A few weeks ago, I had a vacation–from Japanese. This vacation took place in la Esperantujo. For the TLDR crowd, I spent a little amount of time learning Esperanto (while maintaining my current Japanese of course.) The whole idea behind this (which is related to Japanese, as I will explain) came from this post by fellow blogger Benny. After returning, the results it’s had on my Japanese has been fantastic!
Without going into too much detail, I’ll give you a brief introduction of what Esperanto is. Esperanto is the world’s most used constructed language. It’s made up of completely regular, logical grammar, with vocabulary taken from various European language families. Basically, it’s language learning on easy mode. There is a small but very active community of Esperantists, creating literature, translations, music, guides, and even video content online. So just like with Japanese, you can learn Esperanto through self-immersion.
Since I wasn’t familiar with any of the sources for Esperanto media, I had to use only what was easily and readily available, especially since this was a shorter term project. This showed me that it’s also the sort of media I should especially be using for Japanese, since it is so easy to just turn on and acquire. My initial goal was to get a feel for what the language sounds like. So right off the bat, in Esperanto, I was using:
- One specific podcast that was quite popular in the Esperanto world
- Posted up a chart of the writing system (Which is a modified Latin alphabet)
- Found an app that streams music in Esperanto
- Video content that I’ve just come across by chance
The whole language is very logical, everything being made up of roots with various prefixes, suffixes, and compounds. I realized that it’s actually a lot like Japanese in this regard, since Japanese is also very regular, kanji compounds are often logical in their composition, etc. So if this logic could be a huge help in Esperanto, then I could use it to my advantage in Japanese too.
Because the language is less common and I was new to it, I was limited to certain sources of media, SRS decks, and guides. I’m sure there was more available, but in this case, limiting was actually a means of focusing. Really, it helped me not get too overwhelmed by trying to follow too many methods simultaneously. For example there were a few grammar guides that I could have explored, but I chose one that I liked the most and used that as a base in my studies. It also showed me that sometimes I’d spent so much time searching for something very specific, or so-called perfect in Japanese, that I’d missed the content that was right in front of me in abundance!
Now that I knew what Esperanto sounded like, I needed to learn how it worked. Without getting into the specific resources (since the point of this post is about Japanese) here is what I did to progress:
- More podcasts, gathered together with a smart playlist.
- A grammar guide that covers the basics of how Esperanto works, with example sentences.
- Low budget but entertaining video of skits in Esperanto, showing some real-life and funny situations.
- Downloaded a pre-made Anki deck of introductory vocabulary that included an example with every sentence.
- Upped my exposure to the language (more audio/video, changed Facebook interface, etc.)
I was actually quite surprised that by the time I got to watching video (which was basically these long skits done in Esperanto) I could actually understand about half of what was spoken from actual knowledge, and virtually everything through context. Naturally, it would take longer in Japanese (or any other non-easy mode language) but it did prove that understanding is possible. This was very encouraging!
So did this help my Japanese? Absolutely! Keep in mind that even during this, I still had exposure to Japanese every day. This break taught me, more than ever, that Japanese has truly become part of my life. I couldn’t completely remove Japanese from my day any more than I could remove English! This is a good thing though, it shows great success with my immersion environment. The whole idea behind spending some time with Esperanto was to give me a fresh approach to Japanese, and a new level of confidence. In both of these factors, I think it was greatly successful.
Media Recommendation: Kupuu~!! Mamegoma (Nintendo DS)
Mamegomas are small seal characters used in various media and merchandising, similar to Hello Kitty. This particular DS title is a virtual pet game (think Nintendogs). There’s also a variety of minigames you can play to win different items for your mamegoma. It’s all in hiragana making it quite accessible for any level, and very cute and colourful to catch your attention. If you’re looking for a fun interactive experience to get into Japanese, you’ve found it with this title!