Japanese progress, weekend of 2/3/12

Ups and downs since a week ago… I reached the end of the N2 deck quicker than I thought; somehow before I knew it I’d made it through most of it and in this past week I eliminated all the red words that were left and now I’m just cycling through the deck again for a review. I can safely say now that I know the readings for just about all the words, but meanings are another story. I don’t have all those locked down and memorized for every single word. So now when I go through the deck I’m also making sure I can recite the meaning in my head as well before inputting my answer for the reading. Some things are harder to make stick than others, especially very similar terms that use the same kanji.

But having vocab more or less down is a big, big step. It’s so big that for a few days this week I started to feel like, “I might already have this and don’t need to study as hard as I thought in the next three weeks. I pushed through! I’m on the other side!”

Suffice it to say that was an overly hopeful thought and in reality I still have to buckle down hardcore. I finished taking a full N3 practice test and while I’m fairly confident I’d pass if I took the real thing, I still made tons of mistakes in a few sections (mostly certain grammar ones) and it’s worrisome, especially considering that I need to be able to pass N2, not N3. Then I took a reading practice that was supposed to determine my weak points in reading, and it was timed at 45 minutes, and in that time I only finished half and I wasn’t confident at all about my answers (but I think I did get most of them right?). So it looks like my old problem, that I struggled with when taking the real test, that of not being a fast enough reader, is still with me and seems an insurmountable problem at the moment. So that, and reading some things that made me realize again just how audaciously ambitious my plan is and how unlikely it is that it will all somehow miraculously come together for someone like me (who has no prestige, noble goals, etc), took the wind out of my sails. I started to get so overwhelmed with everything I still wanted to cover before the end of the month that I wrote out a study schedule/timeline, which was slightly reassuring, but the tasks I set out for this past weekend were too optimistic and remain undone. I’ll have to try to finish them on weeknights this week but it’s still a lot and I don’t even know if that will allow me enough time to get through it.

But this weekend I did a lot of work in my grammar and listening textbooks, even though sometimes (with grammar especially) it was slow going. I hate how with grammar, it all seems so easy when you’re learning each point–and a lot are already familiar to me so I always think I have it down already–and then when the time comes to choose how best to use it in a sentence, or choosing which term among similar ones is best to use (this is the worst!!), it’s just insanely difficult. Last night I took a quiz that covered the first six sections of the book, and I got like half wrong. Uuugghhhh!!! Frustrating because there are other times when I get everything right and it feels so easy I don’t even need to check the answers in the back to know. But I guess I’m still just getting into this and getting used to it, and I’m learning from every mistake, and hopefully if I took a similar quiz again I’d get less wrong. But ugh, why do some things have to sound exactly the same! I just have to keep rereading the example sentences, absorbing the right contexts, until it sticks I guess. And I must say again that having vocab down is a big step. I can at least understand the words in a sentence, and that is key. It’s fundamental and essential, really. Also, my grammar book is entirely Japanese, so I have to be able to understand all the explanations too, and fortunately I can (but I’m also writing in the English translation of each grammar point; makes it easier to remember and differentiate). But unfortunately that’s not enough. Have I said before that just when you’re feeling proud of yourself for mastering one aspect, there’s still a million more things to learn? I feel like I climbed a mountain, though I’d reached a nice flat clearing, and then discovered an even taller climb ahead of me. Making progress is like fighting my way through molasses, but at least each bit of success then feels hard-won and like I earned it.

Still very jealous of everyone at a higher level than me, especially those who make it seem soooo easy and effortless. Does it seem to anyone else like people who are more or less fluent at a language–not just Japanese but any one–never talk about their difficulties and frustrations? It always just sounds like “Oh, I get everything easily, no problem. I’m super fluent, no big deal.” That doesn’t seem realistic to me. Is it just that you don’t want your abilities called into question so you have to always appear perfect? I don’t get it, and it just makes me suspicious that you might not actually be that fluent especially in speaking. In contrast I try to be honest and admit my weaknesses, like here in these posts. Yes, I have a badass native-sounding accent (which always makes Japanese people think I’m more advanced than I really am) and I’m on the N2 spectrum, but I still have a ways to go. Even when I’m fluent–please let that day come someday–hopefully I don’t take on that same arrogant-seeming “I’m perfect already” attitude. Of course, it goes both ways too; I sometimes feel like friends who know that I call myself advanced in certain languages don’t really believe I’m actually at the level I say I am. Obviously we’ve all witnessed people who took Spanish in school claiming “I speak Spanish” when they really don’t, but that isn’t me! I actually do know those languages! Frustrating. A random aside: I had to laugh when I was reading a scanlated manga the other day and while the translation seemed legit (no real way to know until you compare against the original though–I know I discovered tons of things that were wrong or misleading in Sekaiichi Hatsukoi once I went from the scanlation to the original, but then I never like anyone else’s translation upon closer review anyway), 生ビール was translated as “raw beer.” Heh. Raw beer! (That’s a very clueless literal mangling. It should be “draft beer.”)

Unfortunately I spent all of Sunday on grammar (only finishing half of what I needed, too!) and didn’t even get to my reading textbook, so that’s another thing to make up over the course of the week along with the other half of grammar. Ahhh not enough time for everything.

Just feeling anxious and overwhelmed… I need to be a master of N2 by the end of the month and it’s such a lofty goal… I just need to remember, I could at least get half the test right with no real studying two years ago, so hopefully the addition of actual studying will mean I can at least get a 70-80% this time on a test at a similar level… please!

I also told a few Japanese friends I was studying, and one who’s local offered to help any way she could while another (in Japan) that I’ve been exchanging long Facebook messages with recently told me “今の[Séri]の日本語なら大丈夫だよ(^o^)自信を持って、挑戦してね!! [You’ll be fine if it’s your current Japanese! Have confidence in yourself and challenge it!]” so that was nice! It’s always hard to tell though if a compliment on your Japanese from a Japanese person is real or just the result of them being easily impressed by anyone who can manage it at all (after all, in an earlier message she expressed amazement over my ability to read and use kanji!!! Clearly Japanese people don’t know we have the ability to deploy and abuse Rikaichan so it doesn’t matter if you use kanji we haven’t learned as long as it’s online). As for the local friend who offered to help, I’m not really sure what she can do except conversation practice (which would equal listening practice) but I also don’t really have time to go meet in person. I guess I could ask her whenever I don’t understand why an answer in a quiz is this one over the one I was so sure was right (most of the time I see my mistake, but there are times when I’m like “What! That has to be wrong, why would it be that?”) but it would take time to type out that question and email it to her, then wait for her response, etc. So, not sure if I should take her up on that. In any case though, it’s really good to have support!! And what my friend in Japan said meant a lot even if she was just easily impressed.

This is the hardest I’ve ever studied in my life, probably. In school I always slacked off on studying and did the bare minimum all the time (with lots of cramming the night before). I never made study schedules, for example. So it’s kind of crazy to be so good about it now. Good thing I’m actually enjoying the learning process, even though I wish I had more time.


A horrible boss

Last June I quit my job where I had worked since July 2009, as an editor at a book publisher, to accept a position as an editor for another type of company. My main motivator was salary (I needed to get paid more, in order to be able to save more for my future goals. It was the second decision I made with that in mind; the first being moving in with my parents and eliminating rent/utilities expenses).

I began my new job in mid-July (I had arranged time off to go to Comic-Con in advance). Things were a little uneven from the start. I had been very aggressive about convincing the people in charge of hiring that I would be a perfect fit for the job, and it really did sound like something I was cut out to do, and when I got there I found another new person who had begun a month before me. I believe she had been hired in place of me originally, and then another person quit so they called back in their second choice–me. However, she didn’t have any editing experience; she had been working as a retail manager though she did have a degree in English. I was a little confused as to why she had been chosen instead of me.

That became clear soon enough: for this job, it’s best not to have any actual editing experience, as you will be trained to within an inch of your life and no prior skills really apply. The one thing you need to have is an ability to memorize every little procedural detail for tons and tons of different scenarios. And when I say memorize, I mean perfectly; if you’re still making even the smallest mistakes after a couple months, it will be barely tolerated. By the end I was getting emails from various senior editors and my boss almost every day telling me various things I’d done wrong (in some cases, I’d never been instructed to do the thing I’d done wrong; in another, the reprimand came a week after the actual offense, which I hadn’t repeated since, and it just confused me!).

