I’ve lived in Japan for 4 years and I’ve been so frustrated with how slowly my Japanese has been progressing. I thought for sure that I would be fluent by now. I am at the stage where I can cope pretty well with one on one conversations with friends, although keeping up in groups is a challenge. I mostly just listen with the occasional “uun sou desu ne,” unless someone calls on me, in which case I reply in as few words as possible and turn the conversation back onto someone else. It seems my lack of language confidence has turned me back into the socially inept teenager I once was :).
But, I’ve decided that 2016 is the year for me to get completely functional in Japanese. I’m planning to take the N2 Japanese proficiency test in December. The JLPT certainly has its downsides as regards to an accurate indicator of real-life Japanese functionality, but it does serve as a great motivator. It is also pretty handy to have on your CV. N1 is considered business level, and N2 is basically considered the marker for fluency, so I have set my sights on that.
Another one of my language goals this year is to give up something I will call “Japanese avoidance”. What I mean by that is avoiding doing something, making an inquiry or taking the easy route so that I can avoid using Japanese. Or simply not using the proper, more difficult Japanese I’ve learnt because it requires too much thinking. Or just nodding and smiling my way through conversations even though I have absolutely no idea what is going on, rather than seeking a clearer explanation. It is easy to do that in Japan. One reason is that, in my experience, Japanese people are so incredibly helpful and courteous and often go way out of their way to help you out. It’s relatively easy to fluff your way through things with very crude Japanese littered with English words. Usually the person with whom you are communicating is patient enough to work with you to figure out what they need to know. I’ve heard of people who have lived in Japan for 10 years or more and have not mastered anything further than basic greetings and phrases, intermingled with random vocabulary here and there. I can’t imagine a non-English speaker being able to get by like that in New Zealand or any English speaking country.
One example of my Japanese avoidance is my chronic avoidance of talking on the phone. I ALWAYS, ALWAYS avoided calling places on the phone such as the Doctor’s clinic, instead opting to just walk down there to make appointments etc. because its way easier and less intimidating to communicate. Or choosing a restaurant based on those that have online booking. I am the type of person who hates talking on the phone even in English, so talking in Japanese, with all of that formal telephone language to camouflage the actual message, is kind of intimidating.
The thing with Japanese avoidance though, is that you miss out on stuff. That whole attitude of “meh, I don’t get it…it’s ok, I’ll just let it slide” can lead to so many missed opportunities. As I’ve become more proficient at Japanese, I’ve realised, in hindsight, how much easier and more enjoying my life could have been in the early days when I tended to shy away from most things because of a lack of language. How much more then, could I be missing out on? And, now I have a kid! The last thing I want is for her to miss out on things, or for me to not be able to be as involved with her and her future social and school life as I would like, because of my lack of language proficiency. So, with this new motivation in hand, I’ve renewed my focus on Japanese study.
Well, I am making progress. I am proud to say that the other week I made inquiries about the baby swimming class at our local YMCA. AND, instead of walking down to the YMCA again today, I registered LA and I for the Mums and Bubs class OVER THE PHONE. BY choice! yea. I feel pretty pumped about that and am ignoring the little voice at the back of my head saying “phh…so you made a phone call…big deal.” Get out of here belittling little naysayer, a journey starts with a single step and all that…
Anyway, I’m excited for the swimming class. Our little fish LOVES the bath, so can’t wait to see what she makes of a giant one full of little baby friends.