Remember the “Self”

In an age of Internet Language Gurus, I’m noticing a disturbing trend among some language learners.

I think many people are forgetting the “self” aspect of self-study.

Taking a break from laughing at 医龍*, I decided to have a look see around some language blogs.  It’s just something I do from time to time. It’s part of my “always experimenting” mentality.  Anyways, I’m browsing the forums of said blogs, and what I saw was shocking, disappointing, and rather frustrating.

I understand if you’re just starting, maybe the idea of learning a language is overwhelming, even though you’re eager to learn.  People have done it before, you naturally seek their advice.  A basic start or outline. That’s fine.  What is not fine, however, is this:

The Questions.

“Yea so I’m trying Method X.  But is it working?  I’ve been at this for three weeks and I hate it. What’s wrong?”,

“I’m not learning anything!!”  (You’ll notice that this is not actually a question),

“How do you watch movies?  How do you read books?”,

“My books are boring, help me!”, and my new personal favorite,

“How do I immerse myself in a language?”

Here’s your answer.

Step 1: Step away from the blog/forum.

See how easy that was? Now let me elaborate. Don’t ask what shows to watch.**  DON’T ASK HOW LONG IT TAKES TO BECOME “FLUENT”.  That word means nothing anyway. Don’t ask what you should learn. If you are self-studying, then you need to do what interests you.  Your SRS is not fun?  Drop it, or change the way you use it. You don’t understand that movie yet?  Good, and you probably won’t understand it for a while longer.  The process is the fun part.  Understanding is the rewarding part.  So keep watching if you like it. That book is making you sleepy?  Sleep, then find a more interesting book.  You are not Mr./Ms. Language Expert, and you will never be him/her.  You are you. So do what you like to do, not what “Guy/Gal who has been studying for 4 more days/months/years than me” says works for him/her.  Because it’s just that. What works for him/her.  Take all your questions and leave.  Randomly explore your new language.  The internet is a big place, and if I recall, a large portion of the tubes are filled with content in your target language.

Step 2: Go back to the blog/forum (Experiment).

Go back to the forum when/if you want to explore methods.  Make it brief.  Your language is waiting.  If you still need someone to hold your hand every step of the way, refer to step 1 above.

Don’t sit there waiting for “Language Ninja” to spoon-feed you.  It might be poison.  By all means, try different things.  I do it all the time, trying new games, watching new videos, reading new gaming blogs, etc. But it is only because of this extensive experimentation that I am able to create my own “pile of interest”.  Experiment.  If it’s boring at first, experiment over.  New experiment. Rinse and repeat until you just have a bunch of random stuff you like to do in your target language.  You’ll have your very own pile of interest! I’ll provide some recent examples of my experiments just so you know what works for me.

Browse forum (briefly).  Someone mentioned listening to drama CDs. I “acquire” a few.  I give them a listen.  I enjoy it.  I keep listening.  I get tired of it.  I go back to listening to something else.  Browse online for stuff to listen to (in target language).  Find out about a very funny show and a very interesting video genre. Try watching.  Enjoy.  Continue.  Added to daily routine.

Notice how I didn’t delete the drama CDs.  I never know when I might want to listen to them again.  In fact, as I’m typing this, one is playing, and I’m enjoying it. Also, very little of that time was spent in my native language.  In fact, it was probably 5 minutes at most.

Here’s another example:

Browse SRS card formats online(briefly!). SRS reps getting annoying.  Try different formats I found online. Reps still suck. Create my own hybrid formats based on all the formats I found online. Cards still painful.  Try making my own formats from scratch.  I want to punch my SRS in the face.  Change how I do my reps. Cards are now like a game again.

Notice how I was looking up formats BEFORE the reps became annoying.  Granted, I could’ve been reading something in Japanese, but I was in a browsing kind of mood.  Also, I did not go to a forum and ask “GUYS I NEED A FORMAT MY CARDS STINK!!!”.  In addition, my experiment pretty much failed.  Even after making my own altered card formats, I wasn’t enjoying doing reps.  All I had to do was simply change when I did them.  For the record, I used to do them at night, but I started hating that.  Now I go to classes early and do as many reps as I can before class starts.  It turned SRSing into a game again.  I also finish them during school, so more time for Japanese when I’m done with classes.

Honestly, if you have to search online and ask some random guy or gal how to enjoy yourself, not being fluent in a foreign language is probably the least of your problems.  You’re learning the language so that you can use it, presumably.  So do things that will ensure your continued interaction with said language.

P.S. –  I’m faaaar from any sort of “fluency”, but it is inevitable simply because I spend more time in the language, using my own ideas as well as incorporating the ideas of other people.  Before I ask a question, I’ll ask myself. Try, try, try, and try some more.  Sometimes I fail. Sometimes I don’t.  The point is I’m discovering what I like by asking and searching myself.   I am the only person who is responsible for my language enjoyment.

P.P.S.S.Q. – Some language learners are very eager to share their methods for learning.  Check out their blogs.  Especially my blogroll. Those guys are awesome.  Just don’t annoy them with stupid questions.  Yes, they do exist.  But they’re only stupid because you will have more fun finding the answer yourself.

*For those of you who have seen episode 10 of  season 1, look me straight in the eyes and tell me you didn’t laugh at the “「行くぜ。チームドラゴン!」<awkward slow motion>” scene. You’re a liar.  Or maybe you “face-palmed” instead.  Or maybe I’m easily amused.

**Recommendations are fine.  I’m referring to questions like “Should I watch children’s shows or movies or dramas or comedy or reality tv or music videos  or……”

Author: Koyami

I'm Koyami. I am a freelance Japanese-English Translator and I enjoy learning new skills and reading in my spare time. Current pursuits include learning Mandarin Chinese, getting familiar with Blender, and collecting all of the 十二国記 books. Follow me on Twitter and Google+ for blog updates, my Japanese word of the day, and more!

  • Haven’t watched 医龍 in a while, but i do remember some laughable scenes!

    Nice post by the way!

    • Thanks for the comment! I really can’t get enough of that show.

  • AndyMeg

    Really liked this post. I also like to explore and experiment with different things and create my own path for learning japanese.

    • Thank you AndyMeg,

      Yes, yes, yes! That is the key to truly becoming comfortable with a language.

      Thanks for the comment and have fun with your studies!

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