Animal Crossing New Horizons is finally available, and I have spent all my free time playing the game since its release date. I was worried that New Horizons would severely take away my study time, so I have spent the whole month of March thinking about ways to integrate the game into my Japanese study routine.
When I played New Leaf, the previous game in the Animal Crossing series, playing in Japanese alone was a good reading practice. My level must have been around N4 at the time, though I cannot remember exactly. I just know that everything in New Leaf was challenging, from what the villagers said to the names of the various items. New Leaf has been a massive immersion in my early days with Japanese, and playing the game every day contributed to my progress in reading.
But with New Horizons, things are different. My reading level is now above the level of the game, even if I do encounter unknown words from time to time. Just playing the game and reading all the dialogues is not really enough to feel that I am making progress thanks to the game, or that my reading level is increasing.
This is why I have decided to use New Horizons to help me improve my writing level. New Leaf was all about reading in Japanese, New Horizons will be about writing. Even though I can read novels in Japanese, I almost never wrote in Japanese in my life. I did make several attempts to practice my writing before, but soon gave up every project I started. As a result, my writing level is very low, I make a lot of mistakes, cannot seem to find what is colloquial, cannot use properly the grammar that I have studied for the JLPT. My active vocabulary is also very limited. To sum it up, I am still a beginner when it comes to writing.
Improving my writing is not really one of my main goals in learning Japanese, but if coupled with playing Animal Crossing, it can be fun! I have started a physical diary to record what happens in the game.
Animal Crossing is perfect to write a diary
For those who don’t know Animal Crossing, it is a very slow paced game, where your character lives a carefree life among talking animals. You are free to organise your fictional life as you please. There is no main story, no main quest, no ultimate goal to achieve.
As such, Animal Crossing is a game that you can play for several years, just enjoying the change of seasons, doing daily chores, talking to other villagers, decorating your house and island, taking part in seasonal events, and so on. There is nothing that the game forces you to do, so you can just open the game from time to time and do whatever you want.
This is why I think that Animal Crossing is perfect to write a diary. First of all, your life in Animal Crossing is like a fictional life, so why not write about it? What you do in the game also depends on you, and different people will end up with very different islands and houses. It is a personal experience worth recording. If I were recording what happens in another role playing game, I would certainly end up just writing down the scenario of the game. But in Animal Crossing, as there is no scenario, you can have your own personal way of playing and tell your own story.
The pace of the game is also very slow, so you don’t feel like you are missing something if you pause the game to write down what just happened. With any other game, I just want to go on with the story, and I don’t think that I would have the patience to write anything down. If a character tells me to go somewhere or triggers a side quest, I just want to see what will happen next. But in Animal Crossing, if one of the villagers compliments me on the fitness tank top I am wearing today, I want to record it in my journal because it made me smile.
Why I always failed in keeping a diary in Japanese before
I cannot tell you how many times I thought of starting or actually started a diary in Japanese… to eventually give up. I am convinced that writing a diary in your target language is one of the best ways to improve in your language. If you start writing very early in your Japanese learning, even if you just write a sentence a day, even if you just write down the sentences you found in your textbook, imagine how comfortable you will be in writing in this language after years of practice.
Unfortunately, I have never been able to write for more than a few days in a row, and all my attempts have failed eventually. There are three main reasons why it never worked:
- I don’t feel like writing in my diary everyday
- I don’t know if what I write is correct or not
- Nothing interesting happened anyway
I am sure that you know what I am talking about… I start writing, but I don’t know if what I write is grammatically correct, if it is colloquial, and in the end, I end up thinking “what’s the point? If I go on like this, I will only get used to making the same mistakes”. It is frustrating to think that what I write might be wrong, or to have the feeling that everything I write sounds like a textbook. It does not sound natural or “Japanese”, it sounds like example sentences of a grammar textbook…
Then, I just don’t know what to write about. Nothing exciting happened, so I end up writing the same things that I wrote yesterday. In the end, all my entries look the same, and I feel like I am always writing the same thing. I also feel that I cannot use all the cool-looking grammatical patterns and words that I have learned. I have studied all the grammar from N5 to N1, but still, I can only use very basic patterns. It is discouraging.
Finally, writing a diary every day is not easy, even in your mother tongue. You need to be consistent and write even if you don’t feel like to. And when the excitement of the very first days is over (when I just bought a new notebook and feel that this time, I will stick with it), I just never feel like writing a diary in Japanese.
Animal Crossing New Horizons diary!
I figured out that writing an Animal Crossing diary solved all these problems.
First of all: writing every day or, at least, regularly becomes very easy! I want to play Animal Crossing everyday, and if I play, I also write in Japanese. I am not sighing “Ah yes, I need to write my diary in Japanese, what a bore…”. I am impatiently waiting for the moment of the day when I will be able to open the game and write what happened in my notebook.
