language

Digital Artifact: Improving My Japanese Fluency Through Playing a Japanese Video Game

 

Transcript:
In this project, I am using the Japanese PS Vita dating simulator, ToLoveRu – True Princess as a means of improving my Japanese language fluency. You may have read in my previous blog posts that I was using the Japanese children’s television program Doraemon to improve my Japanese fluency, however this just wasn’t working for me. I often found the extremely casual, juvenile speech to be too fast and too difficult for me to understand. I also found myself losing interest quickly as the storylines were not relevant to my interests and were very basic as they were targeted at young children. All in all, Doraemon and I just weren’t working out. My language learning philosophy is that if your method of study isn’t engaging, you’re not going to learn, and I quickly realised I wasn’t learning as much as I’d hoped to.

So I set out to change this. As an avid anime fan, I decided to look at some Japanese video games to help me achieve my goal of increasing my Japanese language fluency, because I thought that this might be more interactive and therefore more fun. Coincidently, my boyfriend James had recently bought the Japanese PS Vita Game: ToLOVERu – True Princess from PlayAsia, a website that sells a variety of goods imported from Asia to international markets. Both James and I had only just finished watching all four seasons of ToLoveRu a few months ago (Japanese audio with English subtitles) so we were really keen to start chatting up our favourite characters in Japanese. No English available. To give an exceptionally brief overview of the ToLOVEru (pronounced ‘toraburu’ or ‘trouble’ in Japanese), it follows Rito, a 15-year-old boy whose house becomes home to a variety of humanoid aliens, who all develop crushes on him. ToLOVERu – True Princess is a dating sim based around this premise, where the user plays as Rito and interacts with the various girls. The girl Rito ultimately ends up with is determined by the player’s interactions with each person.

Autoethnographic Methodology
Without going off on too much of a tangent, I feel the need to justify my autoethnographic research method for this project. I used the personal narrative methodology to analyse my experience playing ToLoveRu – True Princess, as this worked best for my approach. Although the personal narrative style does receive criticism for relying so heavily on one’s own thoughts, experiences and research (Ellis et al. 2011), I felt that this methodology suited my autoethnographic research perfectly and have been careful to include multiple academic sources to validate my findings. Learning Japanese has always been a very important, emotive and personal exercise for me, and I really wanted to look at revolutionising the way I learn the language. In the past, I’ve embraced more traditional learning styles, such as textbooks, drilled repetition and flashcards, however I feel as though now I am at the level where I can branch off and use more creative mediums to further enhance my fluency. I chose this method because I wanted to test for myself whether using unconventional learning methods had any merit, and also, if I succeeded, to provide other language learners with the inspiration to move beyond their comfort zone and engage with authentic texts from their target language.

Experiences –ToLoveRu – True Princess

Accessing the Game
Accessing ToLoveRu – True Princess was actually a lot easier than I initially thought. The growth in popularity of Japanese popular culture on a global scale, combined with the media demands of diasporic Japanese audiences, have undeniably given rise to websites like PlayAsia (Tsutsui 2010) where fans can access exclusive Japanese content and artefacts from almost anywhere in the world. Although you probably wouldn’t be able to go out to your local EB Games to purchase an exclusively Japanese title, international websites like PlayAsia have contributed to the accessibility of Japanese video games to non-Japanese audiences. Although many Japanese video games never get English releases, avid fans can quite easily seek out titles online through resellers like PlayAsia and eBay. Popular gaming titles are often translated into English by bilingual fans and uploaded to the Internet to allow non-Japanese-speaking audiences to enjoy the games in their own language (Lee 2011, p. 1131). Although a fan transaction of ToLOVEru – True Princess was available online, I chose not to use it as I wanted to experience the text authentically.

Epiphanies
Perhaps one of the most interesting epiphanies I experienced while playing the game was that even though the characters still spoke quickly and storyline was more complex than Doraemon, I actually understood so much more of what was going on. The most notable feature of the game that helped me was the fact that the character’s verbal speech was reflected in Japanese text at the bottom of the screen. This is a feature I tended to overlook in most videogames I’ve played as I could usually just listen to what the characters are saying, however here, subtitles in Japanese proved to me vital to my understanding. Not only could I listen to the characters speak, but if I missed any words or didn’t understand, I could read the text box to catch up with what was happening. Even though there were quite a few kanji I didn’t know, I could understand most of them thorough matching the kanji to the character’s speech (for example, I couldn’t read all of the kanji in uchuujin,宇宙人 [alien] however when I heard the character say the word aloud, I matched it to where I was up to in the text and remembered it for the rest of the game).

Co-viewing, or consuming a digital medium when physically accompanied by another person, also played a substantial role in my ability to comprehend what was happening in the game. Co-viewing and co-manipulation of multimedia texts are widely praised in academia for being a driving force behind children’s language acquisition and creating a linguistically enriching experience (Meskill 2002, p. 169), therefore I knew I was doing the right thing by playing ToLOVEru – True Princess with James. If there were parts in the game where either James or I became lost, we’d jump in to help one another, make guesses and discuss our ideas together, or consult our electronic Japanese dictionaries. Often, making inferences based on our individual knowledge of the characters, anime storyline and the gist of the in-game text was enough for us to power through the storyline. Yes, we may not have understood every single word, but as long as you get a sense of what is happening and are enjoying yourself, who cares? Overall, I think that cooperatively translating and playing this game with James significantly improved my Japanese comprehension and retention.

I actually found playing ToLoveRu – True Princess to be a really enjoyable, educative experience that prompted me to look into games as a medium for education on a larger scale. A quick Google search of ‘learn Japanese through video games’ retrieved thousands of results. There were multiple blogs documenting learners’ personal experiences and recommendations for games that could be easily understood by language learners, not to mention a large number of smartphone apps that were games designed for Japanese learners. An examination of academic literature also revealed that videogame-based learning has continued to surge in popularity since the early 2000’s due to the immersive and interactive nature of the medium (Hwang & Wu 2012). According to Squire (2006, p. 19) a player’s understanding of their target language is enhanced by the “developed cycles of performance within the game world.” This notion was reflected in my own experience playing ToLoveRu – True Princess. Not only did I already have a firm grasp of the general plot features and progression of the dating-sim genre, but I also had a deep understanding of the characters’ personalities, individual storylines and the game world in which I was playing in, which was a huge advantage to my ability to understand what was going on.

Although I think using Japanese video games to further one’s fluency is definitely worthwhile, I feel that it is important to note that I would not recommend this method for players who had little to no understanding of Japanese. I felt that in order to enjoy the game’s story, it was important to have a strong grasp of the language in place before trying to translate or understand the Japanese – it would be really difficult. I know that I would have felt a bit overwhelmed had I not already possessed a deep knowledge of the language’s writing systems, grammar and vocabulary. It is for this reason that I’d recommend beginner-level Japanese learners to either familiarise themselves with the language more prior to using games to learn, or use games as a supplementary learning method. This is not to say that you can’t just blast blindly though a non-English game without caring about learning anything – that’s absolutely fine – however I think in the heavily story-line based dating sim genre that it is important to understand exactly what is going on.

 

Reference List

Ellis, C, Adams, TE, & Bochner, AP 2011, ‘Autoethnography: an overview’, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, vol. 12, no. 1, viewed 15 October 2017, <http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1589/3095&gt;

Hwang, GJ & Wu, PH 2011, ‘Advancements and trends in digital game-based learning research: a review of publications in selected journals from 2001 to 2010’, British Journal of Educational Technology, vol. 43, no. 1, pp. E6-E10.

Lee, HK 2011, ‘Participatory media fandom: A case study of anime fansubbing’, Media, Culture & Society, vol. 33, no. 8, pp. 1131-1147.

Meskill, C 2002, ‘Chapter 4: The role of the aural in language teaching and learning’, Teaching and Learning in Real Time: Media, Technologies and Language Acquisition, Athelstan, Houston, Texas.

Squire, K 2006, From content to context: videogames as designed experience’, Educational Researcher, vol. 35, no. 8, pp. 19-29.

Tsutsui, WM 2010, Japanese popular culture and globalisation, Association for Asian Studies Inc., Michigan, United States.

