2015 marks nine years since I moved to Japan. Nine years! That’s a hefty length of time to focus on a (no longer) new language.
Three years. That’s how long I lived in Japan. Three whole years! That’s a decent time to learn a language and in an immersion environment to boot.
Eight years. Eight years, I say! That’s how long I’ve been with my Japanese husband who also happens to be fluent in Japanese. That’s a lot of time spent with one fantastic person with ample opportunity, or so I would think, to become respectably skilled at Japanese.
But I’m not. And it’s embarrassing.
In the last month of practicing and studying, I realized how little Japanese I know and how truly pathetic it is, given the opportunities that have been right there all along.
I feel like a fraud! Here I am, trumpeting Japan in my daily life and on this blog, yet always from a primarily English perspective.
Being on the English side of the fence peering over into a Japanese land of mystery has gotten stale.
Am I lazy? It appears yes.
Do I have plausible reasons for being partially committed and mildly interested in learning Japanese? I’ll get back to you.
So, what is it? What has held me back?
I have no idea! But it’s time to change this silliness.
I learned to love goals years ago because they work.
I’m also a teacher and insist on goals in learning a language. That said, I have faulty wiring when it comes to following my advice.
Other than “learn Japanese”, I didn’t have specific goals. Perhaps this was one reason I barely tried beyond osmosis.
With great fanfare, I now present my Japanese language learning goals:
- I want to read Japanese books to and with my child.
- I want to read and write simple letters to my in-laws starting with one postcard a month using the words I know.
- I want to handle Skype calls with my in-laws without translation from hubby.
- And this is a new one. I want to tackle 2,000 basic kanji in six months. (More on this later!)
- And another new one. I want to write level 5 of the JLPT in December. This is the recognized standard of Japanese competency, although it only tests reading and listening. Level 5 is the lowest or basic level. Maybe I can handle level 4 by then but both levels require knowing kanji.
Near the beginning of April, I quit reading news cold turkey during baby’s nap and started studying hiragana and katakana for at least 30 minutes every day.
While I lapsed when baby decided napping was a horrible idea, I didn’t fuss and made it up later or let it go and started over the next day. (Ooo and ahhh, please. This is out of character.)
All this practice has meant that I can read hiragana and katakana with the occasional error and at a reasonable pace. Writing is progressing more slowly.
Up until baby arrived, Hitoshi quizzed me regularly on Japanese vocabulary and we started that up again. That’s been a great motivator in the sense that words I used to pause on are automatic when I relax my brain and trust my instinct.
I found a Kanji practice site earlier this year and then forgot all about it. I’m back studying the first 80 kanji for grade 1.
A History of Failure
All this progress has been beyond exciting. It’s a particularly big deal for me since I have tried to learn languages in the past but have not been successful at any.
The only redeeming and consistent achievement in every one has been above average pronunciation. A strong ear from years of piano lessons, singing and a permanent love of music are likely why.
Thinking back on the pre-Japanese linguistic adventures, six years of French left me with the ability to read a Canadian cereal box. This is no accomplishment; the English is right there, too.
Four years of German ended in confusion. The first three years had me communicating the basics, even though the dude in Berlin would only respond in English to my attempts in German during our high school trip.
My first year university German class was a disaster. I failed almost every single weekly quiz, the major paper, and mid-term exam. I only discovered the language lab and importance of regular study about one month before the final exam. I think my teacher was as stunned as me when I passed.
Partway through university, I moved to Finland for an exchange. My limited German came in handy since my roommate didn’t speak much English.
Finnish lessons were fun and it was easy to pick up the basics. By the end of the term, my social life took over for better or worse. Despite signing up for the second Finnish course, I gave up after seeing the famous 16 cases (as opposed to English’s 3) and remembering my silent slogan: social life or die!
Moving to Thailand to volunteer meant more language fun. The lessons in that first week of jet-lagged confusion were a mess. The teaching strategy was to hardball random words at us while we sat in a circle. We had one shot to memorize them before we were expected to toss them around like pros.
After a particularly bad morning, one of my peers informed me that I was having trouble because I was old. I was just past 30 but come on?! And what regular souls learn a language that way anyway?!
As for why I didn’t know much more three months later? Pure laziness.
And then along came Japan.
Keeping the ball rolling
I am most definitely a long-term partially committed and slightly interested language learner.
While I have not achieved my Japanese goals yet and it’s early in the process, I am excited to share the tips and tools I’ve been using. Perhaps they might help someone else get past the basics. I would also love to hear what others are doing.
The details along with the inspiration behind that big kanji goal are on their way so be sure to come on back.
Are you a language learning train wreck? What has got you past the pain? If you’re a wizard, what is your secret?!