Student Interview: Holly

Posted: 6th Apr 2023

Welcome to the latest post in the Ippo Ippo Japanese Student Interview series!

So far we've heard from Hannah and Gina, both students getting ready for N5 of the JLPT via my Prep for N5 course, as well as Eleanor and Jack, both longer term students with Ippo Ippo.

Today we're hearing from Holly, who I first met back in April 2022 at a Tadoku Taster. Since then, she has been busy getting ready for N5 of the JLPT alongside Hannah and Gina on Prep for N5.

Without further ado: let's see what Holly has to share about her experience of learning Japanese.

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Hi Holly, thanks for agreeing to do an interview! First of all, remind me: when did you first start learning Japanese?

I started in September, 2020. I did an online beginners course with the City Lit Institute for around 18 months, and then moved on to more self-study with ad hoc short courses, including with Ippo Ippo.

Was there anything that surprised you about Japanese as a beginner?

Many things! The grammar especially. Even what seem like simple things like joining verbs or adjectives are done in a completely different way from in English. As I said to one of my classmates, this language is full of surprises.

Do you have a favourite Japanese word?

My favourite word is toki-doki because I like saying it and hearing it. And it has a kanji repeater - another of my favourite surprising things.

Note from Elly: toki-doki means "sometimes" and is written 時々 in kanji. The repeater Holly mentions is 々, which is used in many other words with similar repetition, e.g. 人々 (hito-bito - people) and 色々 (iro-iro - various). If you're wondering about the sound changes in "toki-doki" and "hito-bito", check out this Tofugu post on rendaku, which answers the question of why hito-bito isn't hito-hito.

What do you find hardest about learning Japanese?

Three writing systems and multiple counters. It makes for a lot of remembering.

How about in our Prep for N5 classes? Is there anything you've found particularly challenging about the N5?

Before the class, I found the textbook itself quite challenging, as well as understanding how the questions worked and what they are looking for in the answers. Happily, these are all things Elly’s class addresses! I also find it quite challenging trying to cover all of kanji, vocabulary, grammar and listening, and which to prioritise.

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A goldwork fish based on a netsuke from the V&A. Holly made this from a kit.

What do you enjoy most about learning Japanese?

Making connections, e.g. between kanji and vocabulary. The conciseness and abstract/conceptual nature of the written language. I like looking at and tracing kanji, from an artistic perspective, as well as breaking them down. It’s a bit like a code! It all feels very mathematical, e.g. the grid system for kana, classifying kanji by number of strokes and searching kanji dictionaries by radicals, which my brain likes.

Note from Elly: I was once told it's impossible to learn Japanese without having a good grasp of maths. While I'm sure it can help, as someone who barely scraped a C in Higher Maths (the Scottish qualification level needed to enter university), I'm here to tell you this isn't the case!

Would you recommend online lessons to other learners?

Yes, definitely. I think it works very well for languages. The main thing missing is it’s harder to get to know classmates.

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A temari ball made by Holly (also from a kit).

Do you have any long-term goals with your Japanese learning?

I think it will be a lifelong pursuit. I’ve found it a struggle as a beginner, as my enthusiasm has waxed and waned and I’ve been on the verge of giving up many times. But things are now starting to fall into place. I plan to pursue the JLPT exams, to give a framework, but mainly my goal will be to enjoy the process of learning and discovering.


Horii-san, arigatō!

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