English LingQ 2.0 Podcast #30: Learning Japanese, Taking the JLPT & Rubik’s Cube with Deni Mintsaev

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Deni Mintsaev creates videos about learning Japanese, his travels in Japan and… Rubik’s cube! Elle chats with Deni in this episode of the LingQ Podcast about his methods, the content he’s enjoying and taking the infamously difficult JLPT.

Elle: Hello everyone and welcome to the LingQ podcast with me, Elle. English learners, don’t forget you can study this episode and all past episodes as a lesson on LingQ, the lesson link is in the description always. If you’re studying any language, in fact, you can use LingQ to study from content you’re interested in: podcast episodes, blog posts, TV shows, news, whatever. Make a lesson with it on LingQ and study from content of interest. And don’t forget to give us a share, a follow, a like or a review on whatever podcast platform you are listening on. We really appreciate it. This week I am joined by a guest all the way from Russia. He is a YouTuber. He creates videos about learning Japanese currently it’s his language. And also something language learning well, unrelated to language learning, which we will get to so stay tuned. This week I am joined by Deni Mintsaev. Deni. Welcome. Thank you for joining us.

Deni: Hello. Thank you for having me.

And so, uh, joining us from, uh, Russia, as I mentioned, uh, how are things in Russia these days and whereabouts in Russia are you joining us from?

I am currently in Moscow. I’m just here for the summer break. I am studying abroad in the United Kingdom. Uh, but, uh, I, right now I’m back in Moscow. I just finished my exchange year in Japan. Uh, and yeah, it’s not too bad here. Uh, so yeah.

Elle: So… good. Excellent. And did you grow up in Moscow?

Deni: Yes. Yes. Uh, so I lived here for pretty much all my life. Uh, I mostly just stayed abroad for study. Uh, I’m now going into my fourth year, um, which will be now, uh, back in the UK. Elle: Oh, in the UK. Excellent. And so you just left, uh, Japan, right? You were just, you were just a few months in Japan.

Deni: My third year was an exchange year, uh, which I spent in Japan, uh, well, to be precise, it was a little over eight months.

Um, and, uh, yeah, now I’m going into my fourth year, which will be back in the UK. Elle: Excellent. And so, as I mentioned, uh, at the beginning in your intro, you are studying Japanese, you’re really hardcore studying Japanese, um, and creating lots of videos about your journey and help, helpful the videos for other people studying Japanese. So, firstly, what got you into Japanese and why did you decide to study Japanese?

Deni: Well originally, uh, I got some kind of idea to maybe try and learn it through just watching stuff in Japanese, which was at the time mostly just anime. Uh, and I thought it would be interesting to watch it in the original, uh, version, uh, without any subtitles, uh, just like I do anything in English or anything in my native language.

Uh, so that’s where I got the initial idea. And then once I actually started learning Japanese and talking to some Japanese people online, I grew more and more attached and more and more, became more and more interested in the culture and the kind of everything surrounding Japan. And it kind of just spiraled out of there.

Elle: I see. It is fascinating culture. Right. So how many years has it been now that you’ve been studying the language? Deni: It’s now been five and a half years, a bit more than five and a half years even. Um, and yeah, it’s been quite the journey. Uh, most of the time I spent, uh, doing self study. Uh, it is my major in university, but that’s mostly just because I needed to pick some degree. And that was what I decided to go with, but I’ve still continued to mostly study, um, in my own time with my own uh, method. Um, so yeah.

Elle: Excellent. And so tell us about, you say your own, your own method. What, uh, what is your method, how you going about studying Japanese, the self study part?

