I found today's interviewee via his blog, JapanNewbie, which I discovered way back in 2004 and have read on and off since then. Amusing, informative and something many blogs are not - enthusiastic. Late last year I noticed Harvey had another blog - this one geared to learning Japanese. I was intrigued. I emailed, found out that Harvey was currently enrolled at the IUC in Yokohama and knew that I had to interview him, if only to get the inside story on that esteemed establishment of Japanese learning legend. But enough of me rambling - let's hear the pearls of wisdom from today's guest (who amazingly is NOT an ex-JET!)
Let's start the ball rolling - name, rank and serial number:
What's your background? (How long have you been studying Japanese?）
I have been studying Japanese since my first year in high school in the US. That makes a total of more than 10 years with the Japanese language... Time flies.
I continued studying throughout university, and spent one year abroad at Nanzan University in Nagoya before graduating. After graduating, I came to Japan to work. I did the suit thing for four years in an environment where I had to use Japanese daily. I am now studying at an intensive Japanese program in Yokohama called IUC (Inter-University Center for Japanese Studies).
Why did you start learning Japanese (and not say, French)?
It was a process of elimination really.
We had to study a language in high school in order to get into a university, or so we were told at the time. All of my seniors studying Spanish or French hated it... The Russian teacher was a non-native speaker... No one speaks Latin... Due to the US education system and lack of knowledge on my own part the only things I knew about Germany were WWII related...
The Japanese teacher was a native speaker, the class size was small...
So I went with that.
No major regrets, but sometimes I wish I had studied Spanish. Maybe now I would be in the south of Spain (beautiful!) lying on the beach sipping a sangria while enjoying a live Flamenco performance... Well. Probably not. But it's fun to imagine.
Surely with Japanese under your belt Spanish would now be a breeze, right? I mean, you can already read the words!
People say that often but I don't think so. I tried French a while ago, and I suck. Something about the words kinda sorta looking like English, but being a little different trips me up. In Japanese usually the words are completely different, so there's no confusion. I could never remember how to spell or pronounce anything correctly in French.
Of course I'm sure it's easier to "fake" Spanish and French by mimicking the accents than
Japanese, but that's not going to cut it.
Tell us about any classes/formal schooling you have had.
I have an undergraduate degree in East Asian Language and Culture from my University, which included four years of Japanese language. I did a year at Nagoya's Nanzan University (CJS) program though my universities exchange program, and I will be at IUC in Yokohama until July 2007.
Can you tell us more about your time at Nanzan? (BTW home of Remembering the Kanji's Jim Heisig) What was your schedule like? What sort of things did you study? And what about outside class?
Yes, actually I met Jim Heisig while I was there, he's a great guy!
Nanzan was 7 years ago now, so I'm sure things about the program have changed. We really just studied Japanese though. Kanji, grammar, reading, cultural things like calligraphy.
Outside of class I hung out with Japanese friends, and was involved in a few campus clubs.
I have heard lots of stories about how intense the programme at IUC is - what is it really like?
I actually had passed Level 1 of JLPT before I decided to go to IUC, and let me tell you I'm still learning tons throughout the year.
They don't accept absolute beginners into the program actually. Most
who join would likely at -least- pass JLPT 3 without studying. I would
say at the end of the program everyone for sure would pass level 2
without any further review. Maybe 1/4th would be able to do Level 1
after a month of studying specifically for that exam. However, it must
be stressed that preparing students for the JLPT is -not- the goal of IUC. There are other schools for that.
There are 49 students this year, the most ever, but the classes are broken down into classes of 6-8 students each. So yes, they are broken down by level.
It's hard to describe the workload casually...
- Kanji quiz every morning independently going through all the Joyo kanji.
- Even if you think you know them already, I'm sure you don't! For example they do ON and KUN yomi or everything... so verbs like 費やす (TSUIYASU) or 負う (OU), or 経る (HERU) or 操る (AYATSURU) or 納める (OSAMERU) are some that come to mind about which I had no idea regarding usage before this program. Later we get to ridiculous kanji such as 殉死 which means "to kill one's self after the death of one's lord/master", or 濫伐 which means to "cut down trees recklessly". Makes me laugh just thinking about it.
