About

About me and the site

Hi there, my name is Matthew Hawkins. I am an undergraduate software engineer from the UK. I acquired “fluent” Japanese in 18 months while studying Software Engineering full-time at University.

This domain’s purpose is to provide me space to keep a running log of my language learning progress as well as providing the language community with information to help them learn languages faster and in a more enjoyable manner. The end goal is for this site to have everything one needs to go from knowing nothing to knowing everything they need to do to reach “fluency”.

Contact email: matthewhawkins@matthewhawkins.co

“Fluency” is a very difficult term to define and your definition of fluent maybe different to mine. To be slightly more precise, I consider fluency to be the same level as a B2/C1 on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.

Also, I rarely go on it but if you really want to then you can Follow me on Twitter

My current Japanese level

I will try and keep this section up to date as I improve. Last Updated 2017/12/27

Here’s the latest video of me speaking Japanese:

Listening

  • I can understand native speakers, TV, radio, anime, dramas, films, audiobooks, podcasts etc etc.
  • My comprehension is often 95% or higher. Vocabulary wise though, depending on the topic I may know far less or far more words. I can still understand almost the entire content though. For example I would probably know every word in an anime or drama but I might not for a cooking program. I still understand the fundamentals, but there will be a lot of unknown words for me in topics I don’t know much about. What I mean here is that I understand the core of Japanese, the most common 95%, anything beyond that is usually relevant to specific topics and it’s when I get into these topics that I will not know all the words used. This doesn’t stop me from understanding any topic specific content though. I could still watch a cooking program and understand it, it just might mean that I might have seen a lot of new words.
  • I can make out the meanings of most unknown words by context, sometimes even correctly guessing the kanji used based on how it’s said and it’s usage.
  • Of the dialects I’ve heard, even if I don’t know any dialect specific words or phrases, I have still found that I can understand most of what is being said. I can make out a lot of unknown parts based on context or from knowledge of similar phrases from standard Japanese. I will note though that I haven’t heard many dialects besides Kansei-ben, Hokkaido-ben and some other dialects that aren’t that different from standard Japanese. Even natives will struggle with particularly strong accents and I would definitely have a harder time with those dialects as well, which I believe is pretty self evident considering I am not a native.
  • I can understand relatively fast paced speech, however, there are times when I struggle with fast speakers that have thick dialects.
  • I struggle to understand people who mumble, and the older generation.

What I’m doing to improve:

  • Maintaining a Japanese immersion environment.
  • Starting to use material that isn’t just related to my interests. This will hopefully bring about a more broadened understanding of the language and culture.
  • I’m adding every unknown word to Anki which I will then find an example sentence for and then learn.
  • Since going to Japan I’ve realized that food in particular is very important to Japanese people, and it’s a subject I know little about, so I have started learning words related to Japanese cuisine.
  • Stopped using Japanese subtitles. This is because I find myself reading the subtitles and not actually listening.

Reading

  • I can read blogs, websites, manga, novels, books and pretty much anything else written in modern Japanese.
  • I can’t fully read pre-1947 Japanese. I can understand a lot of 舊字體 but it takes some effort and I am incredibly slow at reading it.
  • My reading speed is slower than my speed in English.
  • I can skim read and still get the meaning of a text.
  • I really struggle reading names, unless they are super common ones.
  • I know some really stupidly hard kanji words that most natives can’t read but at the same time I might not know the word for something like “potato peeler”.
  • If I see a word for the first time while reading, 95% of the time I can instantly understand the meaning through the kanji or context of the sentence.
  • If a word has kanji but is written in kana then sometimes it will confuse me and I will have to read the word again.

What I’m doing to improve:

  • Maintaining a Japanese immersion environment.
  • I’m adding every unknown word to Anki which I will then find an example sentence for and then learn.
  • Reading Japanese everyday.
  • Review and add new Anki sentence cards everyday.
  • Starting to read older books that use 舊字體 for fun. It’s really not needed but I have a thing for kanji and weird words.
  • I don’t think I will take it for a while but I’m starting to study for the Japanese kanji test or 漢検. Having this as a target should help me not only learn lots of new words and kanji but also get me writing by hand.