So I had a lesson driven home again: if I’m more insistent than the person in charge of hiring that I’m a good fit for the job, it isn’t a good sign. Continue reading

Visit to Monterey

Since about 2007 I’ve wanted to attend the Monterey Institute of International Studies’ translation & interpretation program for grad school. I’ll train to be a translator, and since this is one of the premier places in the country from which employers seek out new translators, I’ll hopefully be poised to get a job by graduation. It will not be an academic pursuit that doesn’t stop to consider employment options when it’s over; it will be very much career training.

A short aside: I am sick of people going to grad school without considering how they will be employed when it’s over. (I’m sorry if you’re reading this and it applies to you, especially if you are my friend.) A lot of undergraduates are, and have been, taking one look at the job market (actually, I suspect they didn’t even look, they just knew “I’ll have a hard time because of the economy”) and deciding “On to grad school for me, hopefully things will have improved while I’m in school!” This has not been the case. Things are still crappy and now you are saddled with more debt, more of a feeling of entitlement to a nice job (because now you have a higher degree), and less real-world experience. Also, I’m talking about non-constructive degrees here; something you studied at the graduate level for no other reason than that you liked it and wanted to delay the real world (another reason I see a lot is “this grad school is in [x] city/country, and I want to live there, so this is a good way to move/stay there.” No it isn’t if you don’t have a plan for afterward and you’re not studying something constructive). In those cases you rarely get a better job than you would have with just an undergrad degree, much less one that’s even in your desired field! It’s not a good plan. It never was. But it keeps happening, over and over, and it’s driving me crazy. On my flight back from San Diego, I overheard a girl who was a senior at a school in my state tell someone she had just met, “I’m about to graduate, but I’m definitely going straight on to grad school. I am SOOOO not ready for the real world! Haha!” Ummmm… grad school is not a way for you to prolong and delay your unwillingness to enter the real world. Yeah, it’s gonna suck. But it’s going to suck even MORE if you put it off with no solid plan of what you’ll do when you do graduate. I am also sick of people who never did internships during school graduating and, shockingly, not finding a job in their field, then blaming it on something other than the fact that they didn’t do their utmost to get real work experience in that field, even unpaid, before graduating. The economy has provided a very nice, convenient cover for people who were always going to be too lazy to see real success anyway.

All of that to say: what I want to do is different. MIIS has very good rates of post-graduation employment, and I would be going there to train for a solid career in an industry that very much needs people. So, this is still my goal. This is everything I am currently working towards.

But I thought I should probably visit the place just to be sure, so last April my boyfriend and I met in Monterey for visitors’ day. Originally I was going to visit the school with my mom in August 2007 at the end of my second summer in LA before my senior year of college, but in the end we decided we didn’t have the energy for the eight-hour drive up the coast and went to the Getty instead. So, this visit was long overdue.

On Friday April 15 I arrived in Monterey first and took a taxi from the airport to the hotel. (I’d had a really stressful couple of flights to get out there; finding the tiny American Eagle outpost at LAX where intra-California flights leave, that you have to reach by bus, was an ordeal in and of itself–when my first flight had already been delayed so I was in a major hurry to make the connection–and then the very small plane I boarded confused me and I messed up how to admit my carry-on. So I arrived very stressed out.) I’d done my research and chosen Hotel Abrego and as soon as I got to my room I knew I’d made the best choice. The window was open, a cool breeze was blowing in, and I just breathed it in, let myself calm down from the travel stress, and felt so happy to be back in California. I can’t recommend the hotel highly enough. It’s not in the city center exactly (though everything is within a short walk) so it’s affordable, but it’s still very, very nice and well appointed. It’s also in a cute, quiet neighborhood close to several restaurants (my favorite was the Wild Plum). I was delighted.

My boyfriend arrived and we had lunch and made our way via bus to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, where we were going to meet up with Stef, a former TOKYOPOP editorial coworker who now works in the baking industry. We had so much fun exploring the aquarium! So much to look at and do. My favorite part was the coastal birds exhibit; my boyfriend and I were endlessly amused and impressed by the spirit of a one-legged bird that we named Hoppy.


