I was channel surfing the other night when I happened upon a movie in which young actor Tatsuya Fujiwara (藤原竜也) was walking down a suburban Tokyo street with a dirty great black demonic creature floating along beside him. The demon turned out to be a Death God (死神) called Ryuk and the movie was Death Note (デス・ノート) - a manga adaptation in which the protagonist Light Yagami (Fujiwara) comes into possession of a book with a nifty power: write someone's name in the Death Note and that person keels over from a heart attack.
The movie turned out to be the TV broadcast of the first of two movies - Part 2 (Death Note: The Last Name) was released in Japanese cinemas on November 3 (I was going to gloat about having seen a movie before everyone else in the world but then I remember the delayed releases in Japan of LOTR and the Star Wars prequels and it made me feel like crying again).
What is the connection with Japanese study? I think Death Note can be used to illustrate two principles of language learning (which I do not claim to have invented or discovered, merely expounded upon), namely:
1. Find subject matter you are interested in
2. Approach material from multiple angles
Let's start with No.1.
I like the idea of otherwordly beings with hellish visages just as much as the next guy but throw in a book which lets you kill without leaving a clue and I was hooked. I did a spot of internet research and found out about the mangaic* origins of the films, and that an animated series was being broadcast weekly on Japanese TV. I popped into the local bookshop and picked up the first three volumes of the manga. A caveat - I am no rabid manga otaku, nor even a slighty frothy-mouthed one. I own Crayon Shinchan, GTO and Detective Conan and I have a friend's copies of Nausicaa on loan but most of my Japanese reading is non-fiction with the occasional novel. But I simply had to have this manga.
Finally I visited YouTube and found the animated series.
And then I read, and I watched.
The point is that because Death Note piqued my interest I wanted to understand the material. It didn't even feel like study, but hey, if you hear a cause of death repeated enough times you remember it (OK, I confess, heart attacks are not the only way you can die.....).
Now for No.2. The idea behind approaching material from multiple angles is that you get all the benefit of revising the same vocabulary, grammar etc without the monotony of reviewing in exactly the same way each time.
-boost in motivation
-has kanji for the new vocab I heard in the movie
-has the words I heard but didn't recognise/didn't catch
-provides me with a script so I can practise reading out loud (if I so desire)
The Animated Series
-almost exactly the same as the manga, so I can shadow what people are saying
-slightly different to the movie so its is still fun to watch both.
-more listening practice
At the very least I am going over the material three times. In fact I went back and watched the movie again (praise the ability to record TV digitally), this time with the benefit of having reviewed the vocab using the manga.
Each angle reinforces the others. The vocab I read in the manga now comes alive when I hear the movie or animation characters say it. The words in the manga now have an aural memory - I can picture the characters saying them. The vocab I hear in a second viewing of the movie/animation I can often affix a kanji to. I can keep repeating the cycle of movie-manga-animation until I get sick of it (unlikely!) or until I know it all. And by know I mean:
-I can read new vocab when I see it
-I can understand new vocab when I hear it
-because I have learnt vocab in context I can use it in conversation
If I grabbed the novel adaptation I could add another angle. I could even rip the audio and listen to it on my iPod (but then I wouldn't get to see the Death Gods....) Hell, come February 2007 I will be able to play Death Note: Kira Game on my Nintendo DS!!!!
There you have it.
1. Find yourself subject matter in Japanese you are really interested in.
2. Study it using different media
*I just coined this word - yes! - but I will acknowledge that it does exist with an independent etymology as the name of an area of the Waitotara Valley in New Zealand.