Speaking

  • Based on comments from natives, I have a pretty decent accent.
  • I don’t have the typical gaijin accent but I do sometimes say a word or phrase in “foreign-ish” way.
  • I can converse without too much effort.
  • I have times where I can’t remember a word. I often circumpass this by either just using a different word of similar meaning, or rephrasing what I say, or by asking the other person what the word I am thinking of might be by describing it to them. This happens a lot in English anyway so I don’t see it as too much of a problem. It does occur more in Japanese though.
  • The majority of my speech is correct Japanese.
  • I can 90% of the time tell when I have made a mistake and will often quickly correct myself on the spot.
  • I have not tested my speaking outside of everyday conversation so I doubt I could do things like presentations, or a speech, in Japanese without first practicing for it. I doubt I could do this in English either though.
  • I can speak basic keigo but I have little practice with it and sometimes find that I get tongue-tied with some especially long phrases.
  • I say I can speak basic keigo as I know that there are different levels to keigo and I don’t know the levels nor their differences. I just stick with fully formal just to be sure.
  • In general, my speaking is very simple and patternized in the respect that I try to stick with phrases that I know are correct.
  • I can make jokes.
  • I can discuss a wide range of topics.
  • I can argue in Japanese, I feel this is thanks to having a Japanese girlfriend aha, and can sometimes provide persuasive arguments.
  • I have a bad habit of fumbling my words. I do this in English A LOT too.
  • I speak only slightly slower than I do in English, which I feel is relatively slow. If it’s a topic I know a lot about and I get excited about the conversation then I may speak a lot faster. I don’t think that speaking speed has much correlation to language skill though, as a lot of native’s speak very slowly too. I think it depends on the person.
  • I’ve never studied pitch accent as I never knew it existed until recently. For that reason I doubt I sound like a native.

What I’m doing to improve:

  • Maintaining a Japanese immersion environment.
  • Looking into how to become 話し上手 in both Japanese and English as it’s a problem I face in my native tongue too.
  • Listening to content that involves a lot of speech patterns one would use in everyday speech. This means less anime/dramas/films where most of the lines are over the top, and more podcasts/YouTube videos/talk shows where multiple people are talking and using everyday Japanese in a variety of situations.
  • Continuing to talk to my girlfriend in Japanese, although this is more of a necessity as we mainly speak in Japanese, I’d much rather not speak until I could output perfectly but there’s not much I can do about that. She’s quite harsh though and corrects me if I make mistakes, which I am super thankful for.
  • Currently looking into improving my keigo, especially when and where to use different levels of politeness.
  • Currently looking into pitch accent. I may start studying it but I might not as I’m not fussed about sounding like a native.

Writing

  • Am able to write basic “adult” Japanese without errors.
  • Am able to write more complex Japanese, about 80%+ being error free.
  • Can type in both daily language and keigo.
  • Often make simple typo’s such as accidentally adding a letter or using the wrong kanji for a word.
  • Have a limited vocabulary compared to a native and therefore my writing is not as creative.
  • Sometimes I find myself considering the grammar of a sentence too much instead of just typing it. Times like these are often the times I make the most grammatical errors. How ironic.
  • I can only write a few kanji by hand.
  • I tend to only write on a computer or a mobile device using an IME, therefore I suck at writing by hand.

What I’m doing to improve:

  • Maintaining a Japanese immersion environment.
  • Actively reading Japanese everyday. Any writing I do will often be related to explaining concepts, therefore non-fiction reading material is my main priority.
  • Whenever I do write, and feel that I have made a mistake, I make sure to check it with my girlfriend. If she corrects it, I add the correction to Anki. Even if she doesn’t I still add the sentence to Anki. Some people recommend using lang8 for corrections but I have found that people are very lazy on there and don’t always correct you properly. I recommend making friends with a Japanese person and set up an agreement to correct each other’s output. You are more likely to get high quality corrections this way.
  • I don’t think I will take it for a while but I’m starting to study for the Japanese kanji test or 漢検. Having this as a target should help me not only learn lots of new words and kanji but also get me writing by hand.
  • Using a new writing deck in Anki to force myself to write Japanese everyday.

Hopefully that gives you some idea of where my Japanese is at 🙂

Free Japanese Resource Guide

I have recently written an eBook which I am giving away for free to anyone who signs up to my newsletter. To get it for free just head over to this page. I make sure to keep your information safe and secure, never sharing it with anyone. I also never send spam, just the occasional email with free and useful information about learning languages.

Help me translate this site

If you are a native speaker of another language and can translate from English then I would love it if you could translate these posts! I want to make my site more accessible to language learners. If you want to translate posts then recognition will be given in the translated version. Please send translations to my email address.

So far I have 4 posts translated into and from Japanese. 2 translated by me and 2 by my girlfriend. She’s learning to translate from English to Japanese and this was a great way to get her customers so she could get started. If you wish to make use of her services then you can find her on fiverr here: Natsumi Shibata.

I am working on translating more posts over to Japanese for the community to use as reading material and I will of course get all posts checked by a native to ensure that the text is nothing less than standard, correct Japanese. Yes, I make mistakes here and there, and I really don’t want you learning them. I have included, and will continue to include, Anki decks for each post that is written in Japanese to save you the time if you want to sentence mine them or add them to your Sentence Bank.

Guest posts

I accept guest posts if they are of original content (so as not to get flagged by google), are well written and you give a line stating I have permission to use your content. Send your guest posts in to my email address. I will check them and give you a reply if I use them in the blog. I will of course give credit to authors of any posts that are used.