I’ve spent about equal number of years studying two different languages, Spanish and Japanese, but each has been an entirely unique experience. In a comparison, I have gained a number of lessons about what it takes to learn a new language.
I started learning Spanish in middle school, thinking I’d get a head start on a language that was quickly becoming more and more useful. I continued for three more years in high school, but even with four years of study under my belt, I never truly felt very invested in the language. I could replicate the accent relatively well, I never had a problem with memorizing vocabulary and picking up new conjugations, so subsequently each class was an easy A. My main weakness was in listening, particularly when the exercises demonstrated accent changes based on regional differences. The ultimate problem, however, was that I really had no personal interest in learning Spanish at all. I didn’t much like Spanish-language music, didn’t care for any Spanish television programs, had no friends that spoke Spanish. Only on one occasion did my study come in handy when I gave a gentleman directions on the street. But since that time five years ago, I’ve never used it and it’s rusted away in my mind to almost nonexistence.
Japanese has been the opposite experience. I started self-studying Japanese after developing a major interest in the country and its culture. Japanese music was starting to fill my iPod, my free time was centered on Japanese anime and dramas. I was naturally immersing myself into the language, and developed a sense of the accent and grammar, as well as a handful of vocabulary. Like a child, I was picking up phrases used in certain situations based on my observation from tv shows and movies. I could even sometimes predict beginnings of sentences before the character even spoke. I was learning Japanese without even being consciously aware of it! I started taking Japanese courses in college, and have stuck with it for four years. I can read somewhere over a thousand kanji, I can hold conversations with my Japanese boyfriend, and more and more I’m finding I can understand my fast-talking sensei as well as Japanese shows without subtitles. I might currently lack considerable confidence when it comes to speaking, but I’m getting steadily better with time and practice. I still love learning the language, but it’s definitely been a challenge. Due to my hope to become more or less fluent, I become easily frustrated when I can’t see any noticeable progress toward that end. But when I look back on where I was years ago, I can see that I really have come a long long way. What’s even more important is that I haven’t yet lost any sense of enjoyment in learning about Japanese culture, so I don’t see my passion fading any time soon. Four months spent studying in Japan was an experience that further boosted my infatuation with the country, and the next time my life’s journey takes me there, I hope to enhance that next experience even further by being able to speak with others and explore more! まだまだだけどね。。
So the main lesson I learned while studying Spanish versus Japanese is that passion makes a huge difference. Not only that, but learning about the culture really aids toward understanding the language. When you get into a “Japanese mindset” it’s much easier to pick up and use the language. In a way, it takes some acting skill to develop a “Japanese” persona, although don’t take it too far to become one of the cringe-worthy weeaboos. ＞＜
Immersion is a real thing, and I encourage anyone who has a real passion for learning any language to find the ways that make studying fun!