Some things I noticed about my Japanese ability after a short trip in Japan

I recently came back from a short trip (just 1 week!) in Japan, and I felt like that, in general, the confidence in my Japanese ability skyrocketed immensely from that trip alone. I don’t have many other friends who are learning nor speak Japanese, so I wanted to share my experience here in the off chance that it happens to be useful or interesting for other fellow Japanese language learners :slight_smile:

Background with Japanese

I took about 1 year of Japanese classes in college - which at this point, was about 8-9 years ago. I would say it barely got me to N5 level. The following summer, I did a study abroad in Japan for 1 month, living with a homestay family during that time. In retrospect, I felt like I squandered that opportunity because I had ZERO confidence in my ability to communicate, so instead of engaging with them in Japanese, I opted to just spend all of time with the other Americans in my study abroad cohort. Back then, trying to do basic everyday stuff in Japanese like ordering food, asking for directions, purchasing things in stores, was incredibly difficult, and from my memory, using English with the locals was not as easy compared to what I experienced from this most recent trip.

After that, I dropped my Japanese studies completely because I was frustrated with my perceived lack of progress, difficulty with studying grammar and the staggering amount of kanji to learn. It was only about 2 or 2.5 years ago that I picked up Japanese seriously again using Wanikani.

My current study program consists of primarily doing reviews with Wanikani and consuming native content, occasionally posting on Hellotalk if I want to practice writing. I look up words and grammar points as needed, but in general I try to keep it simple.

Using Japanese in Japan

Since I had been studying more seriously for the last 2 or 3 years, I think I came to Japan with a stronger foundation that last time. What really surprised me was how much more I was able to convey using simpler words and grammatical structures. The most memorable interactions I had with locals was by using the simplest constructions possible to convey what I wanted to say. Being exposed to Japanese constantly for a week did wonders for my listening and reading comprehension, so I imagine that visiting for longer would help even more.

There were of course, times where I could not understand anything the other person was saying, or I could not come up with the words to answer what someone was asking, or I used a word incorrectly but those experiences were still valuable (if not a little embarrassing).

I am proud to say that I did become very good at clearly hearing 「袋をご利用ですか」and other customer service based phrases from those fast speaking clerks!

Reflections on learning Japanese

This is likely my own personal problem - and I bet that if I’ve experienced it, then I’m sure others may also experience it - but I had felt that I don’t speak or sound exactly like a native Japanese speaker, then I’m not allowed to claim that I can speak Japanese.

For some reason, at times it feels like the Japanese language learning community really gives off this energy of “if you don’t sound native you don’t speak Japanese” or something like that. In some ways I felt like I internalized that to a negative degree. Again, it’s my own personal problem for internalizing it and not managing my own relationship to learning Japanese.

In retrospect, I think embracing my foreignness probably did a lot more for improving my Japanese ability than studying the language itself. It felt that when I embraced that this is not my native language or that I may not ever sound fully Japanese, the realization that I could still communicate what I want in the majority of situations gave me a lot of confidence to still try and use it anyway.

Where to go from here?

For me, I think I’ll continue keeping the general plan of using Wanikani until I hit Guru on all Level 60 items. I think if I want to see continued growth in my language ability, it definitely seems like the way forward is to engage more with natives and content for natives. I’m riding a really strong wave of motivation so I’m excited to see where my language ability might be once I hit Level 60 here on Wanikani.

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It’s really heartwarming to read, it’s such a journey communicating with people and on top of it in Japanese.

I can relate. The look on people faces when I used a simple phrase, it was such a relief seeing that not only I have not been a burden on them but I was able to make them feel comfortable, I used the right words in the right context, and it created some sort of warmth that is particular to interactions in Japan, which really built my motivation to continue learning.

This. Language is about communication not about perfection. It’s about being kind and polite and showing your respect, by trying, and sometimes, by not trying and using what you know will not waste everyones time and patience. Sometimes I opt for english knowing that will be the fastest route, because when I speak Japanese or German some people assume that I understand way more that I really do, and then comes the super awkward situation of listening to the person I spoke with go into a long speech about something not knowing I understand literally nothing of it, and it happens a lot. So my ability to sound native because I have a knack for imitating accents really backfires if use it in the wrong situations… was a hard lesson to learn for sure.

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I dont think that has something to do with your perfect accents. I sound like the most German potato out there when speaking Japanese but as soon as they realize I speak some Japanese they tend to let loose and just talk how they would with a native :sweat_smile: Especially the doctors here expecting me to understand every medical word after me saying something like ”喉が痛い” xD

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No arguing here, that’s defiantly true, and sheesh, the Dr appointments sound brutal, it’s not like medical lingo in my own language is a no brainer so having to suffer this kind of attitude in a foreign language, my worst nightmare, sorry you. had to go through that.
What I was trying to say was how useless sounding native can be if you can’t really speak, wasn’t trying to toot my own horn on the contrary (I admit when I was young I did have that mindset, but it’s more of an ego thing toward your peers and has. nothing to do with using the language), when you leave your little learning corner and the mentality the op mentioned and you need to deal with everyday life it’s more useful being able to communicate than make it sound perfect.

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Yeah I agree 100%, being able to communicate is what matters. If you then manage to sound good too then that’s a really nice bonus! I always notice how people open up when they realize that you can communicate in Japanese.

You don’t have to feel sorry for me though, actually I am kind of happy when I don’t get the baka gaijin treatment. If I don’t understand something I just ask if they could explain it in a simple way. :sweat_smile:

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Thank you for your kind comment :')

I think that because so many of us are really interested in attaining near-native fluency, it can be sometimes easy to forget that, at the end of the day, this is a new language that we’ve not been raised to speak or understand, so the mere fact that we can carry out even a little bit of communication in a completely foreign language is practically amazing.

When I speak with other people in America who might speak with accented English, my first instinct isn’t to poke fun at their English, it’s to be surprised that “oh, I can speak normally with this person” and then carry a conversation as usual, probably adjusting my own word choice and speed to make sure that the conversation is still mutually intelligible for both of us. I would imagine that’s probably the same for native Japanese people, and for anyone else on this planet, for that matter.

I’m sure there are people are complete assholes and make fun of other people who speak their native language with an accent, but I like to imagine they’re not the norm.

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My last trip to Japan I found I was able to hold quite a few conversations, as opposed to my trip a year ago where I really struggled.

The main thing for me was taking lessons on italki and finding a teacher I was happy just to chat with. My first experience, while not terrible, made me quite dejected about my speaking ability, whereas 4-5 lessons with my new teacher made a big difference to my confidence. And people were generally just happy that I could manage a few sentences, or some basic questions.

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