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An Interview with Robert Belton

Robert Belton is one of our most active users, currently tuning in from London, England.

How did you find
Through the iTunes store. I was browsing for Japanese language podcasts.

What made you stay?
The people. In the long term that is what has kept me there. Vicky-san and Liz-san were very welcoming and we started chatting on Skype. The general tone of the forums is pleasant and friendly. I don’t think I’ve seen any of the unpleasantness I’ve seen in other Internet forums. The level of conversation is intelligent, there’s no spam, people are well behaved. My contacts with Peter-san have been friendly and I admire his boundless enthusiasm and energy. And it’s nice to have contact with Miki-san on her blog. And everyone at JapanesePod101 seems so dedicated to what they’re doing.

In the short term. The bait on the hook if you like. It was the quality
and quantity of the podcasts. I can’t exactly remember when I joined but it was after the slightly rougher early podcasts (笑)But even those had interesting things for me to listen to.

Why do you want to learn Japanese?

I get asked this a lot especially by Japanese people. 美しい女性と喋りたいから〜!has more than a grain of truth I suppose. It started as a hobby. Something to fill time doing something challenging and a bit useful. But it grew, I made friends, I joined an evening class, I started a website, I went to Japan, I joined mixi, I worked with a Japanese theatre group, I started skyping, I made more friends. It’s one of the best things I’ve done.
My main motivation now is to be able to have natural conversation with my Japanese friends in Japanese instead of relying on their English. (we’re back to 美しい女性!)

What’s’s best feature?
Free lessons! Everyone likes a bargain and you can’t get better than
this. There’s a vast amount of material on the site. I’m unable to keep up with the podcasts. Everywhere else I’ve found, and there aren’t many sites out there, doesn’t have as large a library, or might be in an annoying format like RealPlayer, or are irregular, or don’t have as high standards, or don’t have the sense of being ‘live’. JapanesePod101 feels like a radio show rather than a language tape.

What’s the biggest roadblock you found while learning Japanese?
The roadblocks keep changing! I’ve had days where I think “What am I doing?? I’ll never manage to master this.” That’s when it’s important to take a deep breath, remember I’m doing it for fun and stick with it. And while maybe I slack a bit now and then, I do something everyday. I don’t think it’s something you can do once a week for an hour if you hope to get anywhere. Numbers are difficult. It’s had to access them out of sequence or put Japanese words to the Arabic symbols.

Generally acquiring vocabulary is difficult. To be able to instantly
pull the right word from your memory. To know the word for something in the first place is a challenge.

My big roadblock at the moment is conversation. To have the confidence to speak and to have a native speaker patient enough to speak with me who is also good at dealing with a learner. A lot of practice I get in class is talking imperfect Japanese to classmates who also have imperfect understanding.

What’s your favorite lesson?
Miki-san’s Blog. It’s *very* challenging and actually probably beyond my skill at the moment. But what I like is that it’s “real”. It’s not a lesson as such but some real contact with a Japanese person. And it’s very nice how Miki-san responds to comments on it.

Have you ever been to Japan?
Yes 3 times now. First time in 2005 to Kinki. Again for a very brief
stay in Kyoto in 2006. And this year to Nagoya and Tokyo amongst other places. I even dropped in on JapanesePod101 and made a nuisance of myself. I will definitely go back to Japan next year and I might even get there again this autumn.

What do you like most about Japan?

The people. In the end that’s why I will keep going back. After a while the novelty of temples and shrines and the alien-ness of Japan wears off. But what has yet to wear off is my excitement of being able to talk to people and make connections. Whether it is just the passing kindness of a stranger or a lasting friendship.
After that it’s those bits that are unique to Japan. Onsen, great food,
amazing service, trains that work!