- Sakubun, almost everyday, depending on your class. One we recently did was describing our opinion on the role of religion in society. Another was on the issue of the ever-increasing number of people incarcerated in the US.
- Grammar: standard grammar review at breakneck speed during 2nd quarter. 1st quarter is spent really doing keigo.
- In class discussion: about subjects related to sakubun topics usually, or essays we have read for class.
- News: reading newspaper articles, listening to news, discussing in class, writing about topics discussed.
-In the 3rd quarter the classes are broken up by topic, I was in the Politics and Economics group.
We studied things such as the debate on whether or not to revise the Japanese constitution, and
the Livedoor incident.
- In the 4th quarter we have time to research our topics of interest for our final presentation. I am
doing research on how JICA uses their distance learning tool called "JICA-NET" to assist developing countries.
Guest speakers also come on occasion. One of my favorites was when Jay Rubin, the main translator for Murakami Haruki's novels came in to give a talk. You can read a
bit about his visit on JapanNewbie here. (NB Jay Rubin is the author of that wonderful tome Making Sense of Japanese)
Lastly, the students in this program are hardcore. There is a guy who works for the US State department in my politics class, he already speaks Chinese. A girl who used to work for the UN University... and last quarter I was in a class with a J-Lit dude from Princeton graduate school. Professionals from every walk of life gather here.
It's possible to get a scholarship to cover tuition. However you'll probably have to pay for living expenses out of pocket, and that is no small change in Yokohama. Considering after the program you won't have a degree or anything to show for it other than your own personal language improvement, it's expensive. I think it's worth it though. (Note - the summer course will set you back $US3500 and the 10 month course a juicy $15,000 Ed.)
What books - textbooks or otherwise have you found useful?
Honestly nothing really stands out in particular, I just went with whatever the schools handed me. Though I can say that previous exams and workbooks are the key to passing JLPT level 1!
Can you remember what books you used to prepare for the JLPT?
I think the Kanzen Master series was one of them. I focused on grammar and reading. I kind of crammed the kanji from another JLPT book at the last minute.
And Japanese people. A great natural resource when learning Japanese!
Where did you work/what did you do? How much Japanese did you use at work?
I used to work for a large multinational in Tokyo for a few years, and then in Osaka with the same company for two years. I was doing IT project management related work. I got the job offer at the Boston Career Forum.
How was your Japanese assessed when applying for the project management job? And what were the language needs of the office - mostly speaking/listening at meetings, presentations or writing lots of reports?
The assessment was done strictly via an interview in Japanese, in fact it was a phone interview.
I remember I was still in the US at the time, so my Japanese was a little rusty. I was surprised
that they didn't check my written Japanese, but I guess they just took my word for it.
Language needs in the office included being able to keep up with meetings in Japanese, daily conversation with co-workers, and email. No report writing, but a lot of presentation (PowerPoint stuff) creation.
Looking back on it all after doing IUC, I realize that my keigo was
terrible, and I probably put a lot of people off with my familiar
speech patterns. I'm sure that since I was a foreigner, and no one
expected me to be able to say anything in Japanese anyway they didn't
hold anything against me.
What sort of things at the office did study NOT prepare you for?
All of the specialty IT terms and abbreviations for things. For the first year or so I was glued to my dictionary. Lots of things are in katakana in IT, but a lot of things are not. For example a system vulnerability in terms of security is a システムの脆弱制。An audit is 監査。Compatibility is 整合性. Also in IT, you have to deal with other departments as well. When talking to the people from finance words like 減価償却 for "depreciation" always woke me up. I sure didn't learn that stuff in my studies! Not even on the JLPT. However, most of the challenges are just vocabulary issues. Once you have Japanese grammar down it's not too difficult to increase your vocabulary if you're dealing with the stuff every day. I'm sure I'll have to go through it all over again in my next job.
Do you have a personal routine for studying?
I do not have a personal routine, but the program at IUC has me bleeding Japanese these days.
Major achievement in Japanese?
I passed JPLT Level 1!
I went through PADI scuba diving training in Saipan in Japanese and got certified! I was even reading waterproof whiteboards at 10 meters below the surface written in kanji by the instructor.
I also have done various business and IT related professional training in Japanese while on the job. I have also led meetings and given presentations and whatnot.
