Cyborg Dreams

An Intersection of Media, Japan, and Fandom

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Can You Teach Yourself Japanese?

I should make a disclaimer that I am only speaking from my own experience here. If this does not work for you, then by all means find another way. As long as you are learning that’s what matters.

I am writing this because as someone who studies Japan, it seems obvious that I need to speak the language. I have encountered a lot of people who are “experts” on a variety of subjects from other countries, but their only exposure is through the English language. This seems absurd; there are a number of subtleties, idioms, puns, and sometimes actual words that are lost in translation. For example; it is important to know why a female protagonist may become flustered or embarrassed if a male she is unfamiliar with refers to her using “kimi” instead of “anata,” otherwise a scene may just seem out of place. Language is an essential part of understanding a culture. Language determines how we think, how we view the world, and how we interact with others. Without an understanding of a culture’s language, we are just viewing it with our own prejudices and assumptions.

Like many people my age  my first introduction to anime, and subsequently Japan, came from Toonami. There were other instances earlier in my life, but Toonami caught my attention and had me hooked. Back in 2005 I made my first attempt to learn Japanese at university. It wasn’t quite a disaster, but it was definitely a failure. With a full class load and a teacher that insisted we study every minute we were not in class, including in the bathroom…well it was destined for failure. I dropped the class.

My next attempt came with the ever poplar Rosetta Stone, which was followed closely by the Pimsleur language series. I kept at these pretty faithfully for several months. Eventually though, near the end of the first 30 part lesson, my head was swimming with phrases; many I could not remember. I had no idea how to express what I was thinking, I was just a parrot (And a poor one at that). Additionally I was not learning to read at all, so I had nothing to keep my very visual mind occupied. Again I walked away having learned very little. I was at a loss. I assumed I was just bad at learning languages.

That’s when I friend of mine recommended TextFugu. A website, forum, and blog that posted the first section for free. I had nothing to lose so I tried it.


It is radically different and humorous. Not dry like textbooks; nor is it as boring as staring at the audio bar on iTunes. TextFugu is a mix of motivational speech, videos, flash cards, and short blog-like explanations. I was and am completely hooked. So how is it different?

  • First and most importantly is that it is entertaining. I am an academic at heart, but slogging through boring instructions still isn’t my ideal learning situation.
  • Second, TextFugu starts with the basics; hiragana kana. By learning the “alphabet” first, you are set up from the beginning to start expressing your own thoughts; to actually think in Japanese.
  • Each lesson builds on the last. This means that you are only learning new ideas aroudn 30-50% of the time. The rest is using previous knowledge in a different way.
  • Anki: A comprehensive flash card software that is also available for Android and iOS
  • Finally: it is difficult. TextFugu never claims to be easy or that you will know a language in thirty days.

Many times language learning software or classes claim that something magical will happen and suddenly you will be fluent. But learning to think and read and speak a language is difficult. Even as children we go through years of learning and experience before we are any good at communicating. Why would it be any easier now?

So will it work for you? I have no idea, but if you’re interested check out these resources: