The Best Way to Learn Japanese with George Trombley (1)
Steve: Hello, George. Hey, how are you doing?
George: I'm doing fine today. Steve: I'm talking to George Trombley and he's a very interesting man, he's into Asian languages. And I think the first one he learned was Japanese. And today I want to talk about how to learn Japanese with George. Remember if, uh, if you enjoy these videos, please subscribe, uh, click on the bell for notifications.
Uh, if you follow me on Spotify or Apple Podcasts or any other podcast leave a review. George. George live Las Vegas, where we go to make money on the slot machines, but George speaks Japanese, Korean, and other languages. I would like to, first of all, ask George ho what do you think what is the best way to learn Japanese?
George: It's a big question. Uh, but I think the first question that I always think about when I think if someone wants to learn a language, I think, are they interested in the country? You know, are they interested in the culture? Is there something that fascinates them about it that would keep driving them? Because as you know, learning a language isn't just something you go, oh, I'm going to learn a language and a month later you have. There's a lot of, a lot of effort that has to go into it. I think. Um, so if, if for example, you like J pop music, you watch, you listen to music. If you like, uh, some sort of drama in Japanese or some sort of game that's Japanese that you could get your hands on the Japanese version. I think a good thing to do is kind of follow your heart. Um, but if you're talking about, of course, if you're talking, obviously I teach Japanese, right? So I'm speaking in general terms right now. Right.
But let's say you decide, okay, I want to learn Japanese. So in my, in my way of learning, I did the same thing with Korean.
Uh, I was in a classroom in Japan and I went to classes in Korea actually, but you don't have to do that nowadays because the internet. So much, uh, access to Korean teachers or Japanese teachers that, you know, I would say, hey, get a Japanese teacher, find a channel on YouTube. Find some tools that are, like LingQ, for example. Find some, tools that will help you learn and just bust through the basic grammar. I really believe you should go through the basic grammar as fast as you can and learn the writing system. That would be the step one.
Steve: I would say a couple of things. First of all you have learned Japanese to a high degree of proficiency and Korean. What was your motivation? You said get motivated by something. So what motivated you to learn.
George: Well, Japanese was, I mean, it's the same for Japanese and Korean for me, but, you know, uh, the start of Japanese was, I was 12 and my father was a military contractor. His company had a contract with the military and that led us to be up in Japan in 1985.
So I was 12. I was in sixth grade on the military air base. And one of the classes that I was required to take was Japanese. So that got me started. And I think, uh, it wasn't until maybe about the next year after that, when I started thinking about girls and Japanese girls to me were attractive. So I just was motivated by that initially. And then the continued motivation for me was, uh, I started listening to J-pop, like I said, and of course I had access to a lot of fun Japanese TV every week I was watching the Japanese top 10 to see the artists that I love. I learned the lyrics of the music. I joined the fan club. I went to the concerts.
I did all of that. I was a weeb. I don't know if you know that term before, weebs were probably a thing. I just really loved everything at the time.
Steve: Now let's suppose that you're not 12 or 15, and you're not chasing Japanese girls and you're not into J-pop. Let's say that you're 30 or 25, obviously something has to motivate you so it could be anime, it could be any number of things. Well, how about the learning methodology? You know, my experience has been that the grammar. If you just get it up front, it's very difficult to relate it to anything until you have enough exposure to the language. George: I absolutely agree. Right.
So this is the problem. I think, um, that I see a lot of people, not with grammar per se. I see a lot of people when they start learning Japanese, they immediately want to jump into learning Kanji, for example, And it's easy to start learning kanji and then have that as your badge, right? Like I know 400 Kanji. I now know 500 Kanji, but in the end you don't know really how to use that Kanji. You just, you're, it's, I always like to call it a parlor trick. It's something you can brag about. And I think even a lot of times classes or a teacher, sometimes if they get a student that goes that direction, they let them go that direction because it's an easy way to grade them to say, Hey, oh, look, my student made this progress, but really that's a mistake. I believe that you, you know, like you said, you can learn, you could learn, you can get up to JLPT level in grammar, the Japanese language proficiency test level one, and maybe not even know how to have great conversations. So what I always think is you learn grammar, you learn a grammar point, and then you try to find a way to use it.
If you don't use it, you're going to lose it. And you don't want to learn above what you are capable of doing, this is what I always believe. Like, uh, when, for example, when I was learning Korean, uh, I would, I went to Korea and I took a group class in the morning and I took a private class, uh, after that, or sometimes I flipped it.
