Learning Japanese during my exchange

To see my own progress and maybe give some tips, I will post here on how I learn Japanese during my exchange and what I find/found helpful, counterproductive and interesting. Hope you can enjoy and if you have any tips for me or other people ---> Send a message! or leave a comment below!

September 2018

My studies were for most of the month not really structured. I tried to review content of the JSFS 2 book (see Before the Exchange), my hostmum gave me some kids' books to read and 2 workbooks from the AFS exchange organization, and I studied some Kanji with the Heisig book (see Before the Exchange).


But I think in my third week, I decided I wanted to study as if I would take the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) N3 (middle level) in December. So I became more structured: My "schedule" now looks like this:



  • 10 N4 Kanji (N4 is the level below N3 and I haven't learned all N4 Kanji yet)
  • 10 N4 words (I haven't kept up with this, since everyday I encounter so many new words and was just too lazy to learn N4 words additionally, but I try)
  • 1 grammar aspect (either from my JSFS book, the AFS book, Tae Kim's Guide to Japanese or the new N3 Grammar book from my teacher/Ayusa area coordinator


  • Reading kids' picture books
  • AnkiDroid (an App which creates virtual flashcards that you can practice, e.g. I created a new deck every week and additional ones for English-Japanese vocabulary tests, maths terms in Japanese etc.) - I like to use it in the train when I go to/ leave school sometimes.
  • Kanji study with the Heisig book, which I really recommend for anyone who is not already in Japan but considers going
  • Kanji study with the AFS book: it just covers 260 basic Kanji
  • Reading News on NHK News Web Easy (recommended by a friend), which presents Japanese news in relatively simple Japanese with Kanji and their readings
  • CONVERSATION WITH JAPANESE PEOPLE: Although this might be the most important tool to learn Japanese while in Japan, I feel like I still neglect it because of shyness or shame but for all the people who are not yet in Japan: try to find a tandempartner (online or at a university etc.). If you are already in Japan: try speaking about anything in Japanese. People will acknowledge that you are trying and they know you are struggling and mostly try to help as much as they can. And small talk is just the first step to having more interesting conversations. Just SPEAK! (I feel like I'm motivating myself here, as well)

October 2018

Nothing much has changed to how learned in September except for:

  • I studied less because of a lack of time or motivation or because
  • I've finished summerazing the Grammar of the AFS book from my hostfamily and the Japanisch Schritt für Schritt - Band 2
  • I've encountered every N4 Kanji, but I still need to review, which I haven't much. So I stopped studying Kanji daily
  • Also didn't regularly study the vocabulary since I tend to want to learn too many. I always look them up in a list and then save those that I don't know in my AnkiDroid vocabulary app. But I don't review them consistently which slows the progress. I have to focus more.
  • I tried reading a little bit of the "Disney's Frozen" book from my hostmum, but it's very slowly due to my lack of vocabulary.
  • Learned some Kanji with the Heisig book (now I should be able to know the writing and meaning of 300 country (plus the ones I coincidentally picked up, learned with the Japanisch Schritt für Schritt books or the AFS book, studied for the N4/N3 JLPT)
  • Learned a bit with the Obenkyo App/Tae Kim's Guide to Japanese
  • Practice Reading Comprehension for the JLPT N3 and also Grammar (I write 3 example sentences for every new grammar piece and my teacher (Ayusa Area Coordinator) corrects it; that is actually quite time-consuming)7
  • Also installed the App HelloTalk which people use to find native speakers of the language they want to learn. And have language exchange by chatting with them. But since I don't want to invest too much time into that online business, it's maybe not that useful.


  • I definitely improved my confidence. And sometimes it really works out and I can have longer conversations with friends. But as I mentioned in the blog entry from Eighth Week, sometimes people overrate my Japanese skills and turn easily comprehensible Japanese conversation into a more difficult one that I cannot follow which is a bit embarrassing and often kills atmosphere. But I always try to overcome that.
  • I had more conversation than before especially due to the last week of October when I had the opportunity to again introduce myself to people who didn't know me, so the good old conversation topics about what Germany is like weren't used up already.

Goals for next month

(regular study):

  • 10 new N3 Kanji a day
  • 10 new N4/3words a day
  • 1 Grammar lesson a day (JLPT or Tae Kim's Guide)
  • Reviewing vocabulary with the AnkiDroid App (one Deck a day?)
  • new Heisig Kanji - about once a week?
  • practice JLPT N3 reading comprehension - every other day?

(irregular study):

  • review Grammar - once a week?
  • review Heisig Kanji
  • review N4/3 Kanji
  • text tandempartners online
  • reading kids' books / Frozen
  • read news - every 3 days?

November 2018

I cannot recall well since I'm writing this at the end of December but I'll give it a shot.