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My lost [Japanese] childhood: Using Doraemon to improve my Japanese fluency

“So, are you fluent in Japanese yet?” A small part of myself withers and dies inside whenever I am asked that question. Yes, I have continuously studied Japanese for five years. Yes, I like to think that I am relatively good at the Japanese I know. However, we’re talking about a whole language here. Learning a language is an immense and ongoing pursuit. Sure, I can hold a good conversation in Japanese, I can even read and write hiragana, katakana and a couple of hundred kanji. But it pains me to admit that I am definitely not yet fluent.

perapera

Practice, practice, practice….(Francisco 2013)

This session, I’ve decided to get a bit creative with my Japanese language learning and ditch the textbooks (sorry Genki, you’ve been a great friend to me). I’m aiming to improve my fluency in Japanese through watching the Japanese children’s television program, Doraemon, without subtitles. Now yes, for those of us who love our subbed anime, watching an anime without subtitles is akin to going to a social gathering where you know nobody and attempting to join a conversation, occasionally making an effort to join in but feeling fundamentally lost and excluded. However, I’m on a mission to overcome the uncomfortable and ultimately not feel like a deer in the headlights when using complex Japanese.

oh no

Accurate depiction of my entire life (Norris 2016)

To provide everyone with a bit of background, Doraemon is a classic Japanese television program aimed at young children. The plot revolves around Nobita, a young boy (who is actually a bit of a dweeb) and his relationship with Doraemon, a magical robotic cat who was sent to help him navigate the difficult territory of his childhood. I found it extremely difficult to locate the raw, unsubbed original Japanese episode of Doraemon, so I had to settle for an English subbed version I found on YouTube and tried to avoid reading the subtitles. This was actually a lot more difficult to do than I anticipated. As a person who consumes a lot of subbed anime, I am used to switching rapidly between the English translations and the visuals. It took a lot of self control not to sneak a peek at the subtitles when I was having difficulty understanding what the characters were saying.

derp

Me trying not to read subtitles and rely solely on the audio (Know Your Meme 2010)

I’d like to take this opportunity to personally call out my sneaky eyes that were trying to undermine my language learning for the entire episode. Training myself to focus entirely on the audio and visuals rather than the subtitles will be an ongoing task that will require discipline and practice.

I was also interested to discover that plot-wise, Doraemon is very similar to the TV shows I watched as a child, namely Sesame Street, or Clifford the Big Red Dog. Each episode is short and ends with a moral or message aimed to educate and socialise young children. Having never watch a television program aimed at young Japanese children before, I must say that I was surprised that the depiction of childhood in Doraemon was almost identical to that of the American children’s TV programs I grew up with. I was actually expecting Doraemon to feel a lot more Japanese than it actually did, however it was certainly interesting to see the universality of the notion of childhood.

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Doraemon (n.d.)

I was relieved that I chose to study a children’s show rather than watch an anime aimed at adults as the characters’ simple lexicon and short episode length enabled me to keep up with the plot and not become overwhelmed and lost by the language.

There were instances when I was not 100% certain about what a character said, or I may have misheard or complete missed a word. However, I attempted to address this by isolating the phrase or vocabulary item that was troubling me, thinking about the context in which is was said and then making inferences about what possibly could have been said based on the accompanying visuals. Using this method, even if I didn’t understand everything, I was able to follow the plot of Doraemon without feeling like the awkward person at a party I mentioned before (it’s happened to me more times than I care to admit, okay?)

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(Doraemon reading 2017)

After the episode had finished, I watched it again with subtitles and was pleasantly surprised. Although there were some parts of the show I had completely misinterpreted, I was surprised at how much I was actually able to understand without relying on subtitles. Whilst there is definitely a large margin for improvement, I really enjoyed watching Doraemon and actually gained quite an interesting insight into the television programs Japanese people grew up with. I’m keen to keep watching Doraemon to continue improving my fluency, and I think keeping a journal of commonly used phrases and vocabulary items will help me do this.

Until next time DIGC330, じゃね!

 

References

Doraemon n.d., image, ProProfs Quizmaker, viewed 25 August 2017, < https://www.proprofs.com/quiz-school/story.php?title=doraemon-quiz_1&gt;

Doraemon reading 2017, image, TV Asahi, viewed 25 August 2017, < http://www.tv-asahi.co.jp/doraemon/news/0223/&gt;

Francisco, F 2013, Practice, practice, practice…, image, Tofugu, viewed 25 August 2017, <https://www.tofugu.com/japanese/pera-pera-japanese-fluency/&gt;

Know Your Meme 2010, Derp, image, Know Your Meme, viewed 25 August 2017, < http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/derp&gt;

Norris, A 2016, Conversation, image, Twitter, viewed 25 August 2017, <https://twitter.com/dorrismccomics/status/783995729358520320&gt;

The Art of Autoethnography: Part IV

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Below is a table detailing the assumptions I made of the assumptions I had after my first autoethnographic encounter and what was learnt through further literature research. While not all my assumptions were completely wrong I definitely still had a lot to learn.

