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"Doing Japan" after 5 years dedicated to "Doing China"


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Wow, thanks for all the input. Hadn't seen it that way, but now I am more understanding of why some people can't simply learn a language. 


6 hours ago, NinjaTurtle said:

But I think the best thing I can do for you is simply encourage you to make progress on your present path.


Yes, definitely right now I don't have enough information to make a decision... Logic tells me one thing, the heart another and it doesn't help I am stuck at home with only my own company to dwell on this over and over. It's also a pain that this year I was supposed to go to Japan for a month, but 'rona... Well, hopefully next summer.


Anyhoo, knowing my thought process, I can expect the next 2 years to be an endless roller-coaster. Thanks all that have contributed so far! Any other feedback will be appreciated... don't worry, I am only looking for like 50% validation, so bomb away 😂

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21 hours ago, xinoxanu said:

The more I dwell on this the more it feels like I am 17 again and thinking of where to go to school and what to study. It's been nearly a decade since then, but I still don't quite know what I want to do when I grow up... 哎呀


Hey buddy, don't worry too much. I think everyone feels like this in their twenties! 


Speaking personally, I found my (professional and personal)peace at thirty. You narrow your interests, find your thing, and kinda no longer fret about possibilities you're missing out on, or how peers are comparing to you. You just find our own joy, lean into it and nothing else. And in that sense life becomes immensely pleasurable, and immensely more simple.


You probably have to go through grind and anxiety and fretfulness first though, to know the contrasting joy of the other side of it...


So hopefully thats whats happening to you, a prelude to contentedness and peace and joy.




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100% hope to be in your shoes some day.


I guess I wasn't expecting this change of heart after having everything figured out for quite a while already. Good news is that I am somewhat "lucky" to have this experience at the moment, where introspection is one of the few freedoms we have left.


I am not stressed out, I am not stressed out, I am not stressed out. 😵

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So! My holidays were finally accepted, and since pretty much they involve being 5 minutes away from home, I am considering getting a first taste of Japanese now and see what's what.


I'd say it's better if I first compile a little backstory regarding my personal trip through Chinese studies. Bear with me, it's a long read, but it helps put things into perspective regarding the type of learner I am and where I can go from here. TL;DR at the end of the first part: 


  • When I started, over 3 years ago, I first used Hello Chinese (before Duolingo offered the course), paired with the HSK1 list for Skritter. After about 3 months I enrolled at a Chinese University and I went straight to Level 2 (unis usually have 7 levels + an extra advanced one for culture and whatnot). Struggled a little bit, specially with speaking, but I managed to keep on with the class and move on to Level 3 for next semester. For self-study I continued focusing on Skritter for about 40min a day (using HSK lists + my own) and started checking Chinese Grammar Wiki to better understand grammar & structure (but I didn't do homework nor I went much to class tbh, so I was definitely behind my peers in many things). Didn't speak Chinese outside of class.
  • At Level 4 I started to feel the natural improvement, and went on to contribute more. At Level 5 (where guidelines were aiming for an HSK4-5 level) I was middle-top in my class, went on to watch native content with Chinese subs 2h a day + 1h of skritter (did that for a year, even if during the first 6 months I was only catching like 30-50% at best). Next semester I redid Level 5 because I liked the teachers and the class was smaller, started reading novels (FYI: Harry Potter is still great in Chinese, despite the wizardry and made-up vocabulary you must learn to recognise and dismiss as "magic stuff" to not hinder your reading pace) and I used Level 6's textbooks at home... which I found rather easy for the most part (mainly HSK5 with some HSK6 bits) so I stopped. I also didn't go to class that much anyway. Only spoke Chinese in the real world after I got into Level 5, but didn't use the language as much as I'd have liked (didn't need to).
  • For the past year I've basically only watched , listened and read Native content. After I stopped using Skritter, I can definitely say I am unable to write 汉字 if you hand me a pen (seriously, even the most basic ones), but I'd say I am capable of recognizing about 80% of the 3000 characters I've learned so far. If there's context I don't have many issues (like if I am watching a movie) and Ids say my comprehension of a TV show with clear accents is about an 80% most of the time (depends on how focused I am after work/uni) and drops to 50% when non-standard mandarin is used. I am currently on my second Harry Potter book and I can read at a normal "English pace" if I don't pay that much attention to words I don't know, specially if they are just "complementary"…. By that I mean that if a sentence talks about weather, I don't really care if it's sunny or cloudy. I'll click on the word and add it on Pleco, but otherwise my main goal is to be able what the book is about; if it's a word I really should know I do my best to add it to my active/passive vocabulary and not leave it limbo.


