You know, I’ve been doing this a really long time. For me, the journey has been longer than most. They say you learn in hours, not in years, and I believe that is true. But when something has been part of your life for so long, you can’t help but feel the weight of the years coming down on you. There have been times that I was beginning to accept that I may never know the wonderful, beautiful language at the level I would like, and I was at one point, willing to be okay with that. Is there an end to this I thought? Will I ever grow tired of this? How much more effort will it take? How much more of my time, how many more of my years? A change has to be made…
Recently, I‘ve been thinking a lot about my 20s. I know it’s not good to dwell on the past, but it was definitely the most exciting time for my Japanese. It was during that time that the language really came alive for me, when I spoke the most, made the most friends that had a mutual love for the language, was part of communities and groups. It was also during my 20s that I went to Japan a couple times and studied abroad. This was crucial in amplifying my love and interest in Japanese. Yet I also spent a lot of time alone. Studying at my desk with printed sheets of grid paper, writing Kanji over and over, walking around my studio apartment aimlessly listening to audio lessons on my Creative Zen Vision M, scouting out open tables at Starbucks that were big enough to hold all my study materials. Thinking about that now, I‘m surprised I was able to find a partner that liked doing the exact same boring thing. Yet, with all the studying, speaking and reading, the one element missing all those years was immersion. For some reason, it was just difficult for me to do. I’ve always been an impatient, anxious person even though people who meet me seem to think I’m some sort of zen being. I guess I don’t show it as much, but I certainly feel it, and only with age and habit forming have I learned to get better at it. I do look back and regret not watching more content, reading more, speaking more. I most definitely spent the better part of the last 10 or so years on Youtube and social media more than I have on studying Japanese, even though those are actually good tools for learning Japanese if you want them to be, I just didn’t use them for that. I’ve come a long way in reducing the time spent on those things and adding in more Japanese. Its been a bit of a process, but there has been progress. The first step was admitting that I had an addiction to it, and realizing that it was preventing me from moving forward in my goals.
A year has passed since I first decided I needed to make changes to my immersion habits. At that time I was watching everything and nothing on YouTube. I was only seemingly reading English content and staying up until 3 in the morning playing Skyrim. I was still doing Bunpro daily, and some Anki, but outside of that, that’s where my Japanese study and exposure ended. For most people, deciding to make changes at the beginning of the year typically ends in failure, and I also anticipated that failure despite my enthusiasm. At lot of us want to exersize more, eat better, study more, just do better overall. Yet, we tend to fall into the same habits. This has been the case for me many a time. But this time, that wasn’t that case I’m happy to say. Overall, I have to say that this time, it has been a success. Over the past year I have finished several series, read more in Japanese overall, spoken more, and watched more content than I have in the past few years combined. Yes, there were times that I slipped, times I didn’t study at much and other times when my attention was taken away from Japanese. Still, I created the habit of immersing more, and it’s something that has become a part of my daily life.
So for me the real question is, have I improved? Do I feel like my Japanese has gotten better? Honestly, I think it has. Not by leaps and bounds, but definitely more of a considerable bump than years prior. Not just because of the immersion, but reading more, learning more vocab and doing Bunpro daily. I can certainly say that I have more confidence in understanding more and having to stop less to look things up. Watching and listening is overall easier and I can do it for longer periods of time, reading doesn’t fatigue me nearly as much, and I find myself more often than not watching or playing something in Japanese in order to relax and to take a break. I think that’s a good sign. The most strenuous activity I do is probably still Bunpro and Anki flashcards.
I also have a bit of a confession about these article style posts. Well, I’m not sure if confession is the right word, but it certainly feels like one. I mostly wrote these for myself, and I even wrote 5 or 6 others that I didn’t post here and don’t plan to post. I quit social media a couple years ago after it started to affect my mental health, and I used to post a considerable amount. I would post article style posts like these about various social topics, and people seemed to like them. But those were also for me, as an outlet to express my inner most thoughts and feelings on various things. After I gave up social media for a few reasons, I Iost a platform of expression, but I found another one here. So even though I wrote these mostly for myself, if you read them, enjoyed them, and got something out of them, or even if you didn’t agree with some of the things I said, I really want to thank you for taking the time. I really felt like it helped me in keeping up my immersion journey going. Your comments and likes made me feel like my time writing these really was worth it. If you really enjoyed them and was something that you may have looked forward to, I will be slowing down and not posting monthly like I have been for a few reasons. Mainly to focus more on thinking and doing more in Japanese.
So where do I go from here? Now that I am immersing daily, I really want to take it to the next step. I really need to start doing more output in Japanese, be it speaking or writing. I do feel like I have lost some confidence in speaking, but I can get me grove back with a few sessions. It is something that has been sorely lacking over the past few years. How we’re going to do that, we’re not sure yet, but we will. As mentioned earlier, I will also not be posting these article style posts as much, possibly not at all. These posts take thought, energy, time, and do cut into my Japanese studies. It may not seem like it due to some of the misspellings, grammatical errors, and odd formatting, but I do proofread and edit these posts. Often times I write them throughout the month, so it’s not just at one shot, it’s a whole process. I dunno, I might start writing them in Japanese, who knows. Maybe even a hybrid to start. No promises, but it’s something I’ve thought about.
