I procrastinated my apartment search for too long. I found a place in late August. 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 before, but living with these guys upgraded my BA in Downloads to Master’s degree in Piracy. They had everything!
From my housemates, I learned how to download vast libraries of media, including anime, and Japanese movies that were literally inaccessible locally. The shows were all in original Japanese 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 handed me an external hard drive and said, “Watch this and then let’s play together.” Hikaru-no-Go was the first anime series I really got into. I watched seventy-five 22 minute episodes two or three times each. My Japanese got buffed. I had gotten so much listening practice from this. I had digested a lot of vocabulary and expressions naturally, too. I was also introduced to a lot of culture visually. And, of course, I learned how to play Go, which was my original intention.
After watching Hikaru-no-Go, I started watching Naruto in Japanese for hours every day. 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 became clearer in my mind. It was like an alcoholic’s moment of clarity. Everything started making sense. I did not have to think or translate what I heard, it was just understood.
I had a Japanese girlfriend months earlier. We broke because she moved back to Japan. When we were together, I could barely speak any Japanese. I knew only a few words and expressions. She called me one day to see how I was doing. She was so suspicious because my Japanese had gotten so much better in a short amount of time. I could now react to Japanese in Japanese in real-time for every day conversations. No thinking time was necessary.
I was 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 I got a lot of structural support from the classroom. This dovetailed well with my daily three hours of listening practice.
My second year Japanese class at SMU was now much smaller. If I remember correctly, there were 15 students. The class was now half Chinese and half Canadian. As our kanji load increased, it became much more difficult for Canadians. We used the higher level of last year’s textbook, Japanese for Busy People 2.
At this point, I began to realize the Japanese I heard was often different. People were saying the same things but completely differently, for example:
- what I heard Japanese people saying in real life
- what I heard in dramas on TV
- what I heard in anime
- what I read in the textbooks and classroom materials
They were all different! Even the ways men & women, boys & girls, and seniors & juniors spoke were different. I became really confused and didn’t know which way to imitate. The textbook seemed so dry, so I didn’t want to imitate it. I also got annoyed with why we were learning words like embassy before words like run. We weren’t learning high frequency words in the textbook.
I continued to rewatch my favorite anime and began to understand more and more. Class progressed well and I made more Japanese friends through the 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. I was paired with a good looking and stylish Japanese university student. We started dating. Her major was Teaching Japanese (in Japan), but she was in Halifax studying English.
Atlantic Canada Japanese Speech Contest
My Japanese teacher at SMU forced me into this. It was a good experience because I mainly listened to Japanese and rarely spoke at the time. Now I had to speak for three minutes about a topic. I entered the intermediate level and spoke about Personalities and Blood Types in Japan. I didn’t win, but several Japanese people there told me my speech sounded really natural, and it was easy to follow.
Graduation & Beyond
I moved back to my mother’s in Campbellton, New Brunswick. I was now surrounded by French and had no chance to use Japanese. I continued to watch anime and tried to find other Japanese shows on my computer. I started working two part-time jobs and began to save money for Japan. I had been thinking about working in Japan for two years. I started moving toward this goal.
Japanese Job Hunting
While working in Campbellton, I applied for an English instructor position with NOVA. My interview was in Halifax at the end of summer. I did well in the interview and received a job offer several weeks later. I was scheduled to leave for Japan in November 2005.