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Learning a Language – Two Years Reflection

April 22, 2017

I started studying Japanese while in high school. Growing up with movies/anime like Kiki’s Delivery Service, Laputa, Sailor Moon, and Card Captor Sakura; it’s only natural that I derived an interest in Japanese culture and language.

While I studied the first 6 chapters of the Genki series abroad in Canada, I wasn’t able to financially continue to study the language until I transferred back to a university in the States. Because that class didn’t transfer, I had to wait a year and lapsed back into “English only” mode. Given that you can’t say, do, or think much in Japanese with just the first 6 chapters, this was not surprising.

Finally Fall of 2015, I was able to start pursuing a minor in the language. Now, with only a few weeks left to the 4th semester, 23 chapters, 300+ kanji, and 1500+ vocab later, I can reflect on the experience.

The first thing I can say is in the first few months of study, you get this high every time something you write or say is correct. If you’re lucky and taking classes, you’ll even get a teacher that doesn’t mind your mistakes and corrects you without punishment. After those few months, some people – like me – feel they’ve already gone so far. They feel overly confident and don’t realize just how much further they have to go.

Then you reach the second year – or even the second textbook in the series and find that there’s so much more to learn and you really know nothing compared to the scope of the actual language – and that’s okay!

Again, if you’re lucky, this time you’ll have a stricter teacher. She’ll mark and count each mistake, chipping away that overloaded confidence you had previously gained.

This is great. Language learners need to realize that in the end it doesn’t matter if they make mistakes because everyone does. I make horrendous mistakes in English all the time. We just gotta laugh it off.

So don’t worry if all you find yourself doing is making giant blaring mistakes. Keep pushing through the language and eventually you will hit the end of the tunnel.

Funny right?

I’m serious.

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At some point, whether it be months or years down the line, the language just clicks. Everything just clicks and it’s like exiting a large dark tunnel into a bright sunny day – get the Spirited Away reference? It’s amazing.

I can look at other languages that I previously struggled with for what felt like ever, like French, and just learn it.

Having a greater knowledge of how different languages work, allows us to jump in and pursue a new language at a greater pace. I’m not talking about knowledge of your native language, forget that. I’m talking about all the second, third, and fourth languages. Once you get the second out of the way, the rest easily follows.

For those unaware, Japanese is rated as one of the hardest languages to learn. If you Google “language learning difficulty”, you’ll find plenty of references atoning to the easiest and hardest languages. For example, I just could not learn French. I could understand it but could not retain the vocab or understand the grammar construct. French is a category one, basically needing 600 class hours to gain decent proficiency – if you’re a native English speaker of course. Japanese however is a category 4 language and is rated at around 2000+ class hours and is one of the most difficult for native English speakers to learn.

Because I actually focused on a hard language first, the French I’d previously attempted to learn became significantly easier than before. Even then, it’s my personally belief that Japanese is easier than French. I could not learn French at all, even with daily interaction. It just did not work in my head. Japanese was easy to pick up just from daily interaction.

SO I urge you, not matter how “hard” the language is perceived, learn what you want because you want to learn it. The others will follow if you pick up interest in them later.

As for the two year reflection. I was so naive as a beginner, compared to now and I still have a long way to go but the journey will be easier with the foundation I’ve set forth.

There’s an interesting conundrum I’d like to note before signing off. That is, don’t worry if someone speaks to you in your native tongue and you just can’t for the life of you understand what they’re saying. I didn’t consult a doctor or linguist but I’m sure it’s natural when you have enough ground in more than one language.

It’s super entertaining because someone will say something to me in English and I’ll have to ask them to repeat but no matter how many times they repeat it – I just can’t understand them. The first time I noticed it was when a guy in one of my business classes had tried to ask me out – keep in mind I’m married already (+wear a ring) so I of course would have said “no”. But I couldn’t because I just couldn’t understand what he was saying. I was also sick with congestion at the time so it was hard to hear. I only realized what he said later while replaying the scenario over in my head.

Just the other day my husband and I were talking and he said something – I don’t know what. Finally he gave up after repeating it a few times because it just would not click.

Have you experienced something similar? Tell me your language stories in the comments below!

-Crystal