Preparation and Warm Up: Setting My Mind into “Japanese Mode”

Note: I started writing this post well back in August 2011, but didn’t finish it until now. Enjoy!

I’m back to learning Japanese again! I can feel my brain’s rusty gears slowly starting to turn again, the flakes of rust falling to the ground. I’m remembering most things from before, getting a few of them occasionally confused. I’m copying my notes into a new notebook for organizational purposes, which also serves as a refresher of my previous lessons.

Of course, that’s not all I’m talking about today. I’m going to be talking about how I get my mind into Japanese mode, that allows me to go about Japanese with ease. Well, sort of. Speaking is a slightly different story because I can’t sputter things right out quite yet.

Now, when I say “Japanese Mode”, I’m referring to the language more than anything. When my mind is in Japanese Mode, that means that my tongue and my brain will want to converse in Japanese. Sometimes this happens at random, while at other times has some sort of trigger. In this case, we’re going to be talking about the triggers. 

There are a lot of ways to trigger my mind into Japanese mode, all which can broken down into the three categories:

– Audio
– Visual
– Reading

A lot of times two or more of those work together, which you most likely know if you’ve ever touched any sort of media before in any language. You’re reading my blog right now, so I’m guessing you have.

Most of the time, these triggers are in Japanese and range from what they are (audio to visual). Other times, they’re in English.

English triggering Japanese mode? I know that seems weird, but it happens to me quite a bit.

As an English speaker interested in learning the Japanese language, I can switch my brain into “Japanese Mode” if I just start discussing Japanese with someone. The conversation doesn’t have to be in Japanese, in fact, it never is. I’ll usually ramble about learning the Japanese language and bring up examples, but I don’t usually talk in full out 日本語. Usually during these discussions, my mind will shift to Japanese mode and my tongue’s muscles will practically start screaming and flexing at me to begin speaking in it. Of course, I don’t, since the conversation is in English and the person I’m speaking to won’t understand me.

The most unfortunate thing about the English conversation being a trigger is that it ends up fading away because the conversation goes onto something else and I can’t get out of it to go and study. In an ideal situation, I would be with other Japanese language learners and we could all go study together, but that has yet to happen.

The other ways are with Japanese media. I’m pretty immersed reading-wise, sort of to the point seeing things written in Japanese and reading them doesn’t really trigger much unless I’m intensely reading something I’m interested in eventually understanding, such as a manga or a video game. For instance, I just bought the first volume of 日本人の知らない日本語 (The Japanese the Japanese Don’t Know), which is a collection of short comics based off an experience a Japanese language teacher had with her students and how she discovers things she didn’t know herself. Since I am interested in eventually understanding what everything that book has to say one day, hopefully in the near future, my mind’s gears begin turning and start getting my mind prepared to learn from reading it.

Audio and Audio/Visual learning is a bit different, as I don’t do it that often, but when I do it, it usually triggers my Japanese mode. I’m not a huge fan of Japanese music (though, usually when I find something I like, I like it a lot) and most of the shows I like to watch are in English. I do enjoy anime though and if there’s a series I like enough, I will sit down and marathon it, like I usually do with any series I have an interest in watching, regardless of language. Anime isn’t really the best thing to watch if you’re practicing Japanese, since there’s some heavy voice acting involved, but for triggers, I say it’s fine. Hey, if it gets you (read as: me) into a Japanese learning mode, then by all means, marathon it! Just make sure to study properly afterward!

Occasionally I’ll watch a J-drama. For some reason, a lot of Japanese language learners are addicted to J-dramas. I personally don’t like a lot of them I come across, but the few that I do, I really love. I will gladly want to watch them many times and show them to my friends (but I usually resist doing that because they may wanna watch something in English instead). I’ll usually marathon J-drama as well if I like the series enough.

Anime and J-dramas are wonderful for the audio-visual triggers – marathoning them usually means that I am watching hours of that TV show, seeing the movements, and hearing the voices. Even if the show has subtitles, I am still hearing the Japanese audio. Eventually, when my ears latch onto a word I know, my mind begins to go into Japanese mode. The longer I watch, the more I am tempted to speak the language and am more prepared to study the language and retain it. They are usually my primary triggers.

The last one is just audio – music, radio dramas, podcasts, anything that lacks a visual. Music generally doesn’t set my mind into “Japanese mode”, probably because I’m not really listening to the song in parts, but rather as a whole and I’m used to enjoying music in a language I can’t understand. Radio dramas and podcasts are a different story, as there are people talking. If I listen to them for a while (and by “while”, I mean hours), my mind goes into Japanese mode.

As you can hopefully see, all the triggers involves immersion, minus the English speaking one. One of the problems when I used to take languages in school was that I lacked immersion in the language – for 42 minutes a day, I would sit inside a stuffy classroom with mostly bland coloured walls that were slightly off white and cracked, listening and watching cheesy video scenarios that looked like they were from the ’90s and having the teacher encourage the class to talk to each other in the language. Then I’d go home, sit down, and do absolutely nothing with the language. When I took Spanish and French, not once did I get myself immersed in the language. I might have listened to a few songs here and there, but I just lacked interest and the sources to immerse myself. Japanese, on the other hand, I was surrounded by, despite I wasn’t learning the language at that particular point (I was hoping to though). It’s probably why my mind suddenly switches to Japanese mode sometimes at the most annoying times. I want to be able to complain in Japanese, dang it!

Most recently I’ve decided to try and immerse myself in Japanese audio, since I’m lacking in that area (there’s just too many good English-language shows I want to watch and music I want to listen to). I’ve downloaded Japanese podcasts and searched my old external hard drive for Japanese music files (which I have successfully found a lot of them). Unfortunately, my ears are calling for happy hardcore and UK hardcore, not for Japanese pop songs from the mid-2000s and people talking with cheesy music playing behind them. Guess I’m going to have to do a bit of digging for Japanese artists of happy hardcore and see if they live up to what my ears want.

If you want to learn Japanese, you need to immerse yourself, even if you don’t jump into understanding it right away.

Honestly, sometimes, I think what keeps me going to learn Japanese is the fact I’m rather immersed in the language.

So what do I do when I’m in Japanese-language mode in my mind? More often then not, I stutter out a few sentence in my fantasy conversation between myself and someone who I know (or not know). I also have the tendency to mimic the audio I’m hearing (which is sort of bad when it comes to anime, even though honestly, even in English, I do minor character voices during my regular conversations – anyone who talks to me knows I say words like “doctor” and “spotify” with an British-English accent). If I’m writing something on a piece of paper, I’ll write as much as I can in Japanese.

Very rarely do I actually bother to pick up my textbook and start learning during this mode though, because, let’s face it, I’m a bit too lazy to actually do that. Not too lazy to learn, but too lazy to actually go over to my nightstand on the other side of the room, grab the textbook, crack it open, find a pencil, open my notebook, and write. Which will hopefully change starting this year. ★