WOW This is Actually Happening

by David · 12 comments

FrustrationIn the Beginning

I set out to learn Japanese at the beginning of the year. Although I had never studied an Asian language I was confident. I told myself I could do it and believed. At the time I had been studying Spanish for approximately seven months and I was happy with my progress. I could communicate. I was able to help those studying English and they could use Spanish as their crutch. It’s difficult to describe the feeling you get when you speak to a foreigner in their language and they understand you. I dare describe it as one of the best feelings in the world. Yes, in the world! I acquired a thirst and hunger for this feeling. I wanted more so I added another language to my list for study.

I chose Japanese for a few reasons. One, Japanese culture is amazing and I want to be apart of it one day. Two, Japanese is widely considered as one of the most difficult languages to learn for an English speaker. My experience with Spanish, although I had not reached fluency, had me feeling I could do anything. I wanted to prove it to myself so I jumped in.

A Little After the Beginning

I’ve focused most of my attention on the Japanese writing system. One, It’s what most fascinates me. Two, I’m still learning and experimenting with ways to manage multiple language study.

Learning Kanji has been a bumpy ride. At times it has been easy and other times difficult. I don’t attribute the difficulty with the language. I allowed myself to become frustrated and as a result my progress was hindered. I tormented myself. I told myself it was difficult. I told myself I couldn’t do it. A lot of my energy was focused on telling myself the reasons why I couldn’t as opposed to searching for a solution. As positive as I am, I caught myself slipping into a self-destructive spiral. It’s a place I’ve been before so I knew the only way to pick myself up again was to look for solutions.

Although I knew what it felt like to go through difficult challenges I allowed for the little voice in my head to take over. Fortunately, I caught myself – quickly. I had a sudden epiphany when I visited a Japanese website and recognised no less than one hundred different Kanji. This feeling was orgasmic – I kid you not. I was looking at a Japanese web page and I could tell you the meaning of approximately one hundred Kanji. I couldn’t believe it.

I realised what I had been doing. I had been comparing Japanese with my experience learning Spanish – expecting to progress at the same pace. Which is of course a ridiculous expectation:

  • I’m learning a new writing system
  • There are almost no words in Japanese that sound like their English equivalent.
  • The grammar is completely different.

My expectations were not at the forefront of my mind. Nevertheless, these expectations were present. I had set myself a goal with a deadline with no idea of the pace I would progress (nor had I thought about it). By default I unconsciously compared Japanese with Spanish.

I was tormenting myself for not meeting my undefined expectations. I gave little credit to what I had learnt because I wanted more.

I went on to experiment with methods of learning Kanji and I’ve now found what works for me. I’m now learning on average twenty Kanji a day. Sometimes I learn more; sometimes I learn less. What matters is knowing more than I did yesterday.

I’m actually learning Japanese!

What’s This All About?

If you’ve made it to this point in my story you may be wondering why I’m sharing this with you:

I face difficulties as confident as I am with learning. I’ve learnt to break down the acquisition of knowledge and skill into its core components, which I want to share with you all. However, more importantly, I’m here to share with you how I jump over hurdles. This I believe to be the single most important component when learning anything.

There are a lot of bloggers telling people how to learn a language. I’m not in that business. I’m here to explain and show people how to learn. I believe to achieve this I need to share my failures and describe how I feel. I hope to share something you can relate to. I can share how I do things, but to you it will be theory. Disappointment, frustration and dissatisfaction are emotions we have all felt. By making a point of sharing the emotions attached to my experiences, I hope to make my advice more alive for you and thus more effective.

Today’s lesson is simple.

When you face a hurdle, keep trying, keep going, don’t stop and remember when you get frustrated you can always go back and try jumping over the hurdle another time.

  • Chris

    Great post and I agree with your main point entirely: we mustn’t be discouraged by hurdles or slow progress. They are to be expected when learning anything new. I think a very useful, indeed necessary, mindset to adopt when taking on something new, difficult and strange like Japanese (or in my case Chinese) is a sense of longterm focus. Too often people attempt a language or a musical instrument and give up only weeks or months into the process, and I think is due at least partly to a lack of longterm focus. With Chinese, for instance, I am under no illusions of reading novels or comprehending news broadcasts or holding meaningful conversations anytime soon. This is partly due the exotic and different nature of Chinese and partly because I am balancing other
    languages. So by studying Chinese with a sense of longterm planning I am able to “immunize” myself as it were from discouragement at my lack of substantial progress. After all, if the acquisition of a native-like command of Chinese as a foreign language were so easy and trivial, the task would likely present itself as boring and pointless to me anyway!

    • I agree with you Chris. I’ll also add that together with long-term focus is knowing that you’re not i a position to judge how long it will take. Often we make predictions and feel as though we’re are failing when in fact we’re succeeding, but just not as quick as we WANT we just can’t control everything.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  • Congrats!

    Here is a Japanese-related reward, filled with kanji, kana, slang, and swearing:

  • Anonymous

    Every hurdle is an opportunity to learn. The lessons may be bigger than we know or like though. At times we learn more about ourselves than about the languages we’re learning. But we keep learning, keep going and in the end we feel the swelling pride of a job well done, of giving it our best – regardless of the result. I love Hemingway’s The Old Man in the Sea for this reason. He loses the fish, but he fought the fight. That is all he could ask of himself. At the end of the day, we sleep well when we know we have worked hard and given it our best. Some days our best isn’t good enough. On those days, it’s good to know that the sun will rise again and we will have our chance to fight again. Keep up the inspiring posts David. Keep going!

  • Great message! It sounds like you’re making some pretty good progress with Japanese. =D

  • Great message! It sounds like you’re making some pretty good progress with Japanese. =D

  • Very inspiring article. I definitely feel that way with English sometimes.

Previous post:

Next post: