They say that a wise man knows that he knows nothing. If that’s the case, then I just got taught some serious wisdom! Here I am in Chapter 19 of みんなの日本語, and, every now and then, I get to thinking that maybe I know some Japanese.
I had the chance to have a conversation with a very nice Japanese lady. She is fluent in English and, in fact, teaches Japanese to Americans.
What I discovered was that I don’t really know very much Japanese after all! Not that she went out of her way to tell me that. I kind of picked up on that message all by myself based on how little I understood of what she was saying to me. It was a humbling experience certain to take the wind out of a student’s sails.
Now, here’s the important point: IT DOESN’T MATTER.
After all, let’s be realistic here. Although I spent 3 months or so learning the Kanji, that wasn’t really learning Japanese. That was just preparing to learn Japanese. The beginning of Phase 3, vocabulary and grammar, was September 13, 2015. That means that I have really been studying Japanese for just 6 months.
Wait a minute. Has it really been six months?! Let me check…30 days has September…it has been six months! (Well, and a couple of days.)
Congratulations to me! I had officially stuck with Phase 3 for SIX MONTHS!!! Wow! That sound you can’t hear is me patting myself on the back.
So I’ve basically been studying Japanese for six months. So what if I got humbled in a conversation? I think that these six months have been very fruitful and I have learned a lot, but six months isn’t really that long a time for learning a language, especially while living someplace where that language isn’t routinely spoken, so there’s no point in getting down about not understanding things. That’s why it doesn’t matter that I wasn’t able to hang with that conversation.
For me, the important thing is to look back over the last six months, realize that I have been pretty darned consistent in my studies and I have learned quite a lot. Sure, there’s a lot left to learn, but that just means I won’t get bored. I stuck with learning the Kanji. I stuck with memorizing vocabulary. I got up the nerve to try Skype lessons and to participate in a language exchange. I learned quite a lot of grammar. I am about 3/4 of the way through my first Japanese textbook, studying every page of every chapter.
If you focus on what you can’t do, you get demotivated. If you focus on how much you’ve accomplished and celebrate your victories, you get remotivated. Easy choice, right?
What if I was a different guy? What if, instead of looking back at all I’ve accomplished, I was a guy looking back at the time he tried to learn Japanese but wasn’t consistent, didn’t focus and gave up? What if, after six months, I was looking back regretfully and thinking, “You know, maybe I should give that Japanese thing another try…”
But I’m not. There’s a cause for celebration right there.
Now, I could be comparing myself to someone else and thinking, “But that guy learned more than I did in six months…” THAT DOESN’T MATTER EITHER. It isn’t a race, and I’m not interested in speed. I’m interested in consistency. I am going to be studying Japanese for a long time to come.
Niko over at Nihongoshark.com said it best: Keep swimming. You are crossing an ocean.
Learning a language is a long term project. If you can say to yourself, “This week I know more Japanese than I did last week,” or “Today, I know more Japanese than I did yesterday,” then you are on the right track and you are going to be a Japanese speaker one day.
My own version of Niko’s quote is this: Learning Japanese isn’t hard. Putting in the consistent daily effort required to learn Japanese is hard.
But, you know what? I’ve done it for six months. That means that I can do it for another six months. If I know this much Japanese is six months, how much will I know after a year of consistent effort?
I’ll let you know in six months.