History, learning background, and all that
When I first started learning Japanese about ten years ago
When I first started learning Japanese about ten years ago, I read textbooks and watched videos and studied flashcards and all that… but none of it really stuck. A lot of these materials were/are designed for JLPT takers, and I used them because they were readily available and because I felt like standardized testing was a necessary part of my learning process. An assumption or habit from high school and college, maybe?
But one thing I learned from school is that you can get good at studying for and taking tests but still kind of stink at the subject you’re theoretically being tested on. So yeah, it did not go well.
As an example, I’m pretty sure more of my kanji knowledge came from remembering bits and pieces of Chinese from my early childhood than from any of my efforts in studying Japanese, even though I’d stopped using the former language entirely for at least ten years by this point in my life. And you would think, from what I said about getting good at tests, that I would’ve at least done well on the JLPT. Erm. I did pass N5, but that’s it.
“Ahh, I failed.”
“I’m bad at this.”
“It’s too hard. I can’t do it.”
With these thoughts, Japanese learning went on the backburner for many years.
And then, some stuff happened that changed everything.
Mental gears shifted, paradigms changed. Medical and disability things
There’s something I would like to say, first, as a sort of preface to this part. To me ten years ago struggling with failing at yet another thing I felt like I couldn’t handle properly, to anyone who might feel like they’re in a similar boat: please take care of yourself, take a gentle, non-judgmental, but thorough look at everything that’s going on in your life, and do your best to address anything that doesn’t feel right. This doesn’t have to mean dropping the things you find fun and interesting in order to achieve this, because those things might be exactly what you need to get you through tough times, but in the end improving your health is absolutely worth the time, money, and effort it may require (but you may not necessarily want to spend). In the long run, doing so will make everything you really do want to spend your time, money, and effort on easier, more exciting, and a lot more fun.
This is the very roundabout route I took to arrive at this conclusion.
After 20-ish years of chronic pain and just as many years of doctors’ visits and tests with no real results, I was finally diagnosed with something concrete in 2020 and had surgery soon after. This procedure had the unintentional and really unfortunate side effect of incomplete tetraplegia among other things, but it did also get rid of the spinal cord issue that made everything hurt for the past couple of decades. Until this point I thought I had gotten used to the pain, that I was dealing with it just fine. I wasn’t. It literally affected every part of my life, and I was just pretending it didn’t.
At the risk of stating something completely obvious… this is something I did not truly understand until the pain was gone: it is so, so much easier it is to have a hobby of any kind, to do anything, when you don’t have to deal with every part of your body hurting every single day. There was/is a lot to overcome as a result of suddenly becoming disabled (see below), but even with all that I still feel like the whole situation has been a net positive.
By far the biggest challenge after that surgery was learning how to use body parts again, but the biggest lesson was to just not think about learning and just do it. There’s no point ruminating over the act of standing or sitting or picking up a spoon… I just wanted to be able to move myself and put food in my mouth. Time spent thinking “I should be able to walk, why can’t I” was better spent doing physical therapy. In the beginning I just didn’t have the brain capacity to think, really, but eventually it sort of became a habit to just not think those types of consuming thoughts.
So when I decided to pick Japanese back up in 2021, almost a year later...
So when I decided to pick Japanese back up in 2021, almost a year later, I didn’t really think about it too much. Just another thing to learn on the list. This is also when I happened to come across sites like Refold and AJATT that promote language immersion, which discuss methods that go well hand in hand with that “just do the thing you ultimately want to do, don’t think about it, just do it a whole bunch” mentality.
And, as a final piece of the puzzle for now, I remembered a mostly buried, several-decades old memory: seven year old me learning English for the first time. My very first language learning experience! Thinking about Semie the third grader reading every book in the classroom book corner and eventually the whole elementary school library is what made me decide I needed to start reading books, watching anime, and playing games in Japanese because that’s exactly how I learned English.
Future posts will have more concrete reading/learning log type stuff, but this one is just full of stuff that’s been brewing in my mind for a bit and I wanted to get it out in the open. And most importantly: even though learning a language can start as a spur of the moment thing, a way to kill time for a little while, a distraction from whatever else is going on… it can also be a long-term and maybe even lifelong pursuit if you want. Even if you have to put it aside for a week, a month, a year, ten years… it will still be there, waiting patiently for you to come back. Please take the time to look after your health and prioritize making yourself happy and healthy!