Nena sent in this email after my “how long does it take to learn Japanese” video:
Q: Hello Richard,first of all sorry about my poor english,I’ve got a few questions for you,1st question is you said that you able to converse japanese with Japanese people and understand what they’re saying, did you master all the Kanji in that 6 months
A: No! I was, as I always recommend, concentrating on being able to talk.
Q: (I suppose you already know all the Katakana and Hiragana at that time)?
A: Yeah, they only take 3 or 4 hours each if you use the Genki Japan Games. Although I had to do it old school with flashcards!
Q: So what did you learn in 6 months that could make you hold a conversation with japanese people?
A: Just talk! Really I could have a conversation from the first day. But it was just “konichi wa”! It’s just building up from there, talk about the weather, likes dislikes, etc. etc. adding more each time. Kirin, Asahi and Sapporo also help ; )
Q: 2nd question,what did you learn/concentrate in a year that you able to teach a NASA science project in Japanese(That was amazing!!)?
A: The key here was deadlines and vocab. I already had the lessons scheduled, because we originally planned to do them in English, so had strong deadlines and language I had to learn for each lesson. I had no choice! Then it was just a case of cramming the Japanese vocab I needed. So it was once a week cramming for all the vocab for that lesson, rather than a year long thing. And science is quite easy in Japanese e.g. electron is 電子 – denshi – an electric kid!
Once you have the basic structures there it’s quite easy to talk about tough subjects as long as you know the vocab. I did make loads of mistakes (e.g. thinking “oil” was read as お油 - oyu, when in fact oyu お湯 means “hot water” ) and I did also cheat in that I had a Japanese teacher there to help when the kids asked questions. Learning what you need to say is easy, and I’m pretty good at making science fun, but you do need the help when the kids asked tough questions you haven’t prepared for!
Q: Did you always read books or newspapers or what?
A: No. I found reading really boring. Subtitles on movies, yes and I did read Star Wars in Japanese because it had furigana on all the kanji! Talking and then cramming vocab (on the Wordtank) was the key.
Q:Last question,what did you do/learn in a year and half to be able to talk about politics?
A: Same thing really, deadlines and cramming vocab. We had a rehearsal in the afternoon where we’d run through the topics and do some mock discussions. The key there was to concentrate on the questions they were going to ask me (ignoring the ones they’d ask the other guests) and then always say when I didn’t understand a word. I’d then look it up on the Wordtank and put it in the memory. When I didn’t know a word I wanted to use in my bit then I’d look it up and, important this part, ask them if my dictionary had given me the right word (dictionaries have a habit of giving you the wrong one!) This went into the Wordtank memory as well. Then we had about an hour off before going on air. Whilst everyone was drinking tea I was cramming vocab (testing myself on the wordtank) and running through in my head some of the stuff I could say. The rest was all taken care of with adrenaline. Being on live TV ( not to mention having a really cute co-presenter!) gets you as nervous as anything and you just go with the flow! Again I made some really bad mistakes (some far too embarrassing to mention!) but they kept inviting back and back again!
So once you have the basic conversation bits down deadlines and vocab are the keys to doing stuff that will impress your friends!