My Language Learning Rollarcoaster

When I arrived in Japan I was full of wild and misguided confidence about my ability to learn Japanese. I fear I lost sight of reality a little in these initial days of new hope and home. It turns out, learning a new language is really tough and hoping you absorb it through osmosis is not that effective a technique to employ…

It seems obvious to us now that just being exposed to the language and doing some haphazard study was never going to be enough to learn it. After all, it takes babies using this technique at least five years before they can hold the most basic conversation. I think I had left my intelligence at the door slightly when I knowingly shook my head in agreement with those who told me ‘of course you’ll learn the language, you’ll be living there’. I felt smug as I departed the UK that by Christmas 2016 I was going to be fluent in Japanese. Ok, so I am exaggerating slightly, but I certainly did expect that I would learn some language just by being exposed to it on a daily basis. As it turns out, hearing thousands of words you do not understand at native speakers speed has in no way helped me to learn Japanese! That is more of a daily onslaught…

So in the past few weeks I have taken a different approach. I have decided to invest a little financially and conduct some actual research into language learning. At first I had considered researching techniques a waste of precious time when I could be studying Japanese. Yet, five months in and several study books completed later, I am not much further on. It is clear the ‘see’, ‘repeat’, ‘write down in a book’ method just isn’t for me.

To start, I knew I was a visual learner but I thought it would be worth finding out just how visual I am. So I took a V (visual) A (auditory) K (kinesthetic) test online. There are hundreds, so I picked one with around 100 questions to be suitably thorough but not take a few hours. It showed me that I am around 85% visual! This was a pretty important thing to be aware of as since then it has now directed my study techniques. Consequently, I have focused only a little on ‘listening’ and more on painting pictures in the labyrinth of my mind. I feel a little like Sherlock Holmes as I add to my mind-palace.

Dan is happy to maintain a more traditional technique of textbook use. While this works well for him, my study is more varied and conducted in short, sometime still admittedly erratic, bursts. I am a Premium Plus member of Japanese Pod101 where I can watch short video clips, listen to dialogue, and access study tools. I’ve purchased Japanese 80/20 to learn more about grammar and how sentences are constructed so that I can visualize the particles slotting into place. I am using Wanikani for my kanji practice, and admitting it will take me years. I am practicing the technique of growing a mind palace for vocabulary and using flashcards to structure that learning. We are also making some new friends and exchanging language. I have so many techniques and ideas on the go that learning is varied, visual, a little frantic but more enjoyable than a few months ago.

This was my main goal. ENJOYABLE. When I first arrived I hated studying and found it really demotivating and boring. All logic and study aids were telling me I had to speak from day one. When you have just moved to a new country full of native speakers and are sometimes unable to pick-up the correct goods at the supermarket due to a total language breakdown, you may find your confidence affected. I did and still do. Everyone around me knows when I have made an error; there are no safe spaces to practice here. So, I needed to inject a little more fun into my learning without spending much money. I think I now on the road to achieving that. I know, ultimately, I need to speak more. But, hey, one step at a time for this overwhelmed Brit. At least I don’t now hate studying and crave moving to a big city so I don’t have to speak Japanese…

Plus, using visual aids is creating a few laughs with colleagues at work. Today I shared with a colleague that I remember ‘carrot’ (ninjin) as two really important orange people dressed up as bunny rabbits eating carrots whilst hopping into the White House…Jin is person and nin is almost ni (two) so there is some visual logic to it! Fun was had all round and I am now unlikely to forget carrot at least.

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