Sunday, September 22, 2013

About Relearning Japanese

When I was preparing to come to Japan, I was focused way more on packing and making sure that I saw everyone I wanted to before I left. Reviewing the language was definitely pretty far down on the list. If I got to reviewing some Kanji or grammar in a day, that was good, but not essential. I thought that since I have studied Japanese for 2 years, I will be fine. I will be able to understand things enough to get around and know what most people are saying. When I arrived, I realized just how mistaken I was. Coming to Japan has already, in various ways, been an eye opening experience for me. The biggest reason though, is that I realized just how much my language skills were lacking. The first few days here I was lost. I joked earlier that when I asked people for help, I just looked at their hand gestures and figured out what they were trying to say. It is funny as a joke, but in reality it was and still is quite scary. I have never been to a place where I literally do not understand what people are trying to say to me. Every day is a struggle when I go out in public just trying to figure out what is going on around me. I am foreign looking enough that most people, if I give them a blank stare, they stop trying to ask if I have a reward card or a membership, and just point to the total on the monitor. The final shock that made me realize how distorted my beliefs in my language skills were, was when I took a self test to see what level of Japanese language classes I will be in. I thought that I would get into at least level 3 or 4 of the elementary classes, and quickly be able to move into the intermediate section. After I took the test, my score told me that I will actually only be in elementary level 1. This is the level for people who have studied less than 100 hours of Japanese, and thus most people in the class are beginners who have never studied the language apart from watching some anime and dramas. At first I was angry and disappointed with myself and tried to think of ways to improve my score. I thought, maybe if I printed the test again and retook it, I would get a higher score. No one would know, since it is a test that I just take in my dorm. That seemed like cheating too much though, so I thought maybe if I just talked to the teachers they would understand, and move me up to at least level 2. However, the more I thought about it and talked to people, I realized that I was probably right where I should be. I thought back to studying Japanese in the States. I got good grades in my classes, because I was able to easily memorize the grammar for the test, but once the test was over, I quickly forgot everything. I didn't work to retain my knowledge, I just wanted good scores on the tests. Since I was getting those good grades, I mistakenly believed that I was far superior that I actually am. I thought, oh Japanese just comes easily to me, so I stopped studying as much. The scores on the tests kept coming, and so I studied less and less, spending more time on my other classes. Coming to Japan, I realized something. In America, we grow up surrounded by English. That is all I speak, hear, and read. If there are other languages, it is subscript and I usually just ignore it. Why then, did I think that by going to class a few days a week and doing my homework after, that I could get on the same level in Japanese without much effort? To become fluent in another language, I should have to spend at least this much time studying. Obviously, in the States, I could not be surrounded by the language like I am in Japan. But that just means I should have put more effort into seeking ways to study the language. So, my plan is this. Aside from my homework for my classes this year, I will also spend extra time studying the language. It doesn't have to be anything overbearing. By just watching Japanese TV, attempting to read manga, really trying to understand what people in stores are saying to me, and speaking as much Japanese as possible, I will learn way more than I could in a classroom. Sitting here drinking my Rosehip and Hibicus tea, I feel content with my decision. I am in for a tough year, but now that I have come to terms with exactly how much work I have to do, it does not seem like that daunting of a task. To anyone thinking of studying in a foreign country, I don't mean to scare you away from going! I just hope that others can benefit from my revelation and be more prepared than I was when going to a country that speaks a different language.

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