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Hajimemasho! – My Japanese learning journey – Part 1

Hajimemasho! – My Japanese learning journey – Part 1

For years, I’ve put off learning Japanese.

I was a full-blown otaku by my teens, scrimping off any bits of undubbed anime I could—this was before the time of cable TV and internet-streaming, mind you. Even though I loved how lyrical and expressive the language was, there was also some excuse. Too much studies, not enough free time, it’s too expensive, I’m already failing Mandarin, what makes me think that I could do any better with Japanese, etc etc.

My name in Japanese. It looks like a warning label, for some reason. -_- 

On Saturday, I had my first lesson. I’m documenting this for two reasons: one, I hope that by chronicling my journey here (biweekly, I hope, if life doesn’t screw me over), that I’m sharing something worthwhile with you guys who are thinking of studying; and two, I’ve seriously run out of topics to share. I’m counting on you to motivate me! >_<

In Singapore, there’s a few schools to choose from. Bunka, Ikoma, and the Japanese Cultural Society Japanese Language School are amongst the better known. Neighbourhood schools such as the Hougang Japanese Language School also exists. When selecting a school, consider your circumstance carefully. Things like location, cost, timing, availability and sizes of classes, will impact on your decision. (I’m choosing not to disclose which school I attend, because I selected it for personal reasons like convenience, timing and recommendations by friends. I’m not advertising for the school.)

Some of the common greetings. How many do you know?

My teacher is a native Japanese, and the lesson was purely immersive. I don’t know if this is common, but a friend who attends a different school says that admin staff tend to bi, if not, trilingual, while the teachers are Japanese. For starters, my sensei (lit. teacher. Learn with this noob!) spoke completely in Japanese, which meant kick-starting our brains to process the language as much as possible. He is not to be underestimated: he could clearly tell if we were translating his instructions correctly when we repeated in English, and if we couldn’t understand, he would interject English adjectives. I had to bring all my anime prowess to the forefront, so some basic understanding, or vast consumption of Japanese media would be helpful.

Note: look out for class sizes (mine happened to have 18 students, not a bad number), arrangement of makeup lessons, registration and study material cost. These are sometimes hidden potholes that you might not be aware of. If you are planning on taking Japanese-Language Proficiency Test for whatever reason, some schools also offer tutoring or registration services for your convenience.

Japanese borrows a great deal from Chinese, though naturally, the meaning has also changed along the way.

As an introduction to Japanese, some of the basics we learnt ranged from greetings – Ohayo gozaimasu (lit. good morning) to introducing yourself – Hajimemashite. Dozo yoroshiku (lit. it is the first time meeting you [nice to meet you], please take care of me) ¬and even the Japanese pronunciation of countries. Phonically, Singapore is pronounced as Sh-in-ga-po-ru in Japanese. Ironically, we couldn’t get Indonesia right, but we managed to get China (Chugoku) and England (Igirisu) right!

I was also given my first introduction into the Japanese Hiragana—where nightmares of failed Mandarin lessons and horrible witches of Chinese teachers surfaced in my memories for a moment. Besides learning how to write the a and Ka vowels, we were also given a prelim idea into how to pair them up. For example, aoi (lit. blue) is made up of three characters in the a phonology. Therefore, aoi can be written as あおい.

Don't judge my handwriting. I know it's terrible.

For those of you who happen to have a background in Chinese, Japanese might come to you more easily. Much of the language, especially kanji (lit. 漢字) is borrowed from the Chinese language, so often times, I could translate text if it used kanji extensively. Memorising the Hiragana and Katakana would definitely help. Even by the end of the three-hour class, I could only recognise .

Also, for goodness sake, bring plenty of pencils and pens—erasable pens are an even better idea. I stupidly brought only one pen, and a liquid ink one at that! It bled out like crazy all over my pages and my character strokes ended up looking like tear-stained mistakes (not that far from the truth, really).

So that concludes my first lesson. I hope that by writing this series, it might give you guys something to think about if you really wanna learn Japanese. Or just feel free to laugh at my pain, you heartless creatures!

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