I find it easier to talk about what my fictional character does than to write about my real day. I won’t think that “nothing interesting happened” because I find everything that happens in the game interesting. It is also easier to write about things if they are not too personal.
What happens in Animal Crossing might feel repetitive after some time, but I find that the game leaves a lot of space to imagination too. I feel that the more I write, the more fictional my diary will become, because I like filling the blank with stories or speculate on what the other villagers are saying to each other when I am not here, how their relationships evolve. For example, I saw two villagers singing together the other day. I won’t just write that they were singing side by side, but that they somehow became friends, that they may have a common passion in singing, or try to recall the other occurrences when I saw them together. This is just an example to say that there is plenty of things to write about, even if nothing much happens in the game.
And finally, writing an Animal Crossing diary is also easier for language learners. If you don’t feel confident in writing, like me, and feels that everything you write is wrong or sounds unnatural, it will be much easier to write from a game than to write from scratch.
The game will provide you with all the words you need to start writing. Let’s say that you don’t know how to say “watering can” in Japanese, it would be a chore to look up the word if you were writing a real diary. But the word “watering can” is sure to appear in the game when you use it. This makes writing much easier.
Also, you can use the dialogues to help you write longer sentences. If a villager says something, you can write that same sentence just adding something like “Tom Nook told me…”. Writing in this manner will be very satisfying. First of all, you know that what you wrote is correct in Japanese, because you took it from the game (You just need to be aware that some characters have their own way of speaking, and they all use different level of speech, from very polite to very casual). Also, if you write down what other characters say, or if you just use their dialogues as inspiration, you will use words or grammar that you are not familiar with.
I personally feels an immense sense of reward whenever I use new words. For example, one of the things you do in the game is to collect materials 材料・ざいりょう. This is a word I feel comfortable in using. But when Timmy asked me to collect “materials” to build a store, he used the word 資材・しざい instead. 資材 is used to talk about building materials, or materials for a construction site, which is exactly what we were talking about. I started using the word 資材 instead of 材料 when talking about the store building project. I felt that I had learned something, and that I was using the correct word.
Last but not least, using what characters say as basis to write your diary allows you to write a lot, which also feels extremely gratifying. Sometimes, I just write down an entire dialogue, because I find it funny or unique. Just writing things down as a quotation may look like cheating (after all, I should be writing my own sentences if I want to progress), but it allows me to fill the pages of my notebook quicker. When I see how much I have written, I feel proud and happy. It is encouraging and I am less tempted to give up if I see that I have already done so much.
One thing is certain: I never wrote that much in Japanese before.
Just having fun
You might ask why I don’t just enjoy the game without trying to be productive through it. I would answer that I actually enjoy the game even more because I am writing this diary. I love Animal Crossing so much that I feel that just playing it is not enough, I want to record everything that happens. I also like pausing the game to write about what a villager did or said, because they look so alive compared to New Leaf. The game is so beautiful, and they have put so many fantastic details in it, that I want to take the time to write about it.
I also love stationery, fountain pens, beautiful notebooks, stickers, washi tapes and “journal with me” videos on YouTube. I think that stationery is my third hobby, after learning Japanese and reading books. Writing the Animal Crossing diary is the combination of three things that make me happy: Japanese, talking animals, stationery.
In the end, I don’t think that my main purpose in writing this diary is to improve my Japanese as I said in the introduction. I am just having fun, and I found a personal way of enjoying the game even more.
Writing a diary in Japanese has always felt like a chore, but writing an Animal Crossing diary feels like the most enjoyable thing I have ever done in Japanese. This shows how important it is to associate language learning with something that you are passionate about! I have been playing the game for more than 10 days now, and I am diligently writing my New Horizons diary too.
If you are worried that playing Animal Crossing will take away some of your precious study time, I hope that this post can inspire you to start a journal of your own (either in Japanese, or any language available in the game)! And if you are not into stationery or writing by hand, you can also start a blog to write a digital diary, or just write short diary entries on Twitter.
(I am using the new block patterns from WordPress, I hope it displays as it should:)
I like to decorate my diary with stickers and washi tape, but I don’t always have the time to do it. Some pages are only text, and some pages are more elaborated like this one.
I find that taking the time to make my diary looks pretty makes me want to come back to it, open it and write in it. I am less tempted to give up.
For now, I don’t re-read what I have written, but I hope that, when I finish this notebook, I will be able to re-read my first entries and realise that I have made progress and that my writing has improved.
I also use a separate booklet where I write new words I learned through the game, their definition and the sentence in which their appeared.