What I am also finding is that the more involved I become in this autoethnographic study, the more interested I become in the cultural significance and background of the Bollywood film industry. this has unintentionally caused some of my research to go off in a tangent to some extent, relating less to language acquisition and more to the cultural language study of the Bollywood genre. I am finding that I either need to shift to topic of my auto ethnographic study or attempt to refocus.

Assumptions Reflection
The assumption that was made was in relation to the parameters od the autoethnographic research. Initially I set out that I would use multiple media texts in my methodology to obtain personal experience. I believe that this assumption was a little presumptuous. Even though I knew it would be difficult to learn some aspects of the language I did not realize how difficult it would be. I can to the realisation that little would be gain from this experience if I was to continue in the same fashion viewing multiple types of texts to acquire even the most basic level of language acquisition when starting from scratch. In reflection I believe that the greatest personal experience will come from focusing on one individual text and to absorb this text on a number of occasions and then focus my research around this. A number of factors play a part in the change of the parameters of my methodology. The first is the time period over which this research was conducted and the hours that could be dedicated to it. The most important factor was though the lack of a foundation of understanding of the Hindu language. Due to this I have now watched the same Bollywood film three times and each time I find myself picking up on some new words even if only for a moment and reaffirming the ones I have previously picked up. I also become more aware of different aspects of other communication aspects present in the film.
In my first notes I stated that the Bollywood movie Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani was produced using the Hindi language and that because it is a contemporary media text it would provide a context for the language that included slang and colloquial language. ‘Bollywood productions are today acknowledged as the generator of and vehicle for contemporary popular culture in India.’ (Goethe Institute, 2016). My assumption while correct was also limited and basic. The language used in Bollywood films is much complex then simply Hindi. English was used in the film not only when on location in an English speaking country but also the occasional modern words which are the same in both English and Hindi, for example the word internet. According to the Goethe Institute (2016) The language used in Bollywood films has a distinctive supra-regional integrative quality. ‘The code switches between sociolects, standard languages and distinct Persian and distinct Persian or Sanscrit features, jargons with regional variants right through to other Indian national languages such as Panjabi, Marathi, Gurarati and not least English’ This is throughout films in the Bollywood genre.
While this assumption is not related to language acquisition I thought it was important to note that when I first watched this Bollywood film something about the premise of this music seemed strange and stupid to me. Upon critical analysis of this observation I was able to gain a better understanding of why they premise of this musical seemed so foreign to me. I am used to watching musicals that are either produced on Broadway or in Hollywood. Musicals made in Hollywood and on Broadway tend to focus around entertainers because they are focused on making the musical aspect of the story seem as realistic as possible. Though according to research ‘Bollywood is not encumbered with adherence to realism’ (The Bollywood Ticket, 2016). This knowledge to make a better understanding as to why this this musical seemed so strange to me. Unconsciously I felt disconnected from the storyline because it lacked that realism that I am used to in musicals.
Never did I have the assumption that I would be able to gain a complete understanding of the Hindi language simply through studying media text produced in this language. Though I did assume that when were hear of people acquiring a language through media that it is all they have used. It is evident through the research conducted that while media texts provide a great tool in the acquisition of a language, it is simply a part of the process and other learning is needed this can take place through classes in a more formal context, though in a less formal one it could simply be researching on the internet. Aiping et. al. (2016) in the article Exploring learner factors in second language (L2) incidental vocabulary acquisition through reading, states that ‘second language incidental vocabulary acquisition through reading usually involves the process of through reading usually involves the process of learners noticing an unknown word, searching for its meaning, and elaborating upon the form meaning connection’. Learning a language through listening in this case is quite similar, it is all part of a process and in most cases further research is conducted to obtain a complete understanding of the language.

 

Resource List

Aiping, Z, Ying, G, Biales, C, & Olszewski, A 2016, ‘Exploring learner factors in second language (L2) incidental vocabulary acquisition through reading’, Reading In A Foreign Language, 28, 2, pp. 224-245, Education Research Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 29 October 2016.