Uh, and then whatever I learned that day, I would kind of keep in my head and that night I would go out to... what they have, they have these language meetups that you can do in Korea where people get together. They're learning English and Korean and Japanese and German. It's actually really fascinating. And I would go to those and I would just, in my mind, I would think I'm going to use this grammar. The minute you use the grammar, you, you build this a bigger connection in your brain and it becomes more natural. Now, you know, I don't recommend that when you're doing something like that. If you learn a new grammar, never preface it, don't say, Hey, uh, can I test this new grammar with you? Because then that the, the, the native speaker is going to be on the outlook.
What I like to do is use the grammar, see what happens sometimes, sometimes, especially in Korean, I got, you know, I would learn a grammar, not fully understand the implication of that grammar and get a huge laugh. And now I don't know exactly why it's funny, but now I know. Okay.
There's something about that that makes it funny. So the next time I do it again, and I start building an understanding of why people are laughing at that particular grammar. Right.
Um, but without that experience, yeah, you, you could blindly say things that are rude, for example, uh, I'm still gonna, I'm just going to barrel through one more. Uh, my, uh, video editor might. He's learning Japanese. And he was saying a complicated sentence to me the other day. And he used "nante" in Japanese in a really weird way. And it sounded like he said something like, uh, ... which, which could mean, you know, oh man, I can't believe you can actually make delicious cooking, but he wasn't trying to say that he didn't understand the implications of what "nante" does. So without using that grammar, You know, no, the first time he uses it, he might've made that mistake, but he would have learned right away that wasn't good to do. So using it absolutely right away as the best thing to do. Don't use words that you're not going to use. Don't learn Kanji, you know, I'm a big fan of just-in-time learning after you get the basics down just, just in time learning for those things. Steve: Right.
Interesting. I mean, everyone has a different approach. In my case, I had learned Chinese beforehand. So I had that. Uh, so that was not an issue. I tend to favor as you know, a lot more input before I speak, unless I'm there, like in your situation, you were in Japan, you were in Korea, you have all kinds of opportunity to use the language. I guess one of the messages there is that there's many different roads that are going to take us to success in, in life. Uh, and it depends on your circumstance, but, uh, so you, you were totally into Japanese learning and then all of a sudden you got interested in Korean. Why did you get interested in Korean?
George: Could I go back just a second though, and talk about the input. So yeah, the input is something I highly recommend. Um, one of the things that, so I have the video series on YouTube and one thing I constantly recommend to people is, is for them to listen to Japanese radio, right. Uh, find a good podcast or a radio, but it can't be one... I firmly believe it shouldn't be one that's designed for students of Japanese or designed for students in Korean. I want full-blown, full-speed, fully actuated Korean or Japanese so that your brain can hear things, um, that, that you're not going to hear in a classroom because it's in a sense when you're learning in a classroom it's fun and all, but it's classroom Japanese. It's, it's a subset of Japanese. And you know, even me, you know, before I went to Korea, I learned in a, with a meetup group here. So I had learned those kind of, what's the word I'm looking for? Like really clean sentences that have no advanced grammar because it's a lower level sentence, and it's not said in a way with any "ums" or "ahs", you know? But then you go to Korea and, or you go to Japan and all of a sudden you're in a convenience store and they say something super basic back to you, but you've never heard it. You've never been exposed to it. But if you had been watching dramas or listening to people speak, your brain would have picked up things. I did it with Chinese too.
Steve: The thing is, um, you know, podcasts. Now you mentioned something I've had trouble finding good podcasts in Korean and Japanese. George: Oh.
George: I can recommend some.
Steve: Yeah. I think our listeners would be very interested in getting lists of good...
George: I can give you two right now, if you'd like. Steve: Sure. Well, uh, yeah, I'll put them in the description box. Okay, tell me what they are.
George: And I'll say it in a way that it's easy to find. So one is a super casual one. If you look up, uh, the, the full Japanese name is something like... but if you look up J U R I.
George: And she also has a YouTube channel. She's a fairly minor one, but the topics that she talks about are very interesting. It's about, it's people that want to get married and they're, they're, they're asking dating questions to her. So she will receive a question from a, from a guy and then she'll read the question, then answer it. But she's speaking clearly and on an interesting lower level topic about relationships, right? So that's super, that's short. Steve: And as you say, those kinds of things have resonance. Whereas what you've got in the classroom has no residence. The narrator is bored. The content is uninteresting. Whereas, so J U R I. Okay. That's what... George: yeah, JURI. And the second one that I love for the quality of sound and the fact that it's really high level, but yet they're still speaking in a normal speaking tone. It's cozy up, C O Z Y up the full name of the show is something like. Something news, kozy up in katakana. Uh, but, but that one is excellent because they open up with a news item. Right.