Deni: Well, uh, I’m kind of now in the stage where you just need to watch a lot in Japanese. Listen, read, just consume as much as possible. Uh, and I can, I’m pretty much good to go with that. The only exception is the writing, obviously Kanji, you can’t learn passively. You have to sit down and actively study the different characters. And, uh, right now I’m sitting at a bit over 1700. I’ve not really done much a study recently. Uh, but yeah, overall, uh, I’m able to converse with relative ease. Uh, um, I can talk about, uh, all sorts of topics and I don’t really have much difficulty with that. Um, well listening is a bit more tricky, uh, as well as reading because there, uh, you never know what kind of stuff you can encounter. And it very, very much depends on the material, uh, you’re consuming. Uh, I would still say that stuff like anime or TV shows are not very easy for me. Uh, but I can watch YouTube videos and understand them quite well. I would say.

Elle: Excellent. Wow. That’s a great stage to be at where you’re kind of able to enjoy the language, enjoy content in the language. What, uh, what kinds of content are you watching right now for anyone listening who is maybe at a similar level in Japanese? Um, can you suggest any YouTube channels or you said anime, shows, movies.

Deni: Yeah, well, uh, lately I’ve been watching a little bit more anime again. Uh, I’m watching Attack on Titan right now. Uh, and I’ve also, uh, spent a lot of time watching YouTube. I quite like watching, uh, like video game let’s play videos. And, uh, there are certain games that are popular in Japan.

So I like to watch some of those channels. Uh, there’s a very, uh, interesting channel. For me, I, I really, I find it very enjoyable, uh, on YouTube called Nichijō-gumi and, um, yeah, it’s like a, uh, a group of friends, uh, who all play, uh, like video games. And I don’t know, they have, they have a very good like energy and a good chemistry with each other. So it’s quite fun to watch. Uh, well, yeah, that’s mostly it. And then as for reading, uh, I’m trying to read. But more like the light novel type of thing. Um, because I’ve mostly read manga, which I still do. Um, but now I’m, I’m still going through my first, a proper book in Japanese. And, uh, it’s taking a while, but I’ve not been very, very intensively reading it. Uh, but it’s not too bad if, uh, um, if I can use a dictionary, it’s not really too bad. Elle: Ok. And what’s the book? Deni: Oh, uh, it’s um, A Windup Bird Chronicle, uh, by Haruki Murakami. Elle: Yeah, I’ve read that in English. I wish I could read that in Japanese, but yeah, I read that. I, I really, I really liked that book. He’s such a great author. Deni: I’ve read the most books, uh, from Murakami, uh, out of the different books I’ve read. Um, but only in English and Russian, never in Japanese.

Elle: Great. Right. Well, good luck with it. At least you have, Murakami has, is still writing too. And he has, uh, he has lots of books so, you can get through all of those in Japanese maybe, that’s a challenge. Um, so Deni you, uh, studying or have studied in the past for the JLPT.

Deni: Yeah.

Elle: Tell us, tell us what is the JLPT and, um, how have your experiences been with taking it?

Deni: Well, I have taken it a good number of times at this point. I think I’ve taken the N3 once, I failed that one, uh, I’ve taken the N2 three times and finally passed it on the third attempt. And I just recently took the N!. Uh, but I don’t have the results yet. Yeah, yeah, yeah. It was very difficult though.

I there’s pretty much no chance that I passed it but I just kind of did it for fun to try and see what it’s like. Uh, yeah.

Elle: I think that’s wise. Yeah.

Just to get an idea, you know, go in with no expectation of actually passing maybe. And like you say, you think you maybe didn’t, um, but getting an idea of what it’s all about, and then you try again. I’ve heard it’s, for anyone listening who doesn’t know first off what the JLPT is, it’s the Japanese Language Proficiency Test. And it, I believe there are five levels, right? N5, N4, N3, N2 and N1, N1 being the final one, the most difficult. And I’ve heard that it’s extremely difficult. So, um, yeah. And you can, there you go you can confirm, so, wow. Okay. So you’ve tried the N1. And when will you get your results? Do you know?

Deni: I should get them sometime this month. Um, but I checked a few days ago and, uh, I didn’t have my results yet. Um, I did do a little better than I expected though.

