Sunday, November 09, 2008

Jimi interviewed by: Lemon

Here are some general foreigner-in-Japan questions from Lemon! I'm going to answer them broadly and not direct them just at him, because I realized that I just wanted to sort of give my advice to a faceless "all y'all".

Lemon - What is the best way to gain Japanese fluency? I'm on my 3rd year of Japanese currently, but I really want to know what the best path is to pursue from there. Is simply living in Japan the surest method?

Jimi - If you're not currently in Japan, I sure hope you have Japanese friends who don't mind talking with you. I would try to be prudent on this one; a lot of Japanese exchange students want to speak English all the time and ignore any Japan talk; others will sort of retreat in fear with other exchange students and speak Japanese exclusively. Try to set up an exchange if you can.

If there aren't that many Japanese speakers around, go for reading fluency first. Get good at being able to gloss over large sections of hiragana (useful for gleaning verb endings when you're skimming) and get your katakana straight: mind your 'so's and 'n's (and your 'shi's and 'tsu's). And finally, DO. NOT. NEGLECT. KANJI. And do NOT trick yourself into thinking it's really really hard. This is the one thing about learning Japanese I have been unable to relate to others with: I have had no problem with kanji and it was certainly one of the aspects of learning the language I enjoyed the most. Do whatever you can to find a kanji learning method that is best for you. Also, don't ever use romaji ever again. :)

Okay, once you've learned a couple hundred of those then I'd suggest listening fluency. The best way to do this, I've found, is to watch a lot of bad Japanese comedy TV. One, because at least it won't be dry, and two, because Asian TV tends to subtitle everything in wacky lettering. So if you can't catch everything going by so fast with your ears, at least you'll be able to see it on the screen. And then your reading fluency comes into play.

For me, personally, I watch the dry, boring news programs, because now I need to learn all the legal, political, and economic jargon that comes with the language of news. I also read newspaper articles on the brief occassion I can sit down and willingly focus enough to make sense of them.

Watch Japanese movies with the Japanese subtitles. Watch Japanese movies with no subtitles at all. Watch some cheesy dramas. Don't watch anime because that's not real and no one talks like that. Listen to music and try to write down what you hear phonetically. Double check it with the Japanese lyrics. Writing fluency? Keep a diary, mixi, livejournal, anything, in Japanese. Keep it simple.

Speaking will come last, as it usually does in language learning. Force yourself to try, if the opportunity presents itself. Do not be afraid to make mistakes or say something silly on accident. Laugh at yourself. Try not to "sound" so "foreign"--when I was a teacher, many of my students asked how they could fix their English pronunciation not to be so "Japanese". The best way to do this, when learning any language, is to over-exaggerate when you repeat the sounds you hear. I encouraged my students to respond to me as if they were "mocking" me. Actors who have had to do diction or accents or musicians (trained vocalists in particular) get this faster than others.

Obviously, the best place to do this is in Japan, as there is no dearth of material. However, I have several non-Japanese acquaintances who have been here for 10+ years and still do not speak Japanese, or vastly overstate their ability. You have to actually TRY to be that bad, so just keep your ears and eyes open at all times and let your tongue be loose. It's sensory overload but it's a good kind of exhausting.

Lemon - Secondly, what opportunities are there for foreigners in Japan to gain some sort of occupation to support themselves while living there?

Jimi - Teaching English, pretty much. That's going to be it at first, and you'd better be willing to stick it out as long as your contract is. I originally came to Japan on the competitive JET program, so you ambitious currently-in-college people should look into that. I did that for one year, and when they wanted me to renew my contract, I declined, and it was a huge gamble. If things were going any worse than they are now I don't think it would have been worth it, honestly!

And then there are of course any other number of eikaiwa. Now that NOVA is bankrupt I don't have to write a zillion paragraphs about how horrible it is, so poke around and see what you like.

The thing is, you'll most likely have to get the job BEFORE coming over here--and along with that, the visa. Even if you come over here looking for work, many jobs want you to already have a proper visa lined up.

I no longer teach Jr. High School English; I do some pretty strange work I suppose. But that's all been luck and talking to the right people. English teaching is in high demand and can pay rather decently.

After that, depending on your Japanese skill you can try your hand at looking at translation/interpreting work, but other than freelance you're looking at stuff in the growing IT field. I gave up looking for work in that field because I just don't know anything about that, and I don't have the drive for freelance translation. I occassionally do freelance interpreting but only when it falls into my lap.

Lemon - and thirdly, are there any opportunities for higher education in Japan for freigners? And what about those that don't have complete fluency?

Jimi - I never did it, but there are study abroad and transfer programs through many universities. Many of my friends who did the year-long or semester programs had a great time and really extended their language skills. I had already done an unrelated internship at Japaanese orphanage, so I felt that I wanted to do the rest of my education back home, but I do by all means recommend it. In the end I think I would recommend doing the majority of your higher education in your home country, but if you can find a good 2- or 4-year program here that does what you want to do then by all means go for it.

A final note: On your own time, by all means study the things that interest you. For people reading my blog and in this scene, that's probably obscure VK bands and random stuff like that. But in conversations with regular Japanese people, try to stay abreast of everyday, normal conversations. For example; not talking about anime all the dang time! :)

And in general: ask people for help. Ask your teachers to point you in the right direction; ask friends for advice; use the guidance of the people around you to acheive clarity on your path. Most of all, stay positive.

LAST THING: If you've got any interesting questions or things about the scene you want answered, let me know and I will pit your questions against each other in a battle to the death!


Lemon said...

I'm on Jimi's blog; I'm famous!...but seriously, thanks for answering my questions! I really appreciate how thorough your answers are here; this should help me a lot.

And questions fighting to the death sounds thrilling. I may just have to insert one or two about the 'scene' later ;)

Xio said...

You'll probably be hearing some Q's from me too soon :D

e said...

"Try not to "sound" so "foreign"--when I was a teacher, many of my students asked how they could fix their English pronunciation not to be so "Japanese". The best way to do this, when learning any language, is to over-exaggerate when you repeat the sounds you hear. I encouraged my students to respond to me as if they were "mocking" me. "

Werd. My French teacher in high school often told me I had the best accent of any student she'd ever taught. I didn't have the heart to tell madame I was basically doing an Inspector Clouseau impression. :D

Anonymous said...

hey jim, how you can get a work visa?
someone have to sponsor it with a sign or what?

em said...

Interesting Q & A!
I'm super interested in living abroad (Japan and Ireland are my two picks), so seeing answers to these types of questions is nice.

Klisk said...

so you ambitious currently-in-college people should look into that.

This is the main reason I wish I had gone to college. I'm 23 now, and even though I do plan to eventually go to college, by the time I finish I feel like I'll have outgrown my desire to persue a life in Japan. I'll be pushing 30 by that point. Oi oi. Too old to really do anything VK, that's for sure. I haven't even done the SAT's or prereqs for college yet, so it would be years.

Chances are I'll be moving to Canada instead, ha.