I’ve also come to a realization recently about Japanese in my life. If I decided to quit Japanese today…I just don’t think I could. Not matter how difficult it’s been, no matter how long it’s taken, no matter how much it’s cut into other things in my life including outings, relationships, and money making opportunities, I just don’t think I could do it. You would have to threaten my life or my loved ones for me to give it up. And even then, you couldn’t make me un-learn what I’ve already learned. I may forget some of it, but a good chunk of it will be there for the rest of my life. There will always be something there to remind me of what I’ve learned and the things I’ve been through. The Japanese words that have already been integrated into English such as sushi, shitake and tsunami. The newer ones like baka, kawaii, and emoji. There will inevitably be someone that mentions the ‘umami’ to describe a dish, that their favorite character is Rilla’kuma’, and realize that so many young people like to use -chan and -kun as suffixes and don’t think it’s a big deal at all. I would see the Kanji and katakana on a shirt and couldn’t ignore the fact that I can read it, or hear a song that has Japanese lyrics out of nowhere. It would be on packaging with multiple languages, in videos, in games. To someone who never studied the language, perhaps those characters would mean nothing to them. I see Hangul and Arabic characters and all I see are symbols. I can appreciate them for what they are, but they have no meaning to me. Japanese jumps out at me, it calls to me, it draws me in and at times does not let go. That’s when I came to the realization that I don’t just want Japanese in my life, I NEED Japanese in my life. It’s become not just part of my life, but part of my identity, who I am. The Kanji, words, grammar and phrases aren’t just things that I’ve learned, they live within me. Kanji comes to life when I learn it’s meaning, words become vibrant when I see them in the wild for the first time, a seemingly disjointed sentence grabs ahold of it’s parts when I finally understand the grammar I’ve been struggling with.
I need Japanese in life my because….
Because I don’t know any other way. I’ve studied it so long, I don’t remember what it’s like not knowing it. Things I used to wish and pray to understand back then, I understand now. And even though I don’t know as much as I would like to know, the me from back then would be ecstatic to know everything I know now.
I truly feel like I am moving into the next phase of my Japanese learning journey, and it feels very similar to when I was making progress in my 20s. The feeling of strive, exhilaration, of seeing a wall of Kanji and smiling at it instead of complaining about having to learn it. That feeling of coming across new words and feeling excited about them instead of beating yourself up about not knowing them. Of listening to a podcast and enjoying all the parts you know, and taking in the rest of it knowing that if you press on, you can come back to it and understand more. That feeling of re-visiting one of the first series that got you into Japanese and it being a completely new experience because of everything you’ve learned. That feeling or speaking with someone in Japanese, struggling at first, but then getting into the conversation so much, you forget you’re speaking Japanese at all.
As I stated earlier in this post, I mostly write these for myself. But this time, I want to write something for those struggling, those unsure of their skill level, to those frustrated that they aren’t where they want to be:
The journey to studying this language is as vast as a seemingly never ending field of flowers, and as deep as the largest valleys, we sometimes lay at the bottom of the valley, looking up to mountains and think, I’ll never get there. And as you ascend that mountains with excruciating effort, you realize that where you want to be is in the clouds, and when you reach the clouds, you realize that you still have to reach the moon, then you may just want to give it all up. Just let it all go and fall back into that valley where nothing can hurt you, nothing can judge you, where you don’t have to see everyone else who reached that place you couldn’t. You dream about going to your home deep within the valley where you first dreamt of taking those first steps up that steep hill and ascending to a mountaintop so high, you could touch the skies. Thinking about how it all seemed magical and exciting at one point. But the journey to reach the top was harder and more time consuming than you ever imagined. You see those who reached the top, some who even started long after you did and some regret and doubt comes into play. You might start to think about all the things you missed and all the things you could have done instead of taking this journey, and you wonder if it was all worth it. Some who may have started with you already fallen back to the valley, and the journey can seem lonely at times. You think about never having to worry about it again, never having to keep climbing on days you don’t want to climb, never having to face the pressure and criticism. You finally decide that it’s time. Time to let it all go, time to just release the grip on that mountain and just fall back. Then you realize that you can’t. Something just keeps pulling you back in. The grip might loosen a bit, but it just won’t budge. You turn your head and look at the valley you intended to fall back into and realize that you just can’t. You’re too far up the mountain, too far to see where you started, so far that those that are just just starting to climb up mountain look at you and think “I wanna be where this person is”. You never saw it that way because you were always looking up to the skies, trying to reach everyone ahead of you. So much so that you didn’t realize how high up you were yourself. Then you think of the other climbers and friends you made along the way. Those who helped you, those who you helped. The milestones you once dreamed of had become reality. For a moment you stop looking at the valley, stop looking at the skies and for the first time in a long time look all around you and realize that when you first started this journey you envisioned a beginning and an end, without considering everything that came in between. Then you realized that the in between was the most important part of the journey.
Thanks again to those of you who read my monthly posts. I’ve already started the next phase of my learning journey and it involves a lot less English. I hope that in one years time, I’ll be able to make posts this long in Japanese. I wish everyone the best in your learning journey in the coming year. Everyone has a story and I’m happy that I have been able to share mine over the past year with you. Let’s keep climbing together.