Cause I went in completely expecting that I would just really, you know, just the worst possible result. But the first, the first section was exactly as I expected. Uh, however, the, the reading and listening was not quite as bad. It was still pretty difficult, but I at least did better than I expected. Uh, so at least there’s that. Elle: Well, you never know, you never know, fingers crossed. So I’m assuming then there’s a listening, a writing, a reading and a speaking aspect? Deni: So there are three sections, um, for the first two are done together. Uh, you’ll have to just kind of manage your time and it’s up to you, uh, to spend as much time as you want on each of the sections. I think the first one is, uh, vocabulary and grammar. And the second one is where you have a text and you read it and then you answer a question. Um, and then the listening is done separately, uh, where they play a CD for you, for the big like room of, um, students. And you just answer questions. Uh, some of the questions you don’t even see the answers written down, they also say out loud the different ones. Um, pretty much the whole test is multiple choice, by the way, I should have mentioned that there. Yeah.

So it’s, uh, not the best test to actually show one’s ability. Uh, but I guess it, it does show it in some way, but it shows, uh, from what I can tell from what I’ve heard, it shows a lot more how well someone prepared for the exam, uh, versus how well you speak perhaps. Elle: Hmm, that seems like most tests for language learning, right? How well are you, how, how well can you prepare for a test? How well can you understand a test as opposed to yeah actually conversing in a language or knowing the language?

Deni: Well, there is one that I can think of that I thought was pretty well done, uh, which was pretty well made, which was the IELTS exam for English.

Um, and that one had, it’s a very different format. There are some things that are multiple choice, a lot of them, um, like there’s a big section where it’s writing and you just write like an essay or something like that. Yeah.

And, uh, there is also a section where you speak to an actual person. Uh, so it’s, uh, it’s a fair bit better. I would say.

Uh, I’ve taken now one without doing any preparation and got um, 8.0, out of nine. Uh, so it has a weird grading system. Um, and, uh, yeah, nine is the max. Uh, but you know, like they say for a lot of, uh, tests, uh, even a native speaker is not going to get the nine out of nine without, you know, putting in hours and hours, uh, preparing for the test.

Uh, but I got 8.0 overall, um, without doing pretty much any prep.

Elle: Fantastic. Okay. That, that, that makes way more sense, actually speaking to someone face to face and so they can assess your language ability that way. So. Okay. So Deni, tell us about your time in Japan. Like I mentioned, you just left a little while back.

Deni: Yeah, just a month ago.

Elle: Okay. Uh, so. Did you experience any culture shock? Oh, was this the, was this your first time in Japan? First off?

Deni: It was actually my second time. Uh, first time I went there in 2017, uh, for one week. uh, for one week.

Elle: Okay. So this is your first time staying for an extended period.

Deni: Yeah, it’s actually, that was my longest consecutive time spent in another country because, uh, due to the pandemic, I couldn’t even come back for like a break for a holiday. Uh, so I had to stay there until the end of my year.

Elle: Ah, okay. So you hadn’t intended on staying for the full, like the time you had wanted to come back, but then COVID. Deni: Yeah.

When I was studying in the UK, I would always come back for the holidays, uh, to see my family. Um, but I, that was, that was not an option in Japan.

If I came back, then I would have not gone back again. So to continue my second semester.

Elle: Right. And now of course, this question is, maybe you would have answered differently if it weren’t a pandemic, but, uh, what would some of the things that surprised you about Japan? And did you experience any culture shock while you were there?

Deni: I wouldn’t really say so. Uh, I think I’ve already experienced culture shock remotely from because, um, even like throughout my years, learning Japanese before I went there, um, I had a lot of experience communicating with Japanese people and I’d already kind of had, uh, some, a couple of moments of culture shock. Uh, so that was not really as big of an issue.

I did have, um, the situation which I’ve had in the past. Where sometimes when somebody doesn’t really want to talk to you, they can’t really say, or even give you a hint. They’ll just ghost you. Uh, obviously that’s not everybody. Uh, but some people like that in Japan, unfortunately, because it’s a very closed down country. Uh, people, even among Japanese people themselves, they seem to be quite closed down. Quite an unfortunate situation. So I made a friend there, uh, during my stay, but one day they just stopped replying for some reason, uh, that’ll just remain a mystery. I’ve had that experience in the past. So I wasn’t much of a culture shock, but it was still kind of a bummer overall. Um, it was obviously not as, as good of an experience as I was hoping for before the pandemic started. Uh, but I did at least managed to, um, sneak in a few, uh, trips here and there. Uh, when we had like the, you know, the, a better periods, uh, in terms of the cases COVID cases, um, there were, I had a trip to Oita, uh, on the Kyushu island.

Uh, I had a trip to Okinawa. Uh, I had, uh, like a smaller trip, uh, to neighboring, uh, Kanagawa, whoa, sorry, Kanagawa was where I was living. Um, in Shizuoka Prefecture. Uh, I actually went on a few hikes and one of them was in Shizuoka Prefecture where, uh, me and my friends, uh, from the UK were studying, uh, on the same course as me, uh, we climbed the, Mount Aichi

I think it was called. Okay. Oh, uh, oh actually, that’s not what it was called Ashitaka I think it was the name of the mountain. Um, and from Mount Ashitaka you get the perfect view of Mount Fuji. Uh, and that was a very nice experience. Um, it was 1,504 meters above sea level at the peak. Uh, that’s high that’s high up. Elle: Did you get the whole. Kind of altitude, not altitude sickness, but the, you know, deep breathing.

Deni: Um, but me and my friend went to another hike where I did feel it. Uh, we, and we started a much lower there. Uh, it was, um, oh shoot I don’t think I’ll be able to remember that one. Uh, but there was another mountain, uh, on the, in the west of Tokyo prefecture where it’s very rural. Um, yeah. That mountain was 1,736 meters at the peak. And we started at 340 meters above seal. So that was a big difference, like altitude change, uh, and, um, at about a kilometer altitude change. So that was a 400 meters above sea level where me and my friend really started feeling it. Um, and at one point we even went through a cloud, uh, which was quite the experience.

Elle: I bet. Yeah.

I remember when I was in Japan, I, I climbed Mount Fuji with some friends and they had these, uh, we had these oxygen tank, not tanks, but like a little aerosol mini oxygen inhalers. And I thought, wow, we’re not gonna not going to need those. My friend actually really did need it. Um, he was feeling really dizzy and this was a very fit person too, way fitter than me.

I think it just depends on your physiology or something, but, um, yeah, a lot of these people were just like sucking on these oxygen inhalers as they kind of trudged up in a, in a line up Mount Fuji, but that was an experience for sure. Um, so Deni, tell us about your channel, for everyone who’s going to rush into subscribe after listening. Your channel is, uh, named Deni Mintsaev and you, as I mentioned… it’s your name, you, uh, create content about your, um, language learning journey with Japanese. What can people expect moving forward for your channel when they subscribe?

Deni: Uh, I’ve actually never really thought about specifically making videos about Japanese. I just really make videos about whatever I’m interested in and if it’s Japanese at the time, then that’s what I’ll make a video about. Uh, I actually still, uh, want to make a video. Uh, where I made a video before I left, uh, where I spoke Japanese. And the idea was this was actually from a comment that somebody left, uh, suggesting this, that I record myself speaking Japanese before leaving, and then once I return, uh, I still need to the return video.

Uh, so that’ll be interesting. And, uh, I recently, um, Made a, a video, which I had a lot of fun making uh, about my adventures in Japan, uh, I would definitely recommend people to check out that one. Uh, I detail my different trips that I went on and show all sorts of photos. And, uh, yeah, I had a lot of fun making that one, so I hope you guys will see it and enjoy it.

Elle: Excellent. Give people that, that travel bug, which I know a lot of us have, who haven’t been able to travel for sure. So, obviously you’re all about the Japanese right now. Do you think you’ll move on to another language sometime soon? Or are you sticking with the Japanese for the foreseeable future?

