This is normal right? It's not just me? Learning a language for real this time.

Learning a language is a funny thing. Lots of people in the world today learn their second language as a child and that language is (maybe) usually English. Many people in the world are introduced to a new language as children during a period when learning a language is optimal.

I am well past this age and I have just now begun to start learning a second language, formally. For what it's worth, I knew a little Japanese before I went to Japan. I could read Kana and maybe a couple hundred kanji, so I wasn't a total newbie. But, this was my first time really learning it for real and being in a country where it is spoken.

A few things that I learned about learning a language for real:

1. Frustration and disappointment.

I came in this knowing some words and the disappointment I experienced when I could hear NONE of them rained on my parade a bit.

The frustration was a bit unbearable in the beginning. I was only in the country for a semester and I had been in the country for a couple of months already and my listening skills weren't at the level I needed them to be in order to communicate.

The only way I can explain it is like this: I couldn't comprehend what people were saying until they had moved on to another topic or had walked away and were doing something else. It was taking time for my brain to register these new sounds. (Don't worry, it got better.)

My own limitations were frustrating. It wasn't the people around me or my Japanese teacher, it was me. My brain was being slow.

2. I gained new insight into how I learn, I think.

I love my sensei. He was the first one I had ever had and he was a timid, cute, and charming little Japanese man. And a good teacher. I don't know if it's because I have ADHD, but that whole classroom learning thing? Yeah, not for me. I had a hard time following what was going on because we would do activities, pair work, and exercises at the end of the chapter all while trying to learn new concepts. It was hard for me. This added on to the frustration because maybe I'm just stupid or too old and just can't learn a language.

But what seemed to work best for me was getting off campus and walking around town. I loved listening to people's conversations and trying to read signs. I really do miss it. I believe this actually helped a lot with my listening comprehension in the end. As we learned mew words, I would try to listen for them. My comprehension eventually spiked and I could finally hear a lot of what we had learned. Unfortunately, this was closer towards the end of my stay in Japan, but at least I got that exposure.

3. Not speaking the language

Maybe I am a slow learner, I don't know. Others in my class seemed to pick it up quicker than some of us. I really didn't speak a whole lot of Japanese while I was in Japan. There is a couple of reasons for this: 1. I was at an "international school" meaning half the school was foreign and the school had classes taught in English. 2. said foreign students knew English well enough where that's what they spoke. They only time I was confronted by Japanese was when I tried to talk to school staff. (The security office in the dorms, the health clinic, etc.)

I spent a lot of time off campus so I did pick things up. I knew how to order food in restaurants and I could ride the train and buses fine without a problem. What little Japanese I spoke was functional and not conversational. Even though what we were being taught was straight conversation stuff.

But it worked out in the end, I think. Despite my lack of conversation skills, my listening comprehension is better than it had been. Oh and for our final, we had both a grammar and speaking test. They were given on separate days and I was actually surprised how good my listening skills had improved. I could hear everything that I knew despite my sensei speaking fast and I could give him an answer with little wait time.  Oh yeah, I had shocked my poor sensei. I spoke no Japanese to him the entire semester and very little outside of class. Yet, I did well on the speaking portion of the final exam. ^_^


Erika H.

MS Office Expert/Proofreader/English

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