Fluency? Everyone wants that. Fast. As fast as possible. Why go slow when you can go fast? How fast is that? How fast can you become fluent? I’ve talked about it a bit. But these were averages when I wrote the article.
If you put your all into it, how fast can you do it now?
Many people who study Japanese are competitive. Japanese is a game after all. A major motivation is reaching fluency faster than those before you. Stand out. Be different. Accomplish the unaccomplished.
This trait is admirable. And should be treated as such.
However it often receives mixed reactions from everyone else learning Japanese. Go to a Japanese learner community and say “I will become fluent in Japanese in a year no matter what!” and you will receive some friendly or unfriendly “advice” about “reality.”
I’m going to tell you something different. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that you can’t learn as fast you are trying to. I’m not telling you this because you are right and and you will be able to reach your lofty goal. I’m telling you this because it’s not impossible.
Japanese learning is evolving
The speed to Japanese fluency has changed and is continuing to change over the past several years. Becoming a record smasher is the new norm.
A record smasher is someone who not only breaks the previous record before him, but absolutely destroys it. He does what was said by everyone was impossible. This happens all the time, in every field of physical and academic pursuit. It doesn’t matter what was considered normal, or great, or expert. A record smasher looks at the highest level and laughs as he blasts far past it.
My favorite example is the record smashing done by Takeru Kobayashi at the Nathan’s hot dog eating competition in 2001. The previous world record was 25.5 hot dogs, accomplished by giant-gut-sized Americans. One day a tiny Japanese man came in, and everyone around him double or triple his physical weight chuckled at this obvious joke. Kobayashi shattered the record by eating 50 hot dogs.
Eating hot dogs is not the same thing as learning Japanese, but the principle is the same. Kobayashi came across new training techniques that no one had ever considered or attempted before, and it allowed him to do what no one ever thought could be possible. These new techniques, or “game changing techniques” are what allow for record smashing.
But learning Japanese is different………………….. you say?
Nope. It’s not. Are you kidding me? Remember my post joking around that learning Japanese is impossible if the year was 1990? In the past few decades there have been so many game-changers introduced into language learning that the numbers are in a constant state of shift.
Learning Japanese to fluency, without living in Japan (and even if you did live in Japan) used to easily take a decade. And then the game changers started rolling in.
- The Internet (as a whole)
- Online video streaming
- Social media
- Cheap/fast flights to Japan
- SRS (Anki, etc.)
- Instant electronic dictionary apps
- Jalup (*wink*)
While these are not necessarily all game changers to everyone (especially the methods), they are to many, and this list is not all-inclusive.
When I have said the cliche “you have the ability to learn Japanese faster than anyone before you,” I’m not just trying to boost your ego. I’m basing this on fact. And this needs to be embraced, not looked down upon. Which brings me to a major point when it comes to record smashing.
Japanese learner pride needs to be pushed aside
I considered myself fluent somewhere around 3-4 years. I originally exclaimed to everyone I knew from day one that “I will become fluent in a year. Just watch!” This didn’t happen, but 3-4 years was pretty fast. When I started studying, people were telling me to expect 5-10 years. When I said I would do it way faster, I was laughed at. But I never let that stop me.
Since I started studying, many of the above game changers have been introduced. When I see people reaching high levels in less than 2 years, I don’t repeat what was done to me. I don’t laugh and say “stop kidding yourself.” I am intrigued and want to know more.
Pride has a way of trying to jam its way in. So you worked your ass off for 5 years, putting your heart and soul into it, and have finally achieved your amazing level. Then some hotshot newcomer comes in and does it in half the time. Your reaction? Disbelief, annoyance, jealousy, frustration.
Initially, I wasn’t immune to these feelings. But I soon realized it accomplishes nothing, makes you blind, and only prevents you from moving forward, becoming even greater.
The best thing you can do?
Learn from the record breakers
One of the major reasons I love Jalup is I enjoy sharing everything I’ve learned, and my Japanese journey. The other major reason? Everyone sharing what they are learning with me (and others).
Experts can and should learn from beginners.
It doesn’t matter that I’ve studied Japanese for 10 years and am at a self-satisfying kick-ass level. My Japanese learning hasn’t finished, and if I can go faster, and more efficient because of new techniques the newbies are using, I will do it. I continually add the new game-changing techniques to my own methods, develop my own new game-changing techniques, and thrive on the competition.
Remember that hot-dog competition where everyone laughed at Kobayashi? What technique do you think all the other competitors eventually started using? And Kobayashi was eventually dethroned by his own method.
I challenge you
If you can become fluent in 2 years, bring it on. If you can reach my level that took me 10 years in 5 years, I want you to. I’m not the top Japanese learner, and I’m glad I’m not. The better you become at Japanese, the less people that you meet that are better than you. And the less you have to strive for.
Being around Japanese learners who are better than you makes you want to become better. When you are the best out of all the people around you, you become complacent. I’m lucky to have a few friends who surpass me in various ways. I like being around them. They keep me humble no matter how high I go. I’m still aiming for more, so I am thankful to them. If that competition comes from someone who should’ve been years behind me, great. I welcome you.
To everyone out there smashing through records now: keep up the amazing work. Don’t let other people tell you that you are wrong. To everyone who doesn’t like to see people doing what you worked your ass off in half the time, try a different perspective. Learn from them to improve yourself.
Remember that game changers affect everyone, even those not aiming for ultimate speed. Not everyone puts (or should put) learning Japanese in record breaking speak in their top priority. People learning Japanese should learn at the pace they want to, and feel most comfortable with. However, if you can shave several months of time off of learning just by looking at what all the beginners are now doing, you only have something to gain by that. You don’t need to learn Japanese in 2 years. But if you can learn Japanese in 4 years instead of 5, why not?
Go out and smash
Everything here is about excitement. Enjoy the possibilities, the changes, and what is to come. Go out and break some records. And when you do, talk about it here on Jalup, so that everyone can enjoy it as well.
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.