And it's like, very, it's like NHK. This is the day... they say the news very kind of formal and then they go, okay, we're here today with commentator so-and-so and then they go back and forth and talk about it. So once you're, once, now this is something I even recommend if you're new, new, new, it's fine because they're speaking in very normal terms, right. Just every now and then you're gonna hear things that are super high level, but guess what? It doesn't matter what you listen to in the beginning. You're not gonna understand any of it anyway. Steve: J U R I, Juri is one and the other one is cozy up: C O Z Y. Or zed depending on...
George: They also have a YouTube channel, so you can get it on like a podcast app or YouTube channel. Uh, those are two for that...
Steve: Do either of them have transcripts?
George: Not that I know of.
Steve: Not that you know of. Okay.
George: I know that that's important. I know it's important for LingQ, right? Steve: You can throw these onto a happy scribe, automatic transcription service and it's kind of 90%. Okay.
All right. That's very good. George: The thing about these things? Sorry, go ahead.
Steve: No, I was going to say to you, I have some good podcasts for Korean.
George: I have an excellent one for Korean. It's called... now you're not going to find that one in English. It means two o'clock date. And it's, I think one of the longest running, uh, Korean radio shows in all of Korea, uh, I listened to it all the time and every year or so they'll change the announcer. I, it, my opinion firmly is that the last announcer was the best, but, uh, now it's two people that... Steve: Somehow we're going to find these, I'm going to put them in the description. George: I'm going to link, I'll, I'll send you the links. Let me see if there's anything, uh, let me see, let me just see quickly if I can easily give you something that identifies that one easier. Uh, but yeah, that one, that one's good because it's two people talking and they go rapid fire through topics. And then what they'll do is they'll introduce something that like a housewife in Busan had a problem, and then she, they, so the topics change fresh enough, right? So that if your Korean is at an intermediate level, there might be one particular thing where all of a sudden you understand, right? And then the next topic will come and you might not understand. So I call that like this random pocket of understanding and I, my Korean significantly improved just listening to that for 30 or 40 minutes, like as I was driving around.
Uh, and once you get good, you start being like, you start thinking, oh, well, I'm actually enjoying the content you stop thinking about, oh, I'm, I'm speaking Korean. Steve: But what I get, what I get from you. And I think the big lesson is, is your enthusiasm, your willingness to not understand your willingness to be in a situation where you can't quite say what you want to say. You don't quite understand everything that's being said, and you're happy, nevertheless, and you just throw yourself into it. And in that, you know, that approach is actually better than sitting in a classroom, trying to nail everything down, wanting to understand everything and never getting beyond that class, you will learn.
George: You learn so many things that the teacher would never think to teach you by listening to people talk. And I, if you want them, uh, Steve, I've got, I've got on here. So what I do is I get the podcast and then I put like a, I rename it so that it goes in order. I renamed my like J uh, close parentheses, K close parentheses.
I have Vietnamese. Uh, I have Russian, whatever I was learning for the moment. Uh, I would get it. I have two or three good German ones, so I can, I can give you a good Chinese one if you want one too.
Steve: How many languages are you working on?
George: Well, I'm striving to be the next Steve Kaufmann. Um...
Steve: You've got a few more years to go though, so that's good. George: No, you really inspired me because when I heard you were 75 and you got 20 languages, I thought, well, I'm 48, right? I've got Japanese, Korean. I'm fairly happy with my Chinese. Although I do need more work. I started German. Uh, and then once, um, What's his name? Oh my gosh. I shouldn't forget this Laoshu50500, when he passed away. Steve: Right.
George: Uh, I had, I had, uh, I had only a brief interaction with him and it wasn't a positive one, unfortunately, but when he passed away, I went up to his channel and I watched more of his stuff. I found out how young he was and I saw on his Facebook, he's doing these really weird languages that I would never think to learn. Right.
And then I thought that guy had, he had inspired so many people. I thought, what am I doing? I'm just sitting here not learning more languages. So that day I booked Tagalog, which I've really loved. Tagalog is amazing. And, uh, and Vietnamese. So...
