Peter Johnstone Learns Japanese


Around the holidays, Casady’s class of 2022 took in its newest addition: Peter Johnstone (’22) from Brooklyn, New York. 

Peter moved to Oklahoma City in December. He had been living in Brooklyn, but grew tired of online learning (Peter’s school in New York had been fully remote for almost a year as a result of the pandemic). His relocation to OKC, however, was not Peter’s first move. From ages zero to four, Peter lived in New York before moving to Austria for a year. He then returned to NYC where he remained until age eleven, when he moved yet again to Cambridge, England. By the time Peter entered his teen years, he had returned to New York, and he lived there until his arrival in OKC. 

Johnstone has led a rather nomadic lifestyle. It follows, then, that Peter often finds his interest sparked by the lifestyles and languages of foreign cultures. These interests have recently drawn Peter in a new direction: Japan. Last summer, out of sheer curiosity and passion, Peter set out to gain fluency in the Japanese language. To most, this task might seem laborious, even daunting. To Peter, however, it’s just plain fun. 

In the beginning of his language journey, Peter attempted to use Duolingo for about a week, but he quickly abandoned this technique, as he found it largely ineffective. Instead, Peter turned toward a more traditional approach: rote memorization of the traditional Japanese characters, kanji. Towards the beginning of his learning experience, Johnstone would devote around ten hours a day to his studies, exposing himself to the language as much as possible by listening to podcasts, watching TV shows, and reading books in Japanese. Once he began to develop a stronger grasp of the language, Johnstone even changed his iPhone settings to display its text in Japanese. 

Peter explained that there are about three thousand kanji in common use. Of those three thousand, he has already made a significant dent: he knows about one-and-a-half thousand kanji. With his current arsenal of Japanese vocabulary, Johnstone can comfortably read and comprehend basic Japanese literature. At times, however, the progress can feel slow. For example, he was recently gifted a Japanese manga series called One Piece. These books take Peter around five hours each to read cover-to-cover. In order to better grasp the pronunciation, Peter tries to speak the text out loud and enunciate the syllables. 

Although much of his experience with the Japanese language thus far has largely been centered around listening and reading, Peter hopes to spend a year after high school living in Japan in order to hone his speaking skills. He plans to board with a family in Japan and attend a regular high school there. 

So far, Peter estimates that he has invested upwards of six hundred hours learning Japanese. Even amidst his busy school schedule, he devotes around three hours to his studies each day. I know what you may be thinking: six hundred hours is a lot of time. To Peter, however, it hardly feels like work: “The language itself is motivation enough. Once you start to learn and get better, it just fuels the desire to continue learning.”