Well it’s 2020! I can’t believe it, before you know it the Tokyo Olympics will be starting. I hope everyone has fantastic winter Holiday season even after Christmas and New Years have passed. Since I have returned back to Canada for the holidays, many people have been asking me about my level of Japanese and if going to Japan has really had an effect on it. This brings me back to a quick moment I spoke with Akai-Sensei at Western University, when I asked her what is a way that I could improve my Japanese?
It was 2015 (YIKES) and I had just finished my 2nd year Japanese classes for the term. I wanted a way to improve my Japanese whether that be reading a new comprehensive textbook or finding a simple manga. Instead she told me, “Please go to Japan.” Now, if you were a moderately funded university student like me – this is very difficult. Obviously, I’d like to go to Japan to study if I had a reason or resources, but at that time Japanese was just a class for me.
When I got the opportunity to move to Japan in 2018, I was stoked and prepared to use my Japanese to the fullest degree. As I landed I was able to navigate through the airport easily and get ready to go to the JET Orientation hotel – Keio Plaza (fantastic hotel by the way). My 4 years of Japanese classes was paying off as I could travel around and kind of understand what was going on. It wasn’t until entering at my workplace where I started learning a whole new world of Japanese. In actuality, textbooks only teach you a certain amount of Japanese which are applicable to very specific scenarios. When these specific situations arise, then hooray your studying paid off. However, when you actually travel to the country of a language you are learning, you are put in over 15 different conversation topics every 2 minutes which is the real test.
It took me about a year to realize that my Japanese level had risen to a point where I didn’t need to constantly think to continue a conversation with multiple people at once. So even with all that studying in university, my Japanese had to develop a long way (maybe I’m just slow too – sorry). Following that your cultural awareness also heightens. I always used to think that I loved learning Japanese in my classroom at Western University because it was a safe environment where I could experiment with the language. When I converse with Japanese individuals or see how they react to words, I can learn not just the language but also how to think like a Japanese individual. How they act, how they speak, the inflections in their voice which demonstrate a specific persona and mannerisms that they combine with their words. It’s takes a while to get comfortable being uncomfortable, but now I enjoy learning all of these concepts day by day.
So to conclude, if I was to provide any advice to anyone who wishes to improve their Japanese after they’ve learned a few basics. I would agree with the wisdom of Akai-Sensei and tell them, “Oh, just take a trip to Japan.”
Happy New Year everyone and to all the new discoveries of 2020,