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7 Bad Excuses People Give why they Can’t Learn Japanese — 22 Comments

  1. This post came just in time! Thank you. Just acknowledging the frustration of all of this is encouraging.

    I’m doing an independent study on the immersion method implemented in the classroom. I have a lot of great volunteers. One person though, who originally volunteered through email, not saying anything about herself just that she wants to volunteer, found out who I was and said that when she found out I was one of those students who was married to a Japanese person and therefore increasing the fluency level of a class making it harder for other students, she lost complete interest in my study and doesn’t want to participate.

    I wanted to tell her my husband hardly ever speaks Japanese to me (in fact, I had mentioned this before). That there are tons of people married to Japanese people with bad Japanese or who don’t know any Japanese. Or that her claim of me being 90% fluent was wrong and that I still have a long way to go (especially back when I had a class with her). I was so hurt by this. All my knowledge on how to learn a language discredited because I love a man who happens to be Japanese and decided to marry him. But I decided not to reply.

    • Granted I’m basing this only on what you’ve written above, but you might reconsider not replying. She’s clearly frustrated with her lack of progress and is using you and your situation to act out on that frustration. You clearly have two things she values very highly, both Japanese fluency and a Japanese partner, and it seems like she hasn’t been able to make the kind of progress towards getting those that she thinks she should be able to. Although there are always people who are completely hopeless and don’t want help, you might actually have a lot to offer her once she’s able to see beyond her biases.

      I had a similar, although less personal, reaction when I took Japanese classes and some advice and help from a fellow student helped me tremendously and I finally realized that both my study time and study methods were seriously flawed.

      • That’s true. I shouldn’t take it so personally. This is her own struggle and she must’ve felt so frustrated and like she didn’t get the opportunity in class that she deserved.

        I was really excited to work. She told me the reason why she didn’t move onto the advanced Japanese class is because she felt like Japanese classes had been too difficult and the expectations of the class raised because of the advanced Japanese levels of half-Japanese students and students with Japanese spouses. I thought that implementing native resources and teaching study methods could really help decrease the gap between students who appear more fluent and students who are struggling.

        I’ll try replying to her. But to be honest, I’m really sensitive. If she replies negatively again, it’s hard not to take it personally. Or if we did meet, it’d be hard not to forget her biases. But perhaps this could grow me stronger as a person as well to not take things so personally. It could teach me how to work with people.

    • Definitely don’t take it personally. As hopefully this post shows, people will believe what they want to believe, despite not realizing how it will affect others.

      You can respond to her if you want, but just remember it can be very hard to change a person’s opinions and beliefs. And it may not be worth the trouble it’ll cause you.

      You don’t have to prove anything. You and the people who know you best know how ridiculously hard you’ve worked to learn Japanese. And that’s all that matters.

      Remember, the inspiration for this post was that I’ve personally been told every one of these.

  2. I must admit even I am often jealous of you #1 guys. Luckily I found all sorts of other interests that provide the same motivation, but when I first moved to Japan I was seriously concerned that my lack of interest in anime and manga would be a hinderance. Ultimately I realized that dramas and magazines were not only good substitutes, but in some cases much better.

    I personally hear #7 the most, for the most part the others don’t apply, and the irony of that is that my original burst of studying was when I was a full-time student with a full-time job. Of course it’s never worth actually pointing that out but it always makes me laugh.

    Finally, although no one should ever use it as an excuse, you guys that started young are definitely lucky. At some point in the 90s I tried to play a visual novel that was entirely in Japanese using a big kanji dictionary and the Halpern lookup system. Low resolutions made stroke counting difficult and it took me several hours just to “decode” the first sentence. Unfortunately I gave up because it was too time-consuming and frustrating but now I wish I had continued anyway.

    So #5 may have no teeth but I hope everyone realizes how much easier modern technology has made language learning!

    • As you have seen, number 7 is interesting, because it is often the busiest of people that “find” the most time.

      Your last point shows how ridiculous number 5 is. As you said, learning Japanese 10 years ago was much more difficult than it is today. But this is due to technology and availability of resources.

      Which while it means younger people have it easier today, so do older people. The same new technology is available to the 15 year old, the 25 year old, and the 35 year old. So it’s all equal now.

  3. I’m honestly more annoyed when I tell somebody I’m learning Japanese, and they ask me to speak it. I don’t to want to explain to them that there’s more to a language than speaking it, and that I don’t necessarily want to speak it, anyway. Plus there’s putting me on the spot and having to admit that I can’t speak Japanese very well. Overall, not my favorite part.

      • I also hate this. So I usually just say Q: “Can you speak Japanese?” A: “No.” Reply: “Then whats the point, you won’t know if I am just making it up or not.”

        They usually don’t ask me anymore.