Deni: Uh, I’m actually taking a little bit of a break. Uh, I I’ve done this many times in the past. Um, uh, so I’ll probably get back to Japanese very soon. I don’t think I’ll be switching to another language quite yet. But yeah, I’ll be getting back on the Japanese train and the thing I’m the most interested in right now is the writing. I just want to learn more and more Kanji so I can read more, uh, because I’ve kind of been enjoying reading more than, um, watching stuff lately. So, uh, when it comes to Japanese. So I think I’ll, uh, focus more on that. Um, as soon as I, you know, get the, get the kick to, uh, to learn from it. Uh, but yeah, I, I have a few different hobbies that I, uh, work on from time to time. Uh, so I might make videos about other things too.

Elle: Okay. Well, one of those hobbies is something you also create videos on, on this channel, and I want to ask you about it.

So your channel is about language learning, but also about Rubik’s cube which I find fascinating, this whole thing. I’ve never been able to complete one. So maybe that’s why, I haven’t really tried not mathematically minded at all. But, um, I wanted to ask you, do you think that, uh, your interest in kind of the strategy and the way your mind works around Rubik’s cube has helped you in any way learn languages? Deni: I, I would say that maybe it’s the opposite, that it’s the same kind of interest. Uh, just like subconscious interests that I have that has made me interested in both of those, uh, Rubik’s cubes aren’t really as much about maths as there are just about I guess, logic. Um, and there is also a lot of logic when it comes to languages.

Um, and yeah, because you know, there is a grammar rule. Uh, there are, uh, also in Japanese, you have the Kanji, uh, which there’s also some logic in how you write them, uh, and how you read them. Uh, there are all sorts of things that are about languages that are, um, kind of that make you think. Uh, and yeah, I, that’s something that kind of interests me a lot. Um, in the same way I find programming interesting. Kind of makes you think and yeah, just different things like that.

Elle: Great. There’s a great movie on Netflix. I’m not sure if you’ve seen it at, uh, and I don’t remember the name right now, of course, but it’s about the championships. It follows a bunch of the people who are training to be… I think there’s a championship in the states. Um, I’ll find the, the title. Deni: Are you talking about the Rubik’s cube championship? Oh, oh yeah, the Speed Cubers yeah.

Elle: Okay. I thought that was such a great film. It was, it wasn’t just, you know, it was so well done in that it wasn’t just about Rubik’s cube. It obviously followed these people and you got to know them and everything that they get out of being part of the Rubik’s cube community is just very, very sweet. Deni: Yeah.

I actually met a lot of those people and, uh, I thought, cause that was, um, most of the filming was in the, in Australia, at the world championship in 2019. And I went to that one and I played a lot.

Elle: Oh, no way! So you were there when they filmed that exact…

Deni: Yeah, was watching the, the filming crew, um, and, uh, I have a video that I made myself as well.

Elle: Oh, nice. Is that on your channel?

Deni: Yes. Uh, I think it’s just called like world championship in Australia or something like that. Uh, I uploaded it at the end of 2019.

Elle: Fantastic. And do you, are you in the movie? I know they show the audience a bit. Did you ever see yourself?

Deni: No.

Elle: You didn’t make the cut. Okay. Excellent. Well, listen, Deni, thank you so much. That was a really interesting chat. Uh, I will pop the link to your channel and the content you mentioned. And that movie that we just talked about too, in the description, uh, best of luck with taking the, the JLPT N1, uh, maybe you passed this this first time you took it, who knows, but if not best of luck.

Deni: I hope that I at least got like a 70 or something like that, although that’s out of 180, not out of a hundred, so it’s a low bar, but it’s a very, very difficult. Elle: Yes. Like I said, I’ve heard, I’ve heard, I know one person who living in Japan, who, who passed it quite recently and he was just over the moon, the amount of work that went in to him actually finally getting it. So, um, but yeah, best of luck. And, uh, yeah thank you so much for joining us Deni and, uh, yeah have a great rest of your week.

Deni: Thank you for having me too.

Elle: Bye-bye.

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