Becoming a Rosetta Stone Blogger

I wanted to visit Japan for as long as I can remember. Every time I juggled the travel wish list, there it was near the top, beckoning me to book a trip.

But the appeal of wildlife safaris in Africa, meandering self-drives in France, and cruise expeditions to Antarctica were also strong. Japan’s time never seemed to come.

It wasn’t aided by my husband’s eating habits: whilst he’s not a fussy eater, his diet of choice didn’t extend to fish and seafood (cooked as much as raw), pork that wasn’t formed into bacon or sausages, miso soup or sweets filled with red bean paste or flavoured with green tea. The thought of being presented food he might not be able to identify was also a big turnoff. But after years of being married to a foodie, his palate has become more adventurous over time, and the last two years witnessed a sea change in the seafood stakes.

Buoyed by the more positive response to Japan as a holiday destination, I struck while the iron was hot and booked non-refundable flights!

We spent 17 wonderful days in Japan last autumn.

PicasaJapan2012 NonFood Mini

Japan was everything I’d imagined it to be and many things besides: the contrast between modern and traditional, between shiny new and revered old; a populace both friendly, welcoming, incredibly polite and yet with interests and behaviours that were, to our eyes, utterly (and compellingly) strange; the soothing rituals and etiquette of ryokan living with cypress wood baths and futons on tatami mat floors; all singing and dancing toilets with musical choices, pre-warmed seats and wash and dry functions; young girls crawling through a hole in a rock shrine, convinced it would bring them true love; the most efficient train system we’ve experienced; an incredibly rich and diverse food culture offering all the Japanese dishes we know here in the West and a hundred more we don’t; restaurants and cafés specialising in tempura, ramen, sushi, soba noodles, pickles, shabu-shabu, sukiyaki and yakitori, along with foods that are less well-known in the West, such as tonkatsu, wagashi, okonomiyaki, wagyu beef, and all things matcha to name just a few….

Of course, part of feeling at ease in a strange and foreign land is the ability to communicate, but Japanese seemed to be an inscrutable language. Whereas European languages, which use our familiar Roman alphabet, feel easier to get a handle on, Japanese, with its (three) unfamiliar character sets, not only sounds unintelligible to our ears, it’s impossible to read, too.

Oh I printed out a tiny list of phonetically represented useful words and phrases to carry around with me and was rewarded with warmth when I used them. But there were many times when we felt that a deeper understanding and more meaningful exchange of ideas would have been possible had we only known Japanese. Not to mention the ability to ask for (and follow) directions when we got lost, to work out which tickets to buy from station-ticket machines, and to order more confidently from restaurant menus.

Fast forward a few months, and the wonders of our first trip are still so strongly in our minds that we’ve booked a return trip for another three weeks later this year.

With a better feeling of how much more we will get from our trip if we have some language skills under our belt, I’ve decided to invest the next few months in learning Japanese. With its reputation for making learning feel natural and achievable, Rosetta Stone seemed the obvious solution. Not needing to attend physical classes also makes it easier to slot into daily life.

In exchange for writing regularly about how I’m progressing, Rosetta Stone have given me 6 month’s access to TOTALe, the online version of their popular language learning system. My online subscription lets me learn at my own pace, working through lessons as often as I wish. It also includes a number of live group sessions with a native Japanese tutor, to practice what I learn.

I am nervous.

Learning new skills becomes harder with age, as I discovered when I studied for some professional certification recently – I passed with good marks, but it certainly didn’t come as easily to me as the exams I sailed through so comfortably back at school a few decades ago.

I realise a few months is still not long enough to gain true fluency in a new language, especially one with as little in common with my native tongue as Japanese. But I’m fired up and full of enthusiasm. Already, in the few short weeks since I’ve started, I’ve worked through at least one lesson nearly every single day and have assimilated a pleasing number of words and phrases.

Over the next few months, I’ll keep you updated with my progress.

And of course, I’ll share how it all went after our second trip to Japan.


With thanks to Rosetta Stone for my online subscription.

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10 Comments to "Becoming a Rosetta Stone Blogger"

  1. Tara (aka Craftilicious)

    Don’t be scared – Japanese is a FAR easier language to learn that you might fear. Yes, I agree getting to grips with katakana, hirigana and kanji is certainly very difficult, but learning to speak and understand what you hear is actually very easy (far easier I think that European languages). Japanese has a far more logical grammer structure – no endings to learn and match up to masculine or feminine – and you’ll be amazed how quickly you get your ear in as the sounds all follow the same structure – ka, ki, ku, ke, ko, ta, ti, tu, te, to etc I studied it for a couple of years at night school and loved it (although I did meet my husband on the course which may have something to do with enjoying it!) Will be really interested to read your Rosetta Stone experience of learning it.
    Have fun!


    I find pronunciation straightforward and yes, seems verb doesn’t change endings, from what I have learned so far… I haven’t done tenses yet though.
    Reading is hard though! Getting there slowly.

  2. Heather

    That is commitment to a holiday!

    How does Rosetta Stone teach you? Are you learning the characters too or is it focused on being able to speak it?


    I’m learning the characters too though that’s harder/ slower and I think the focus is strongest on both understanding and speaking.

    I’ll make my next post on this an explanation of how Rosetta Stone teaches you, if that’s of interest. It’s an interesting method as very different to school language learning.

  3. Tara (aka Craftilicious)

    Would be really interesting to get your view on how RS teaches you – so please do do that post. My classes didn’t focus much on reading – mostly speaking and comprehension using flash cards as the teacher introduced herself – wrote “Wakari masen” on the black board (I don’t understand) and then told us from that point on she would only speak in Japanese! now that was in at the deep end – it worked though. Although I can only understand a handful of kanji.

  4. Christine

    How exciting!! I did a little bit of Japanese in high school and really enjoyed it. What a great challenge to take up – good luck x


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