I procrastinated my apartment search for too long. I found a place in late Aug. Chinese again?! Yes! After living with Chinese for two years in a row, I still wanted more. But this time, I moved in with two guys: one SMU business major and one ESL student. The apartment was a 10 minute walk to SMU and 30 minutes to DAL.
We Be Piratin’
I went from a Japanese to Chinese environment. I knew how to get pirated movies et al. before, but living with these Chi’s upgraded my BA in downloads to Master’s degree in piracy (they know their shit!).
From my housemates, I learned how to download vast libraries of media, including anime and J-movies that were literally unaccessible via English means at the time. The shows were all in original J-audio with hardcoded Chinese and English fansubs.
One day I saw my housemate playing a Minesweeper-Chess-like game on his computer.
When I asked him how to play, he introduced me to an anime. He said, “Watch this and then let’s play together.” Hikaru-no-Go was the first anime series I got into. Seventy-five 22 minute episodes later (watched two or three times each), I had digested a lot of vocab. and learned how to play Go. On top of that, I was also introduced to a lot of culture—one of the best reasons to watch TV in your target language.
Shorty after that, I spent a great deal of time, literally hours and hours a day, watching Naruto in Japanese. I was addicted and couldn’t get enough. It actually interfered with my real studies. I don’t remember when it happened, but suddenly the Japanese language was much clearer in my mind, as if the fog had cleared and I could navigate in simple Japanese without thinking. I did not have to think or translate what I heard, as most content was immediately understood. Though I broke up with the Japanese girlfriend shortly after she moved back to Japan, I called her after not talking to her for a month. She was extremely suspicious of how my Japanese got so much better and so quickly. No monkey business. I just watched TV shows.
This milestone was accomplished by sponging vocabulary from anime like Hikaru-no-Go and Naruto, but also from dramas like Orange Days. The majority of my growth came from outside of the classroom. But the support and structure from the classroom was vital.
My second year Japanese class at SMU was now much smaller. If I remember correctly there were approx. 15 students. The Chinese numbers decreased significantly, although several Canadians remained, making our class roughly equal in terms of nationality. As our kanji load increased, it became much more difficult for Canadians. As in first year, we used the same textbook, but a level higher: Japanese for Busy People 2. At this point I began to realize the Japanese I heard in natural conversation (J-house & life) and in anime were quite different from the textbook and classroom material. I did not understand why we were learning words like embassy before words like run.
I continued to rewatch my favorite anime and began to understand more and more. Class progressed well and I made more Japanese friends through Koreans at the basketball court.
I Used the System
I volunteered for the TESL language exchange program as a part of the TESL course I was taking at SMU in my fourth year of university. Paired with a cute and well mannered Japanese university student, one year junior to me, I was drawn to her and started dating her. Her major was teaching Japanese (in Japan), but she was in Halifax studying English. Oddly, she never had any questions about English and rarely spoke to me in English—good for my J.
Atlantic Canada Japanese Speech Contest
The new GF helped me a lot with a speech contest that my university Japanese teacher forced me into. This experience was good because previously I only listened to Japanese and rarely spoke (input focussed). But this time, I was in a situation where I had to speak for three minutes about a certain topic (output only). I entered at the intermediate level and spoke about Personalities and Blood Types in Japan. I didn’t win the intermediate, but at the end, quite a few Japanese viewers told me my speech was the least gaijin-nihongo-like (meaning it sounded natural). Were these Japanese just being nice to me? Maybe I lost points for my baggy jeans and Lugz. (The other participants wore a shirt and tie.)
Graduation and Beyond
I moved back to my mother’s in NB (approx. 600 km from Halifax) and was now surrounded by French, the language I was once fluent in, and not Japanese. I no longer had the structure and support of the classroom, nor did I have anyone to converse with in Japanese, but in my free time (when not working, skateboarding, mackin’ on the locals or spending time with family) I continued to watch Japanese shows on my computer. I started working two part-time jobs, and began to save all the money I could in prep of moving to Japan, something I had decided some few years ago.
Japanese Job Hunting
While working in NB, I applied for an English instructor position with NOVA (now defunct—not my fault!). My interview was in Halifax at the end of summer. I received the job offer several weeks later, and was scheduled to leave for Japan in November 2005.