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 often 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 (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)
  • 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
  • self-study in the library is the quietest and probably most productive study time
  • 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.

December 2018

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 switch 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

January 2019

February 28th, 2019

It'll be short and confusing because as I'm writing this it is already the last day of Feburary, but I'll do my best.



  • As another exchanged student has told me before since January is my 5th month here, I'll be able to have casual conversation by now. And I think that is/was true.
  • I make less avoidable mistakes.
  • I confuse polite and casual forms less often.
  • It's not verbal conversation but I recently noticed that it doesn't take me 3 years to type on sentence on LINE (WhatsApp-like messenger App) any more.

Regular/Irregular Studying:

  • I have finished the N3 grammar and the reading comprehension textbook.
  • Studied the vocabulary quite regularly on my way to school/back home on the AnkiDroid app.
  • Tried reading some more.

February 2019

March 3rd, 2019

A little mixed with impressions of January but here it comes.



  • Since my "fluency" in conversations has improved I've been able (and confident enough) to attempt expressing a little complex things or matters that are difficult to explain, e.g. the school system in Germany or other things related to my country or my school in Germany etc. (also kind of jokes or funny situations I had). I think this has started another phase of my learning process and my progress for really good communication because I can finally make myself understood when it comes to abstract things. And I used to not talk about many things that I wouldn't have been able to explain. Imagine you are reminded of a joke/funny moment you had with your friends from your home country. Now try to explain as to why it was funny to  your Japanese friends. This opens a bunch of new things I can talk about. Before, I had sometimes tried to explain something, failed and given up, which left me and probably the person I talked to kind of confused, frustrated (only me) and awkward. I see many of these situations as obstacles for the development of a more interesting relationship. But now, everytime I'm able to explain what or how I think and be understood, it feels like a victory. I hope I can keep this going because it will probably improve my connection to people. No longer will I be looked at as stupid or strange or not proficient enough to have a fullfilling conversation! Try fight me!

Regular/Irregular study:

  • As usual, kept up the vocab reviewing
  • Started to learn Kanji (Chinese characters) with the Heisig Method (Before the exchange) AGAIN. Whenever I got a "free" lesson in the library, I spent about half of it reviewing old Kanji, and learning a few new ones and I'm utterly content with that process. It is fun and motivating although it wasn't so much in the beginning (first part of the book). And I feel like I can actually aquire the ability to write the Kanji and remember the meaning. But the reading is not taught in the first book (for a good reason I think). I just wish I had started earlier and reviewed more back in Germany so that I now could focus on the readings. I'm now at about Kanji #361 (of 2000) and I do not even remember them all (haven't reviewed all up to now).
  • I read a little: a novel and two or three kids's books.
  • I watched 5 movies in Japanese (and Zootopia, which I've seen like 7 times in English, in English XD): Thermae Romae, Koe no Katachi, Waterboys, Kimi no Na wa and Mirai no Mirai. All interesting movies although some of them were harder to understand than others.
  • I delivered a speech at an international exchange meeting and people said I had good pronunciation. They probably assumed my Japanese was very good after they had heard the speech and therefore asked me questions in I guess normal level Japanese. But I couldn't follow up, which was disappointing.

Goals for March 2019:

  • Have more conversation where I have to explain abstract matters
  • Keep up the vocab reviewing
  • Keep up the Kanji reviewing
  • Read more (Finish the book I received from my first hostfamily (IT'S BEEN 6 months and I still haven't finished!!)
  • Review the N3 (Japanese Language Proficiency Level) reading comprehension book and grammar
  • Learn some new N3 vocab.
  • Have some conversation on HelloTalk

March 2019

April 1st, 2019

What up, guys? Another update on my Japanese level, but as you can imagine, it's difficult to describe a development over one month. I can't directly compare my knowledge and stuff.



  • I ask more and more, when I don't understand something but there are obviously still fields, in which I am not proficient enough when it  comes to vocabulary. For example last week, I went bowling with my new hostfam and they tried to explain to me that we could ask for barriers at both sides of the bowling lane, so that the ball  can't fall into the side "lanes" (it's even difficult to explain in English for me), because it was my first time.
  • I've been noticing for quite a while now that my Japanese (and perhaps my English and German, too) gets worse when I'm nervous. For example I tried explaining a misunderstanding between me and one person of a hostfamily to another hostfamily and I don't feel like I could make myself fully understood. Well, gotta deal with it. I also feel like I'm lying when I can't explain things well, just like when I was a kid and something happened that wasn't my fault and I started laughing or getting nervous for no reason.

Irregular/Regular studies:

  • Guys it's been going down. I didn't have as many hours for studying in the library as I would've wanted to (preparations for 12th graders' graduation and the new school year), so my Kanji studies have suffered I'd say, a lot.
  • The textbooks I have now are not as compelling as the one I've finished, so I hadn't been as motivated as before. I'll try studying with what I have, I guess.
  • Since my hostfamily (5th one) lives very close to my school (35 min) I don't take the train for a long time, so I can't get into the habit of studying vocab on my app. And when I arrived at school I preferred doing other things (updating my notebook, visiting the bathroom (I don't know how I developed that habit) and so on. I gotta get started again.
  • I read a little more of the book my first hostmum gave me, but I'm still not finished, which makes me angry >.< It's fun when I'm actually reading, but getting me started is a mess. I need some more of that New Year's energy, guys. Y'all have some left?
  • I noticed that when watching anime I get more Japanese, which is nice. And also phrases and notions of moods and so on. Nice. But still not enough that I could understand it fully. (Also depending on the genre, it gets more difficult.)

Goals for April 2019:

  • Finish the book (until 6th)
  • Get the vocab app habit restarted (all vocab till 30th week's vocab)
  • Get something done with my textbooks (something!)
  • Review/Learn new Kanji with the Heisig book ( new: - #400+, review: 250)
  • Ask more, talk more
  • Watch more, read more
  • Do sport (not language related, but I'll put it here)

While I'm at it, I'll also add the following:

  • Try joining the handball and or badminton club for a experience trial, and also the tea ceremony club where I have a friend at. 
  • Make friends in the new class and ask for everyone's name and talk to some people I haven't talked to yet (or not that often). 
  • Be a good girl :3

April 2019

May 3rd, 2019

It's harder to tell how much I've improved and of course, there's not as much room as in the beginning. I don't feel like it's a huge difference to March.



  • Conversations about school or other easy topics are easy to understand and interact in. On the other hand, I still encounter conversations, in which I hardly get anything. That is mostly due to my lack of vocabulary. Though I often don't get much of it, I'm glad that I get the chance to listen to conversations of a higher level. It fires my motivation a little. Also it means, that I'm more integrated because people feel comfortable to talk about these difficult conversations around me. And that might open the door to a whole new perspecitve of the language.
  • The lack of vocabulary shows its power the clearest, when people use a word I don't know, and I ask for the meaning and they try explaining it with other words. But I also don't know those.
  • I kind of lost the habit of instantly putting new vocab in my vocab app. It happens too often and in some situations it would be kind of rude to put out my phone (dinner, during class...). But that means that I have to cut out on these occasions to extend my knowledge because I will soon forget the word.

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