  • I've become worse and worse at regular studying especially Kanji and N4 vocabulary.
  • I'm still (but didn't expect that to change) making mistakes that I know are mistakes just because I can't make correct forms on the spot.
  • I understand more of conversations but still
  • I don't have much time to study any more because of club or hanging out with Japanese students
  • study in the library are the quietest and probably most productive
  • When I actually manage to focus, I like studying Grammar with the N3 JLPT (Japanese language test) textbook
  • I still have regular lessons with my teacher (Ayusa Area Coordinator) where she corrects sentences, in which I tried to implement new grammar, or I do a reading comprehension
  • I am more regularly using the AnkiDroid vocab app, which is very useful for occasions when you don't have anything better to do (in the train etc.)
  • Finished the 2 kids' books I still hadn't read that my first hostfam borrowed me

Conclusion: I did not reach any goals except for reading the kids books; I should have tried harder.


I cannot tell apart how much everything changed from November to December, but I'll try and list the following.



  • I have a little different topics and conversation since I moved from a hostfam with 2 working parents and a 5-year-old son to a hostfam with 2 retirees whose kids have already moved out. --> Because of the age difference and because I want to practice it more, I am now using the polite language which conjugates differently, with my new hostfam. Especially at the beginning it was very hard for me to switch and not confuse the casual forms I use with my friends and used with my first hostfam. I still have to practice more and learn to swith more smoothly because still now, after one month with my new hostfam, I'm having trouble when I, for example, hang out with friends, used the casual forms all day and then come back home and have to switch to the polite forms and the other way around. It is quite funny actually, when you talk the polite form with your friends on accident. It just makes things a little weird :D
  • I still have the impression that I speak the best Japanese with an Indonesian girl I met at an exchange student music festival. Perhaps I feel less pressure and stuff.
  • I understand more. I can say that I sometimes feel like I understand conversation although I don't. It kind of feels like I just didn't pay attention (although I do), so it feels like I could've understood if I had paid more attention (but in reality it's just that I lack the vocab to comprehend everything). But like I always get small bits, which is nice.
  • I don't think I will ever be able to have a long and fully correct conversation, but I know it must be possible.
  • It's hard to get jokes or references but I often understand the explanation (IF it is explained, it kind of kills the joke if you have to explain it, so I don't want to interrupt)
  • I'm still having trouble pronouncing words that are originally not Japanese with a Japanese accent.
  • It seems kind of impossible to find out where the intonation/accent of Japanese words is. I'll try, though.
  • Most important thing for me is, that I feel better. Although I don't understand that much (maybe about 60% depending on whether I am well-versed in the topic or not) and cannot speak correctly, the communication is working. And although it is embarrassing and uncomfortable to make mistakes and to ask things over and over again or to pretend you understood something or communication problems, it's getting better. I can still not fully express myself, probably not even more 55%, I can put most thoughts into something that might be interpreted correctly. And I feel like it's more annoying for my conversation partners when I make mistakes/don't understand than for me. But that's good in my opinion. Because I can find the courage to talk even if it's a struggle to understand me since it's harder for the other person to understand me than for me to express the thought in the complicated way I can. It might seem rude that I don't care that much if it's annoying for people to try to understand me. Of course, there are still moments when I cannot express myself with the limited vocabulary and other skills. And sometimes I then just don't say anything because I don't know how and don't want to offend anyone, although that obviously might lead to misunderstandings. And sometimes when I say things with my awful skills, I end up sounding offending or stupid or what I want to say is just not comprehended anyway. It's the struggle of language exchange for someone like me.
    [Sorry, I know that paragraph is a little difficult to comprehend and confusing, but if you can get me, that might be for your benefits in your language skill endeavours]

Regular/Irregular study:

  • Again, not much regular except for AnkiDroid vocab training, I'm so much in the train or just have small moments to spare where I take out my phone and just review vocab I picked up in my textbook or in conversation with people. Only problem is holidays/weekends when I don't go out. I just can't get the motivation to study then, too.
  • Although I haven't studied the Kanji (Chinese characters) in a while, I feel like I can read more just through vocab and seeing things over and over again. It's so awesome when you can actually read things or recognize a character or you can guess the reading etc.
  • Started watching shows that I mostly have already seen in English (or even German) like "Miraculous Ladybug and Cat Noir", "Tangled - The Series" or "Star vs. The Forces of Evil" (notice that it's all Disney ...). And just yesterday (30th) I started watching the second season of Attack on Titan (Shingeki no Kyoujin) as my Japanese friend recommended it (I've seen the first season in Germany but I didn't get into the second season first)
  • I feel like that often I am just using the most simple forms and words, which is good for beginners because it is easy, but since I'm not a beginner anymore it bugs me to find myself repeatingly using the same words over and over again or making foolish mistakes that I know are incorrect the moment they leave my mouth; I need so much more practice


Goals for January 2019 - YES, 2019!!!

  • At least a little Kanji reviewing
  • Reading more (books or whatever)
  • Watching less English contents (especially on youtube)
  • Keeping up the AnkiDroid vocab reviewing habit
  • Finish my N3 grammar and reading comprehension textbook
  • Learn to switch between casual and polite more smoothly
  • Focus more in conversation to avoid avoidable mistakes

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