Goethe Institute (2016). Multilingualism – Languages Without Borders – Projects – Goethe-Institut. [online] Available at: http://www.goethe.de/ges/spa/prj/sog/ver/en5356222.htm [Accessed 12 Oct. 2016].

Thebollywoodticket.com. (2016). Introduction to Bollywood – The Bollywood Ticket. [online] Available at: http://www.thebollywoodticket.com/bollywood/beginner.html [Accessed 11 Oct. 2016].

Can you talk the talk?

I realized at this stage in my research I needed to start digging a little deeper because I have only really scratched the surface of a topic that has many offshoots. I came up with some blog ideas to investigate over the next few weeks that should help me achieve two primary goals: a) learn more about the active hentai community through reading a wide range of forum threads and b) uncover the historical and cultural roots that have made hentai what it is today. As Ellis et al. says, “when researchers write ethnographies, they produce a “thick description” of a culture”. I feel that comparing and contrasting literature on the subject with my own interpretation of how this is reflected in participants’ interactions online will facilitate my role as autoethnographer in discerning patterns of cultural experience and synthesizing them to produce a meaningful and engaging text on the subject.

Screen Shot 2014-10-17 at 8.46.19 am

My initial reaction to trawling the forums was how difficult it is for an outsider to familiarize themselves with the hentai vernacular, which is littered with translated, abbreviated and appropriated Japanese phrases describing a variety of hentai phenomenon. I have talked about Ecchi in a previous discussion, but Ecchi is only the beginning. This Wiki page shows some of the other hentai subgenres, but I don’t think it’s a comprehensive list. More comprehensive is this page – a glossary of hentai terms (the sheer volume of terms is slightly overwhelming to me as newcomer). I was pretty surprised when I stumbled upon one forum thread titled ‘What do you most like in hentai?’ and one user answered ‘shimapan’. Of course Google gave me some answers: shimapan is an abbreviation of shima-pantsu, meaning striped panties, most commonly blue and white. And yes, before you ask there ARE a plenty of blogs already dedicated to appeasing the shimapan fans. Funnily enough there is also a Japanese term to describe people in anime/manga fandoms with obsessive interests: Otaku.

While Otaku is the word used in this specific context, I would relate this phenomenon more broadly to fetishes, which emerge from all cultures globally. From a psychoanalytical perspective, a fetish is an “object providing sexual gratification… among the objects frequently sought as fetishistic are shoes, bras and panties, etc.” (Lowenstein 2002: 135-136). The idea that some hentai fans have a preference for shimapan fits neatly into this definition. After contemplating it more deeply and reflecting on this further research, I feel more empathetic towards those discussing their fetishes in forums in such a forthright manner. I certainly don’t believe it’s anything to be ashamed of (unless of course your fetish is liable to cause harm to another person), and it’s great that the Internet has produced a platform for people to discuss what might otherwise be considered ‘oddities’, save for the fact that they now form part of a community with similar interests.

Maybe I am part of the in-group now, cause I get it!

Maybe I am part of the in-group now, cause I get it!

As I touched on before, a lot of what constitutes this community is underscored by the language used. Scholars attests to the relationship between language and (sub)cultural identity (Jaspal 2009: 17), and it seems to me that knowledge and usage of all these terms by Japanese and non-Japanese speaking participants is the marker that binds together an otherwise potentially diverse group and expresses the unique character of the hentai community.  Of course for me contributing to the forums at this stage will draw attention to the fact that I’m from the outgroup as I still don’t possess the proper lexicon that would show me to be a bon-fide member, nor am I familiar with any of the hentai series under discussion. I’ve always been interested in language and etymology but the research led me to start thinking more about the language of identity and the way language becomes a kind of currency within a subculture. You use it to communicate with others, but you also use it to gain access, acceptance and credibility within a specific community. If you can’t talk the talk, you definitely can’t walk the walk.

Ellis, C., Adams, T. E. and Bochner, A. P. 2011, ‘Autoethnography: an overview’, Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, vol. 12, no. 1, viewed online at http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1589/3095

Jaspal, R. 2009, ‘Language and social identity: A psychosocial approach’, Psych-Talk

Lowenstein, L. F. 2002, ‘Fetishes and their associated behaviour’, Sexuality and Disability, vol. 20, no. 2