I have been learning Japanese now for several years, though most productively and with somewhat more of a structure, since August last year. So I guess, I have been studying since 2015.
In that time I have learned many things about learning a language as much as learning the actual language itself.
So far, I have found:
You can’t rush learning a language
I tried, and failed to rush preparing for the JLPT N5 last year. Initially I signed up with major ambition and mostly to have it as a looming figure of necessity – as long as the test was there, I had to study every day for it otherwise I would feel guilty (after all, it wasn’t exactly a cheap test).
Then I got cocky, and thought “I am totally gonna ace this test, man!”
I didn’t, I failed.
But – no regrets. It did indeed push me to study a lot harder than I would have done. And my fail score wasn’t *that* bad.. But most importantly in that time I picked up good study habits, found my best way of working and plenty of great resources.
So I am certainly not beating myself up about the failure. Which leads on to..
Getting demotivated is totally normal
Some days I get totally overwhelmed with my progress – I’ll go into a conbini, or out with my friends and everything goes WHOOOOOOOSH over my head and I feel really dumb. Especially when people back home say “oh but you have been here X many months now!”.
Yah. I know.
BUT then I have super awesome days which pick me right back up again, like a few weeks later or even a month later, something I didn’t understand before, I can totally read!
See that sign for veggies? 野菜！ I can totally read that now!
牛肉 鶏肉 豚肉 eat all the meats! 花や is a florist! (Oh THAT’S what that shop is. Great!)
As long as I pick myself back up, up UP! again, nothing is stopping me. I can chug along at my own little pace.
Even if you live in the country, you won’t just ABSORB the language
Urrgh so many people told me that by moving to the country it would be super easy to learn the language and I would just pretty much absorb it.
LIES AND SLANDER!!
Okay, it is one hundred million times more easy to learn the language here, because I have plenty more reasons to use it (I had to go way out of my way to use Japanese back in the UK), and yes I am surrounded by things I must force myself to learn to understand.
But it hasn’t come without great effort. I have to actively study (almost) every day. I have to pick up my phone and google a new word, or jissho that kanji! My brain is constantly on the go now and that is good because I am getting old, and as one of my conversation students has reminded me, learning a language is good to starve off Alzheimer’s so it is best to get started early. (He is fab. I love him and his stories).
I have met, and heard of, plenty of other foreigners who have lived here a lot longer than me and know even less Japanese than I do right now. I was shocked at first, but then they told me they don’t study. So yeah. Studying~
Everyone can give advice on how to study but there really isn’t a “set way” to study
I live near a couple of near fluent/high level non-native speakers of Japanese. These guys have been studying for a lot longer than I have been and so their efforts have clearly paid off, although they are still working at it (good on them!).
These lovely peeps, combined with plenty of online searches and numerous training sessions with work, have provided me with a tonne of resources and “ways to study”.
Eurrgh. Where is my magic formula for language learning?! Where is the structure?! Why am I not fluent yet?! ARRRGGGHHH.
That’s pretty much a verbalisation of my feelings over the past 6/7 months living here and attempting to study. Then I came to the revelation:
THERE IS NO SPOON.
Wait, no, I mean
THERE IS NO WAY TO STUDY.
Studying is a lifetime commitment. I just have to have a passion for it and want to keep doing it. Cheesy, I know. But, I finally found my reasons for wanting to keep studying so it has been a lot more fun (I have made some lovely Japanese friends, couple of new manga series out I want to read instead of pick up translated, my own art projects and career prospects…)
I know that I am a very practical and visual learner. Text books just don’t cut it for me, nor does a read and repeat approach. I don’t quite soak things up like a sponge so listening isn’t always effective.. but we are blessed with an amazing digital age with plenty of fab free resources as well as good paid stuff. I found myself some apps, websites and other resources that really work in my favour and so now I am feeling pretty good about my study habits. It has taken me a hell of a long time to get here, but sticking to it pays off.
And finally, the one big thing I tell all of my English students..
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes
Or, if I could say it as I wanted to – “don’t be scared of making a tit of yourself”
No one gives a crap if you get it wrong. No one gives a flying poop if you wrote the wrong letter, or said the words in the wrong order. You’re attempting to speak in a completely different language. You’re communicating. That is by far the most important thing about learning a language, learning to communicate your ideas, feelings and thoughts.
Who cares if it isn’t 100% correct. It just makes it easier if it is.
Go you. Keep doing it.
That’s what I keep telling myself, anyway.
To me, learning a language is like doing a great big puzzle. You start at the edges and it is always a little frustrating. But bit by bit, piece by piece, it all slowly starts coming together and it stops being difficult and starts becoming fun.