TL;DR: This guy went to China and learned Chinese as if he was at his mum's basement. Why, tho?


Yes, I know what you are thinking: that's a weird way to learn a language. I realise that the main goal of learning a language should be to be able to understand every single bit of information thrown at you, but at this point in life I get by with half-books, half-movies and half-conversations. I can't really use Chinese where I am now and I won't be either for the foreseeable future, so my objective is to maintain what I have and, if possible, improve it. Once I am back in a 100% Chinese environment I'll be forced to understand/use 100% of Chinese and I'll work towards that goal. So far this works for me: I don't really feel like I am going through the chores of studying a language, as I did early on, and I enjoy watching/reading Chinese and seeing some progress here and there, although I can't say I am not concerned about what I've also lost.




So, queue in Japanese. How to actually do this simultaneously with Chinese?


  • I remembered that my good ol' friend Skritter also has a Japanese mode, so I could get myself into Kanji while reinforcing simplified Hanzi on the side since I pay for the subscription. Last year I was fed up of Skritter, but +50% of my progress comes from using that app alone, so why not? Anyone doing this precisely?
  • Something like Pleco for Japanese in 2020? Apps come and go so I am not certain of what's hot right now.
  • Duolingo Japanese? I mean, definitely.
  • Textbooks? A personal recommendation is super welcomed, although google is my friend on that I guess. My question is more on regards to if you really have to use them for Japanese or if you can actually avoid them as I did with Chinese, only consulting reference works online when I didn't instinctively get the point.
  • What's your personal Rosetta Stone? What can't you live without?
  • Regarding scheduling, and this is also directed to anyone that is actively studying +2 languages, how do you do it? Do you consistently do 1h+1h a day or you intercalate them between days/weeks/months?


Yes, all of this to simply ask what tools do you recommend for studying Japanese... but I personally love reading these stories, so I also wanted to compile and share my own to copy&paste it in the future when someone in the forum is at a similar crossroad.



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On 8/12/2020 at 12:07 AM, xinoxanu said:

right now I don't have enough information to make a decision


Then start doing your homework. Make a list of every possible career you might want to work at. Research all possible careers, and keep expanding your list. Your task right now is to expand that list, not narrow it down. Take career tests to give you ideas on particular areas that might appeal to you. Read books on each particular career. Read the graduate school textbooks now, for the classes you will take in graduate school, because they might give you a better picture of what a particular career is like. (Back in the day, I read several graduate school textbooks on being a counselor, and it really helped me see that I wanted to study counseling.) Interview collegiate professors who teach the classes in the career fields you are interested Most importantly, once you identify a particular career field that you might want to enter, go find someone who is actually working that job and interview them. Invite them out to lunch, the money you spend will be worth it. If you need ideas on what kinds of questions to ask such a person, please do not hesitate to ask.


I am reminded of my Japanese politics professor in college. He went to Japan, interviewed a large number of people in Japanese politics, and he used this information to write his PhD. thesis. This is the kind of person you should be talking to, and his PhD. thesis is exactly the kind of thing you should be reading right now. (At my university, every time someone writes a PhD. thesis, the university has the book printed and bound, all those books are on shelves in the basement of the library, and anyone (including you) can walk right in and and read any of those books.)


You need to start doing this NOW. Do not wait until you have finished your baccalaureate. Your career search could take years. (They usually do.) Get a head start now.


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Thanks for all that @NinjaTurtle 👍


I just got a flashback from a Friends episode regarding such basements filled with plenty of PhD thesis 哈哈.


I'll have to make do with what I can find online, though, since my university is in the UK but I am not currently in-country and the online library is a joke. Any particular websites?



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  • 3 weeks later...

Well, well, well! ✌️


Finally managed to re-book my ticket to Japan for next spring at no extra cost. That's definitely helping with my motivation to study the language since I need to go from 0 to fluency in 6 months... talk about lighting a fire under one's bottom! 🤣 I guess next year I'll have to go to China in the fall, can't wait to enjoy 人山人海 for Golden Week!


But really, in the last two weeks I've accomplished the following:


- Gave up and paid for 6 months of Skritter all-at-once. Unused gym memberships anyone?

