make a Japanese dish that you will prepare, maybe okonomiyaki or sushi, or something not as common that you have recently come across in your studies, with friends or other memebers from your dojo, who you will invite over to watch a Japanese movie and drink Japanese Beer or Sake or some kind of Japanese juice or tea if you are under age or don't drink alcohol. The movie can be old or new, I recommend all "Kurasawa films" and the original "Ring,” but I am sure that you could find more modern productions online, in the genera of your personal interest. In this case, karate related videos may be preferred. The point is use what you've learned in an everyday context to submerse yourself in the language and the culture and celebrate what you have learned by using it to do these things as naturally as you can. The people around you will recognise your enthusiasm and react positively to your passionate approach to learning the language!

Access is becoming less and less of a problem, but you still need to do the work. 頑張りましょう!
(Fuji San and Sakura image from

In the next post I will introduce some tips on how to approach the dreaded and confusing Japanese sentence structure. until then try applying the tricks mentioned in this post and build up your vocabulary and motivation to take the next step and bring your language learning to the next level!

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