There were also penguins, otters, jellyfish, rays… so much good stuff. I love animals. But, I also don’t think it’s the greatest aquarium I’ve ever been to. I think the aquarium’s conservation and research efforts are of a much better quality and importance than the actual visitor experience. I did make sure to get my sister, whose birthday had just passed and who studied marine biology in college, some things from the gift shop.

After that we wandered around Cannery Row and then Stef gave us a ride back to the hotel. She and I walked back downtown and found a pub where we had dinner and chatted and caught up. Then she went back and I went to bed.

Saturday was visitors’ day at MIIS, so we got up nice and early and had coffee and scones at Peet’s which was on our way to the school, a 10-minute walk from the hotel. Of course once we got to the school they had put out coffee and pastries there too! First there was sort of a reception where we could mingle with other students; I chatted with a few (including two girls who had already been accepted to work with German). Then we were divided up by program; I had sort of forgotten that MIIS does more than just translation & interpretation (or as everyone there called it, TI); there are international business, etc programs as well. In small groups of about 10-15 we received tours of the campus (which is spread out across several streets and blocks), then joined larger groups for some panels. My panel went over every smaller curriculum in the program; there’s also localization management and so on, which works mostly with software and technology type stuff. You can also choose only translation, only interpretation, or both (in your first semester you must take both). I’m still leaning towards translation, even though I do love speaking, but we’ll see how I’d do in an interpretation class. We were also given a lot of literature which included post-graduation employment rates (extremely favorable) and other very heartening information. One, however, was a job posting for a translator position that had a starting salary as $35,000 a year. I definitely asked a question about that; that’s not the kind of money I want to be making after going through all this. The answer I got was reassuring and basically said that’s the very low end of the scale, and not representative of the norm. (Of course, when I got home and showed all the literature to my parents, what piece of information did my dad focus on and not tell me his concerns? That one. I swear, he’s famous for doing that by this point–seeing something about me, jumping to the worst conclusion, but never telling me and I have to eventually figure out he’s made a grossly wrong assumption and set him straight. It is tiresome.)

After the information sessions there was a culture festival put on by the students so we attended that; I think I got some yakisoba from the Japanese students’ booth because I wanted to check out what kinds of people were Japanese students. It was about like you’d imagine… oh well.

Kirk (boyfriend–and he chose this name himself!) and I also got into a heated discussion; he quickly identified the localization management program as the most potentially lucrative and dependable field, while I knew from hearing about it that it’s really not what I want to do and my strengths lie in regular translation. I’m just not cut out for technical fields; whatever the technical version of what I do is, chances are I’m not going to be well suited for it. (Case in point: technical writing, which I briefly flirted with after graduation but it wasn’t coming easily.) Of course, the threat of machine translation eliminating the jobs of human translators is a big concern in the field, and localization management seems to be the one most resistant to that threat, so I could see his points. But I maintain that no matter how good machine translators get, there are so many idioms and nuances that it’s seriously necessary to have a human translator catch. I wouldn’t want to purchase and own and keep a novel or a comic that had been machine-translated. I would want to feel like I’m paying for quality. But that’s for publishing; when it comes to companies who hire translators to aid in overseas relations, I could see them jumping on the first good machine translator as a way to cut costs. So that is indeed worrisome. I would hate to think of myself as one of those aspiring academics, convinced that their talents will be best put to use as a professor/researcher, who refuse to face the fact that supply greatly outweighs demand in that field nowadays and continue to pursue it blindly, accruing debt, until forced to realize that it was all for naught.

I guess if nothing else, humans will still be needed to proofread machine translations in the future. And real-time machine interpretation isn’t likely to happen anytime soon, so there is that as well if I turn out to be able to do that. (And, failing all of that, I could just shoot for a non-translation job that still utilizes the Japanese fluency I will hopefully possess by that time.) I just have to hope that the machine-translation-dominated future doesn’t come true before I get the chance to pursue my dreams and do what I feel like I’m best suited to do. It is a concern, though. I want to think I’ve spent years figuring out the best, most ideal way to give myself a lucrative, successful career in a field I’m eminently qualified for, and I don’t like the idea that something like the rise of good machine translation could come along and ruin it. Sometimes I feel like many regrettable turns in my life have been the result of bad timing (such as graduating right when the manga industry collapsed, as opposed to a few years earlier when I could probably have easily gotten hired somewhere). Success in life is often about luck and timing and sometimes it feels like I don’t have either of those things.

(I really have to hope that’s not the case with this, though. Please, please, please. I’ve worked so hard.)

After the panels and the festival, we were pretty much done for the day (there was some afternoon programming but it was optional and not too relevant for me) so we went to have lunch at a Japanese place. Something we’d failed to do on our LA trip a few months earlier was have Kirk eat seafood/sushi at a Japanese restaurant, since it’s supposedly sooooo much better than what we can get in our state. It really doesn’t look like Monterey is any sort of culinary haven for Japanese food, but I had researched and chosen Ocean Sushi Deli as our best bet. It looked the most authentic and I think it indeed was; it was definitely run by actual Japanese people. I think I got ramen and also had a purin [caramel custard pudding]. Kirk did get some sushi, I think, but he wasn’t blown away or anything.

After that we went back to the hotel to recharge before heading back out. This time we headed downtown by the wharf to wander around. It wasn’t too long of a walk and before long we could hear and then see the sea lions. So loud! I remembered the sea lions in San Francisco and these really weren’t too different. They were very amusing. We spent a lot of time looking at them and laughing.

From there we began to walk northwest along the peninsula coast, eventually headed towards Pacific Grove and Passionfish, the restaurant where we planned to have dinner. We stopped at a beach along the way to take off our shoes and walk around in the sand. Kirk didn’t want to originally, but once we did it he had a really good time and we had fun walking on the beach. Then we spent the rest of the afternoon walking to the restaurant, passing by the outer edges of the aquarium and some sea lion preserve areas. In the end it was about a three-mile walk. Not bad!

Our route!

Dinner at Passionfish was really good; we both enjoyed it a lot. This was another way to make sure this time Kirk tried California seafood. Of course, he just ordered the catfish. Really?! Again, not mindblowing, could-never-get-this-at-home unbelievable fare, but we had a good experience.

Getting home was… interesting. You might recall that we had walked three miles away from our hotel. It was now getting dark and there was no way we had the energy to walk all the way back as well. We had to catch a bus but first we had to figure out which bus to catch and when it would show up. I got us on the right side of the street for the direction we wanted to go, and then we saw a bus pull up on the other side–Kirk insisted that was it, but I didn’t think so because it appeared to be going the wrong way. In the end we figured out that it made a loop along its route and then headed back the way we did want to go, so we should have gotten on it. Meanwhile it was getting chilly and we had to wait in the end about 45-50 minutes for a bus going our way to come (it might have even been the same bus after completing its loop around, and we could have ridden in warmth that whole time!). It wasn’t too frustrating though; I think we actually both look back on it positively now as sort of a silly experience.

On our way back to the hotel we stopped at Trader Joe’s (yay! Love Trader Joe’s but we don’t have them at home–yet! Soon!) and got a bottle of wine. We took glasses of wine down to the hotel’s hot tub where we soaked and talked to some guys who were already there, in town for a bicycle race competition thing. It was fun! Wow, looking back on it, what a looooong day.

Sunday we had brunch at the Wild Plum (yum!) and then Kirk caught his shared-ride van to the San José airport. I had some more time before my flight so I wandered around the area for a while. I went back to MIIS and thoroughly checked all of it out, then walked around the nearby neighborhoods. Not a lot of things were open on Sunday but I looked at what I could before heading (via taxi) to the airport and flying home.

As a couple it was a really, really good vacation for both of us; we both look back on it and can’t believe how great it was and how much fun we had. It’s probably our favorite trip we’ve taken together so far.

In terms of whether the trip confirmed my future plans… of course. Of course, I loved everything. Loved the school, loved the town, loved that I could get by without a car (I’d bike, walk, and take the bus). But that’s the problem–who wouldn’t? Monterey is a gorgeous place to live that attracts lots of residents, so costs are high too. I’m working really hard to be able to attend MIIS one day, and I just hope I get that chance… if I could really live and study in Monterey, I’d go out of my mind with joy.