- Was forced to nuke my account since in the last year I've racked up 17.000 card reviews. Whoosh!

- Started with the easiest Hiragana deck out there. Adding 10 per day and I can't believe I am having more trouble with remembering which sound is which than with studying useless HSK 6 words! I guess squiggly lines are not as enjoyable as sticks and bars?

- Got my motivation back for Chinese as well, so that's nice. Currently juggling both apps every day, and it seems I also didn't forget as many characters as I thought! 

- After a 5min research on "can I skip Japanese grammar" was met with a soul-crushing "no", I downloaded Genki 1&2 for when I am done with Hiragana and Katakana in about 2 weeks. Can't really catch a break from textbooks this year!


I am actually enjoying this and so far I'm feeling I made the right decision. Let's see how it goes moving forward! 

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There is ‘talent’, which can be described as how easily a person acquires a language. Don’t get me wrong, learning Japanese was one of the hardest things I have ever done. But once I spent several years learning Japanese and started using it in Japan, it really started to ‘grow’ on me and my ‘talent’ appeared. (It never ‘appeared’ at any time in my years in China studying Chinese.) I have known Americans where Japanese just ‘works’ for them whereas Chinese does not, and vice versa. And of course I  know Americans where neither Japanese or Chinese ‘work’ for them at all.


As someone who has studied six languages at different stages in my life, I am having a hard time understanding this!  If someone has a talent for learning languages, I don't see how they would have a talent for one language and not another.  Talent means you are good at it and progress comes easily.


Do you really mean an affinity for a particular language - ie, it clicks with you?  You like the culture, you particularly enjoy speaking it?  That can become a self-reinforcing thing, but I would never call it a "talent" for that language...

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10 hours ago, anonymoose said:

I'd also recommend the Pimsleur course. It covers quite a lot of useful grammar. The amount of vocabulary is very limited so you won't be conversational after completing it, but it's a good foundation to build on.


I've done Glossika Chinese before and I got bored rather fast. Admittedly I started the program once I had an intermediate level of Chinese so by that point I was already starting to enjoy native content, but I'll definitely give it a try for Japanese!


Thanks ✌️

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  • 2 weeks later...

Well, I can give some input as someone who has gone the other direction (Japan -> China/HK). I did Japan in high school (went on an exchange for a year), and in university, I figured that I might as well do China too (again went on an exchange for a year). I currently live in Hong Kong.


Learning/keeping fluency in both languages is definitely possible, especially since you're still young. Although I technically started taking Chinese (Mandarin only) classes in high school, I only seriously started learning Chinese (and Cantonese) in university at basically your age. My spoken Mandarin is not that great, but it's passable; my Cantonese (and written Chinese) is fluent though, and my Japanese is almost nativelike. I can use Cantonese(+written Chinese) fine in all contexts, but I don't regularly use work/business/academic Japanese (though I'm sure I could easily pick it up if I had to). So I've got two languages down at least.


Interestingly, my Japanese has always improved over the years, even though I left Japan. I stopped making an active effort to study or practice Japanese since I left Japan, but I since have used Japanese very often in my daily life (playing videogames, watching anime, reading light novels, reading news articles, and conversing with Japanese friends in China and Hong Kong). I guess whether you can keep your old foreign language depends on whether you keep a connection to it even when you're in your new foreign country. If you don't, you could lost it easily. I'm sure it's possible for you to keep a connection to Chinese while living in Japan, and to meet and make friends with Chinese people (there are a lot of them). Make this your thing. I'll admit that the other way around was even easier for me, because of how strong Japanese media is (and personal interest in Japanese media in the first place).


Regarding society, I would say that Japan is more strict and less welcoming than China, but they have a strong culture of expecting foreigners to assimilate, and a rigid societal structure that makes it easy for foreigners to "learn how to be Japanese" because you are sort of forced to. This is basically a very unpleasant experience to have to go through, but is actually very helpful. The catch is, that even if you do everything perfectly, you may not really be accepted. (This is changing though; I was in Japan more than 10 years ago; I find the Japan of today to be a much more open minded and welcoming country.)


China on the other hand is more open and welcoming, but you have to take the initiative to learn to be Chinese on your own because you won't really be encouraged or forced to do so (at least not as much as in Japan). Chinese people will be quick to accept you as one of them you even before you fully assimilate though. This is both good and bad, it helps life be more enjoyable, but it makes it harder to actually learn to be Chinese.


