I recently hit a milestone in my Japanese learning journey. In the beginning of coming to Japan, as I’ve written in previous posts, Japanese has not been the most friendly to me. It has been pretty rough in the first few months here, so much so I almost felt like giving up because I was so lousy at Japanese. To quote a friend who is practically fluent in Japanese, “You gotta want it.” And wanting it, I did. I believe one of the most important aspects of language learning is being honest with yourself. If you are constantly believing you’ll eventually get it, without fully knowing what it actually is, chances are you probably won’t. For myself, I sat down one day, extremely frustrated with myself after another bad quiz result and wrote a list of what I was good at with Japanese and what I was bad at. I wrote things like I have a good memory, so it’ll help with kanji learning. I’m terrible at grammar, listening and speaking, which to anyone else probably looks bad. For me, at the time, it was very reassuring. Now I can see exactly what I need to work on. After just a short time, I saw amazing improvements in my Japanese. I was making jokes in Japanese with my host mom, having deeper conversations with my conversation partners and overall, I was growing a confidence in using Japanese more and more even if it was partially wrong.That being said, I have two huge tips from the advice of my professors in which has made a significant difference in my language learning.
- It’s okay to speak English, but you can’t speak English only.
For some reason, this tip from my Japanese speaking professor struck me deep in my core. When you’re studying abroad, especially for language learning, it can feel your native language is prohibited, unwanted, illegal and whatever else. We’ve all heard the more you speak the language you’re learning ,the more you’ll retain it and it’s absolutely true. However, when you’re just starting out and you barely know how to ask which way is the bathroom, that fact can be very intimidating and can put a lot of guilt on one’s shoulders. My speaking professor so simply put, “As long as you’re trying, you’re learn.” So, try speaking the most of the language you already know and add words in your native language to fill in the blanks. Trust me when I tell you, your professors and others around will understand you, and isn’t that the whole point in language learning? Communication, not perfection. Once I started doing this, I felt more comfortable and less frighten to be wrong or ask for help.
- Take advantage of where you are.
Yes, language learning is important and in my opinion, should be your main focus, but it shouldn’t be your only focus. My Japanese food culture professor told me to go out experience what Japan has to offer. Of course he was talking about eating traditional Japanese set meals, but it also applies to language learning. Go out, travel, ask the locals what their favorite food is, even if you only understand half of what their talking about. I’m so blessed I live really close to a lot of mom and pop shops and businesses. In the beginning of my time in Japan, I was absolutely terrified going into these shops because I knew they only spoke Japanese. I would pass them by despite being so desperately curious on the food being served or the sale on clothes. One day, I passed a ramen shop, a shop that smelt so good all the times. I stopped dead in my tracks, turned around and kept saying, “What’s the worst that can happen?” I went in, had a delightful conversation with the woman working there, had a delicious meal and most of all, I felt even more confident in myself as a person. Go out and use the language, not just at your university. And go alone! Don’t rely on friends that know the language better than you or your host family. You’ll be surprised on how much you know, how much more you need to improve on, you’ll laugh, you’ll struggle and you’ll learn. Again, it’s communication, not perfection.
I hit a milestone in my language learning journey. I started speaking more in class, asking questions in Japanese, going to places and talking to locals. Last week, I made a joke in Japanese, me, someone who almost gave up. For all of those out there learning what feels at this moment an impossible language, truly celebrate what you already know and take light what seem rough now, because there’s still time to improve. Don’t try to learn the whole language in one go. Instead, break it up in segments. It’s you versus a challenge. And my bet is on you.
Seeing new heights,