Steve: I mean, Laushu was amazing, very humble guy interested in, you know, it didn't Hmong, uh, you know, no Georgian, you name it. The guy was, and he had such a breadth of interests in terms of languages. And another guy who was doing that is Richard Simcott. I just saw him speaking, uh, Estonian and, and people, I think, you know, we don't have to be perfect in these languages. It's, it's such a delight to discover a new language, to explore a new language. Uh, so good for you. Absolutely good for you.
George: It really is. You know, th there's, there's a, there's a subset in the Japanese community. I haven't seen it in the Korean community yet where they're striving for perfection or they, they put a lot of emphasis on the Japanese learning community in the Japanese learning community. Um, It's never been my thing. You know, I saw a TED talk once and it, it really summed up everything I've ever believed about learning a language is that language is a tool, not an art to master. Steve: And it's a tool for communicating. It's also a tool for discovering more about different cultures, different countries and stuff like that. It's not, it's not a, it's not synchronized diving at the Olympic games. Right.
We don't have to achieve perfection. If that's what people want to do, that's fine too. Yeah.
George: Well, that's the thing that it really is, especially nowadays, if you want to strive for perfection, you can, but my question is what's your goal, right? Is that your goal or goal is to make friends in the country? Always a hundred percent. So my goal in a new language is to get two friends that don't speak English so that there's no influence of the western mind on them. Steve: But one more thing though, is this by learning, say Tagalog or Korean or whatever, you're learning, you have a different perception of those people. Like those people come alive. All of a sudden, that's just not a place on the globe or a map. Those are real people. Now you have a bit of a sense, not maybe very deep yet, but a bit of a sense of those people. That's much more alive than when you have never even spoken or understood any of them. George: Well, if I can add to that and say something slightly controversial, if you're living in America, that's where I live now. So I see this, you know, we don't really understand foreigners because we're America and we're number one and everyone speaks English. Right, right. So we're used to non native speaking English and maybe not a perfect way. Right.
So then maybe we think, oh, they're not so smart, but the minute you start speaking in their language, you go, you realize they are really smart, just like we are. And it's a controversial thing because that's a weird thing to say, but I'll give you an example. I made a friend in Korea through Hello Talk, which is an amazing app that I absolutely love. And, uh, when I first met her, I just thought she was kinda dumb. Like just not super intelligent, but it was my Korean level that needed to increase because once I spoke more Korean, I found out she was deep-thinking, you know, she had deep thought.
She was just a quiet person. You know, I...
Steve: This is the problem. This is why people are intimidated. Uh, about speaking another language because they consider themselves intelligent in their own language. Doesn't matter who you are, American, Chinese, whatever. And you realize that when you're speaking this foreign language, all of a sudden you're lessened. So most adults don't like that. Like kids don't care, kids just want to, you know, play with their friends, but an adult thinks, well, you know, I'm an educated person in my language, whatever it may be. And now I'm going to speak this other language and all of a sudden I'm less, or at least come across as less educated. That never bothered me but there are people who are bothered by that. And I think we have to get beyond that and. Just strive to communicate and, and not worry about how, you know, whatever imperfections there are and how we use the language. I mean, we all like to improve. That's fine. George: It's extremely frustrating when you're learning a new language, because you know how to say things in English. And even for me, you know, I already knew how to say things in Japanese. Now I can't say them in Korean or I can't say them in Chinese. So you get very frustrated. And this is a common thing that I see over these 20 plus years of teaching Japanese and now Korean. So I give this advice all the time. I say, say what you can say, not what you want to say.
Steve: I don't find it frustrating when I kind of say things because I then reflect back on where I was six months ago. George: Well, you're also a veteran, you're a veteran, uh, language learner. So you're aware and I'm aware of that too. Steve: So I say look at me all of a sudden I can say things in Persian or Arabic. I can't quite nail it the way I would like to. Uh, I keep on forgetting things that I know. I know these words and I can't find them when I'm speaking, but so what, you know, look at me now versus six months earlier. So we have to give ourselves credit for what we've done. George: Yeah, you, you have to recognize where you are. And I think, you know, we're like that frog in a boiling pot that we don't realize how hot it got. Steve: Right.
George: But in a better way, we don't know how good we've got until we compare ourselves to someone else or we start another language. Steve: But why don't we end it here? George: Okay.
And, uh, the main thing that you exude is enthusiasm, plus a lot of experience in learning these languages and helping others learn. So thank you very much for the conversation.
George: All right. Hey, thanks. See you next time.
George: Have a good day, Steve.
Thank you. Bye bye.