In 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.