In terms of me, even though I "learned how to be Japanese" decently enough, I don't really feel very Japanese because I don't truly feel like I'm welcome or a part of them. However, the skills I gained in Japan about learning cultures helped me tremendously in "learning how to be Chinese" in China, and in the end, I would consider myself to feel much more Chinese. I would love to spend the rest of my life in China, but I can't say the same about Japan. I'm not sure what happens if you go in the other direction. But I guess my point is, maybe you can find your societal skills you learned from China to be useful in Japan in a unique way that foreigners in Japan with no connection to China won't experience.


These skills included language learning skills. Japanese education in Japan is very well thought out, and there are lots of useful resources. I used the げんき textbooks and would recommend them, but there are a lot of good books really. Coming to China knowing Japanese made learning Chinese easy, since I already knew 漢字 and already knew "how to learn a language" (which again, I find is taught much better in Japan than in China). You're going in the other direction, so I don't know what it would be like, but I think you would find your Classical Chinese knowledge very useful in Japan I guess.

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Many thanks @Takeshi for the detailed insight, specially on regard to "becoming Japanese/Chinese". 


Certainly that's the toughest bit of all. We might speak the language, enjoy the food (I even eat more 麻辣 than many Sichuanese!) and learn the required customs, but if you are as white as a loaf of bread you'll never fully make it nor will be able to hide your foreignness... and people will make sure you are well aware of this at those moments when you are really trying to fit in. Nothing is as frustrating as hearing something like "no, you don't need to do this, you are foreigner" when you are actually striving to do "it".


Oh, well, it's the same for all migrants in the world, isn't it? For now I think I can handle it based on past experiences... but if the forum is still online in about 50 years time I'll certainly make sure to come vent my frustrations😁



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9 hours ago, Takeshi said:

But then when you think about it, for everything to be so clean in Japan, people have to clean up everything all the time. For service to be so good, service workers have to provide good service... or else. I dunno if I'm explaining it well, but like for Japan to function as it does, it requires the collective input of everyone to be doing the things and acting in the way they are expected to in society.


I agree about a lot you say about difference in cultures, but I would argue this bit is just conflating "culture" (a term, like religion, without a proper definition so we all mean different things) with a high standard of living. This goes for a lot of rich countries in the world, mine included. You just have to look back in time to see that money and education (a general high standard of living) is what explaines a lot of this. You can also see this quite clearly when you compare Taiwan with China, or Singapore for that matter, or richer and poorer parts of China next to each other.

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@Takeshi As someone who's lived half of my life in a Chinese environment and only dabbled with Japan, I found this quite interesting, thank you. The main thing that makes me reopen my 日本語 books every now and then is art and particularly music, as I find myself drawn to yet another J artist. I've often wondered if the social environment you describe acts as a pressure cooker on free thinkers and drives them to either despair, or absolute excellence in their chosen field. In a "freer" environment, it's tempting to just do enough to get by.

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Hi~ I think I am on the same boat as you. To be honest, I first started to be very interested in Korea. I learned the Korean language on my own, studied Korean culture and history. I think some people judged me as a Koreaboo already but I never wanted to become a Korean though. I love my home country and it will always be special in my own heart.


Anyway, before Korean, I also had wanted to study Chinese but I was not confident enough to learn it on my own. I said "I want to learn it with a teacher." Entering university, I was shocked to find out there was no Korean classes when I needed to enlist (but the class was offered in that semester), and okay, I guess it was the sign from the heavens for me to study Chinese which I did for 3 semesters. During those times, I was not highly motivated because I really wanted to study Korean, my heart was with Korean basically. So when I was on my 3rd and last semester of Chinese in the university (this was the highest Chinese course offered), I decided to took Korean classes where I already knew like ninety percent of the lesson but I had no choice because I was required to take it to fulfill my second foreign language elective and can help me to apply for an exchange program in Korea. When it is was the time to apply for that, I submitted my application but unfortunately, I was not able to get in. It was sad for me because it was my dream to study abroad in Korea and I also applied with some friends, so they went to Korea without me. But, I took the HSK, and then I was able to know about the Chinese government scholarship (this website was a big help for me that time back in 2013~2014!). I applied and fortunately got in! So I flew to China and studied for one year. But, after that, I said, I still wanted to learn Korean so I studied on my own and took more Korean classes until I graduated and started to work. Since I have a big interest on Sino-Korean phonology, I decided to apply for a scholarship here in Korea to pursue my master's on Chinese language and literature and fortunately I got in as well! I am on my last year now and doing my thesis which I hope I can present this coming December. 


My original plan after my master's is to pursue PhD but with my family's current financial situation and with the fatigue of living and studying here in Korea, I think I want to take a break first. The JET program or teaching in Japan is very attractive to me. I have been to Japan as a tourist and I really liked it and I also have a relative living there for 20 years and my boyfriend is also interested in Japan. I started to study Japanese this year, I have finished the genki series and I will be taking the JLPT this year. My Chinese and Korean skills really maked Japanese easier but I just have no time to study now because of my thesis but I guess my current level is around N4~N3. I registered for N1 but I dunno if I can pass it hahaha! I still have next month to change the level (I might change it to N3). So, I can say, yes, it is possible to maintain a lot of languages as long as you use it regulary and have a solid foundation. 


The reply of @Takeshi really captured my interest and attention that is why I decided to share mine as well. 


For me, I also believe Chinese people love foreigners assimilating in their culture. They love when a foreigner shows their love for their culture, studies and speaks Chinese etc., but sometimes they would still tell "you are still a foreigner" which sometimes is true because we can still have our own biases but sometimes I believe foreigners can still have valid criticisms or valuable insights towards China which are overlooked or ignored by the locals. However, now that I have lived in Korea for two years, I cannot say that I had the same experience. Of course, Korea likes foreigners appreciating their culture. You see different events catered to foreigners which I also personally joined in the past like quiz bees, speech contests, etc. I also get the "한국말 잘하시네요" praises from random Koreans or even friends and professors. However, sometimes, I have experienced to be antagonized for knowing how to speak Korean. Sometimes, Koreans feel threatened because I can understand what they say about me, especially when they mutter and believe no one understands them. Sometimes, I also get the impression that they do not like foreigners like me in this place. I also cannot forget how some of my friends felt scared when we went out to eat in a restaurant and the owner is an ethnic Korean from China (조선족). I wonder if some Koreans feel worse about me if they already feel that way to someone who shares the same ethnicity as they have? 


And now, thanks to this thread and with other anecdotes that I have found online and heard from friends who have lived in Japan, I have an idea on how the Japanese treat its foreigners. I think my view of Japan and the Japanese is still on the good side because I had only traveled there twice. I am still scared if I should pursue my JET application or continue learning Japanese. What if Japan is not for me? I am so worried yet you know, sometimes we need to take risks in life. For me, it is very interesting how these countries have different attitudes and reactions towards foreigners (trying to assimilate in their culture). On the other hand, every person has a different experience in each place and it is hard to generalize that each person from each of these countries is like what is described here. I believe if you want to experience a certain country`s culture, the best way is to live there and try to be open-minded and ready for anything.


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22 hours ago, timseb said:

You just have to look back in time to see that money and education (a general high standard of living) is what explaines a lot of this.


Hmm, maybe those were bad examples, but I think the fruits of Japanese culture exist even when compared to developed countries. It's a subtle thing. I dunno how to say.


3 hours ago, carlo said:

I've often wondered if the social environment you describe acts as a pressure cooker on free thinkers and drives them to either despair, or absolute excellence in their chosen field. In a "freer" environment, it's tempting to just do enough to get by.


Interesting thought. I have this stereotype that "despair, or absolute excellence" is common in Japan, and "just enough to get by" is common in China. Not sure if it's related.

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Wow, there are some wonderful insights here.


I am really glad I opened this thread to discuss this situation, it's helping me quite a lot to understand my feelings on the matter and I am actually looking forward to updating it every now and then with my journey. ☺️


Thanks and keep 'em coming!

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10 hours ago, xinoxanu said:

I am really glad I opened this thread to discuss this situation, it's helping me quite a lot to understand my feelings on the matter and I am actually looking forward to updating it every now and then with my journey.


As a matter of fact I just started my Japanese language journey as well. A bit ahead of schedule, but only a few months. Will not do any immersion in the language for a few months still though, only in Chinese.

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This thread seems to be giving Japan a negative connotation. That may be all well and good, but there are westerners who actually enjoy living in Japan, and who actually prefer living in Japan than in China. There are a lot of good things about Japanese culture, and I hope everyone has a chance to experience them.

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