What was the learning curve like for given presentations in Japanese? Most people are less than stellar even in their first language!
I did a business degree in undergraduate, so giving a presentation wasn't new to me. I remember I paid a lot more attention to the audience when giving presentations in Japanese, to be sure that they were not only following the content, but keeping up with my less than perfect Japanese as well.
On the other hand, when giving a presentation in a foreign language the listeners tend to pay more attention to what you are saying. This is because they feel they have to consciously focus more to compensate for your grammar mistakes, or strange accent. If you've ever attended a lecture by a professor with a heavy accent you'll know what I mean.
Seriously though, Japanese has opened cultural doors I never anticipated. For example I have friends from China who cannot speak English, but we can hang out using Japanese as our common language. I was able to do the same in Korea with the older generation, due to the fact that they were forced to learn Japanese under Japan's occupation during World War II.
I know it's a cliché, but becoming conversational in another
language really opens up a new world you never would have access to
Most embarrassing Japanese faux pas?
I just recently found out that フリン is NOT the katakana interpretation of the English slang "fling". It is in fact a Japanese word 不倫 which also happens to mean "cheating" in the relationship sense, and is pronounced the same way as my katakana misconception.
I have been unconsciously wrong about that for years and years...
I hope this wasn't from personal experience! <g>
Of course not! Actually I'm now happily married to a crazy Kansai lady. No 不倫'ing for me!
What advice for people starting out learning Japanese?
Make studying a habit as regular as brushing your teeth. Or, as unavoidable as going to the bathroom.
I often tell my Japanese friends in Japan that learning English in Japan is like learning how to scuba dive in the desert. You can buy the books, and get the equipment... But at the end of the day do you really expect to be able to dive if you have never been near the ocean?
Gotta study abroad! Or get a job at a typical gaijin restaurant.
Learning Japanese outside of Japan can be a similarly difficult
experience. If you really want to learn Japanese, yet are not willing
or able to drop everything to study abroad for a year, or go to an
intensive program in the US such as Middlebury,
then you're going to need to create an incredibly artificial Japanese
learning environment yourself. Use movies, music, chat rooms, books,
comics, whatever you can get your hands on. Get a part-time job at the
local sushi shop if you have to. Also, don't put off studying kanji.
Having a grasp of kanji is essential to make any significant progress
in the language.
I have seen a few rare cases of people who have never been to Japan, and have some how managed to become conversational on their own. In my eyes these people are geniuses, and very worthy of respect. I could never do it.
If you were starting out starting studying Japanese from zero again what would you do differently?
I would have done the Heisig book Remembering the Kanji right at the beginning.
What advice to people who want to move from intermediate to advanced proficiency?
Nothing to add here, most everything was mentioned above.
Can you tell us about your blogs? Specifically, the Japan Ads blog.
JapanNewbie.com has been running for about five years now... I started it before I moved to Japan as a way to share tips regarding the whole process, but now it has become more of a medium for me to share the things I observe in Japan with whoever cares to read. I have met a lot of great people through that blog and I'm really glad I started it.
Japan Ads blog is very new. Basically I just take pictures of advertisements I see around Japan, and then explain the language to readers. It's a way for me to study while helping others who want to study Japanese as well. Of course, my Japanese isn't 100% perfect, so I always double-check everything with a native Japanese speaker before posting. Occasionally readers ask really detailed questions such as the difference in the nuance of ように and ために that even stump my Japanese friends. To get the answers to these questions I check with my Japanese language teachers. (You can read the ように discussion here)
What other languages do you speak?
I tried to learn French for six months while living and working in France, but the spelling, grammar, and pronunciation killed me. I hope to try Spanish or Mandarin Chinese next. Maybe Korean or French again... Not sure really!
What have you got planned next? (Note - Harvey graduates from IUC in June 2007.)
I'm going to be working as a full time technical translator back in Kansai, my favorite area of Japan! I hope to go to graduate school for International Studies in the future.
Thanks for your time Harvey.
It is rumored that Harvey is a ninja, because he is steeped in mystery and prefers to have his blog's logo displayed in preference to his face. Then again he might simply be very canny about promoting his website. In any event Harvey, ninja or otherwise, can be contacted via either of his blogs.