        What is even more annoying is when I’m in Japan with my wife, eating dinner with her old work colleagues and friends / family or something, and in front of everyone the my wife will say something like “Hey, talk in Japanese.”, or later she will say, you should practise speaking more if you want to learn Japanese.

        Doesn’t happen as much anymore, but when it does its super embarrassing and annoying. Makes me reflect on myself and think, “Well I have been studying for around a year now…. maybe I should be able to talk more..”

        Defiantly hate it.

        • Just do add to that. Its also important to not let negative comments and feedback ‘get to you’. Of course I find these kind of situations annoying and embarrassing, but I also get boost of power from them later on.

          It makes me want to study more and more, just to spite all of these people, so I can come back later and have a complex discussion about local politics in Japan that goes right over my wives head and then I can say something cool to her like “もっと日本の新聞を読んだらどうですか。” Mwhahaha!

          Disclaimer : だからと言って、僕の妻を愛していないわけではない。 :)

        • It’s hard because the traditional language educational mindset is start speaking and having conversations from day 1. Which makes people assume if you are learning the language you should be able to speak it right now.

          The people that focus on speaking from day 1 will speak way before you. In broken, mistaken riddled Japanese.

          What’s more impressive? The guy who shows you that he can do 10 or 20 push-ups right from the beginning, or the guy who won’t show you anything, and then a year later is doing 100 push-ups. You think it matters that up until that point you weren’t showing anything? From that 100 push-up point that’s all you will be remembered for. And the guy who was showing every small bit of progress, and can only do 60 push-ups after a year will have been forgotten.

          And being out on the spot like that is just rough. Even if your Japanese is good, suddenly being asked to show that can be uncomfortable. Speaking in Japanese is one thing, but being told to say something so they can see how far you’ve come puts weird pressure on you.

          Listen to those conversations with Japanese friends and families. And without being asked, just say the tiny things you can in Japanese. Explain and tell them to talk to each other in Japanese with you there, and that you are listening and you will participate where you can. You’d be surprised once the pressure is off, and you are focusing on listening, you can throw in relevant lines here and there.

          And finally, as you said, use these moments as fuel. There will come a time where you will blow everyone away. That moment where you turn スーパーサイヤ人 and from that point on people won’t stop talking about how awesome your Japanese is. They’ll ask you repeatedly why your japanese is so good (like it just appeared out of nowhere). Then you have a new issue because this can be just as annoying!

    • Anonymous,

      You’ll get the same thing regardless of your level. “Say something in Japanese” is just awkward to be told. It’s not like your a magician showing a magic trick. And even magicians I’m sure hate randomly being told, “show me a magic trick!”

      Just answer with a “Ni Hao!” and wait for a reaction.

      But really, the key is to not let these things bother you.

      • I did that with my coworkers once… they all indeed thought that was japanese, really makes me wonder why they bother asking that if they have absoltely zero clue as to how japanese sounds

  4. I hear things like that about everything I do really haha. I work full time, play guitar, make 2 15-20 minutes youtube video a day, learn japanese, on top of smaller chores and trying to fit exercising here and there, and I still manage to have time to do other thigns non related to any of that. Then the people who tell me they wish they had as much free time as me, are the people I envy for the amount of free times they actually have, because I could do so much more progress with their free time haha. If that made any sense.

    Or @3, “I wish I had money for X” “well get a job” “I dont want to work” I hear that way too often

    • But sometimes then you wonder, if you had all that free time, would you use it as effectively as your limited free time. I’ve felt before that because time is so limited, you can make incredible use if it. Adding more free time doesn’t necessarily make things easier.

      • Agreed, when I have more days off than usual I still do all my things but it takes me way more time than when I have limited time haha. But I think if you could get discipline into your habits it would be doable

  5. My wife is Vietnamese so I’ve gotten the “of course you speak Vietnamese so well, your wife is Vietnamese” a lot. Like all the others, it’s easy to get angry about (because it doesn’t acknowledge all the hard work behind the achievement). But whatever. These people are punishing themselves enough by thinking that important things are a matter of luck or achieved without work; I mostly feel sad for them now.

    • I mean unfortunately that’s the way society works. People see success, and they think it is due only to innate skill, money, luck, etc.

      But when you read the success stories from everyone from sports players to tech gurus, you realize the truth.

  6. I was once told I’m only good at Kanji because I’m half-Chinese. I was pretty annoyed because all the time I spent going through Heisig and creating stories was all simplified to just my ethnicity. Of course, the guy telling me this was frustrated over kanji because he wasn’t going full hardcore mode on it like I was.

    • Yea, that sounds like a pain to hear. I’m sure half Japanese who never learned Japanese growing up but decide to learn it later in life have a similar problem.

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