Before starting my studies of Chinese and Japanese at university, I decided to get a head start with the Japanese so bought myself a Linguaphone Japanese course. Unfortunately due to lack of motivation and general laziness I didn't study more than the first few lessons of the course. Those taught me Japanese pronunciation and a bit of vocabulary and grammar, which I later discovered was in a very formal style and not much use in everyday conversation.
From 1989 to 1993 I studied Chinese and Japanese at the University of Leeds. The Japanese part of the course consisted of intensive Japanese language lessons, together with classes on Japanese literature, history, economics, politics and religion.
During the second year of the course I spent four months studying Japanese at the Kansai University of Foreign Languages (関西外国語大学 - Kansai Gaikokugo Daigaku or Kansai Gaidai for short) near Osaka. Most classes there were taught in Japanese and I stayed with a Japanese family, so I was well immersed in the language. Unfortunately four months was not long enough to really get to grips with Japanese so when I returned to the UK I could read Japanese to some extent and was able to converse in it quite well, but was far from fluent.
Since graduating from university I've had few opportunities to use my Japanese and have forgotten a lot of it. I can still read, write, understand and speak it, though not as well as I once could. With a lot of Japanese kanji I know their Chinese pronunciation and meaning so can understand them and can guess their on yomi (Chinese-derived readings) but can't remember or don't know their kun yomi (Japanese reading). When learning them I didn't always bother to learn their Japanese pronunciations and meanings if I already knew them in Chinese. This is not the best way to learn kanji as the Japanese meaning is not always the same as the Chinese one.
In 2006 I started using Skype to chat to a number of Japanese people. I can understand quite a lot of what they say to me in Japanese, and can read what they write, but find it quite difficult to string together a grammatical sentence in Japanese. We chatted at least once a week on average in a mixture of Japanese and English.
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