Dreaming of fluent Japanese? Dreaming of the day you’ll feel as comfortable with Japanese as you do with your native language? Will the day ever come when it feels like Japanese is your true second language?
I’ve talked about how native level is a meaningless standard, as it doesn’t really exist in the way you’d think. However, you should be able to feel the same comfort level with Japanese as in English, right? This is also a bit of a loaded question. While you won’t have an identical comfort level, because you didn’t grow up in Japan, you can achieve a near equivalent one.
Yes, but it’s way deeper than you think, and there is no easy way to get there. This isn’t a 1 year, 3 year, or even 5 year goal. You feel that intuitive comfort level with English because of your exposure with it. With that exposure you’ve gained more than just understanding.
Native understanding is vast. You don’t just understand or not understand something. Your brain goes through a variety of understanding ranks. All of these ranks combined, from the lowliest of the low, to the absolute top, are what provide that comfort.
The understanding rankings
1. Active-Frequent (the language you use and hear all the time)
2. Active -Common (the language you use and hear often)
3. Active-Uncommon (the language you use and hear not so often)
4. Passive-Frequent (can understand, and hear it all the time)
5. Passive-Common (can understand and hear often)
6. Passive-Uncommon (can understand but don’t hear that often)
7. Mostly-Passive (hear and can mostly understand)
8. Sort-of-Passive (hear can sometimes understand)
9. Barely-Passive (hear and can only rarely understand)
10. Context-Passive (can understand based on context without actual knowledge)
11. Guessing-Passive-Correct (can understand through intuitive guessing based on overall language ability)
12. Guessing-Passive-Incorrect (think you can understand through intuitive guessing based on overall language but are wrong)
14. Heard-Of (you’ve heard it, but can’t understand it despite context or guessing)
15. Sort-of-Heard-Of (you think you’ve heard it before, maybe you haven’t, and can’t understand it despite context or guessing)
16. Familiar-Feeling (you know this sounds like English, but you’ve never heard of it before)
17. Absolute Zero – you don’t know the language, can’t guess it, can’t use context, never heard of it, and it doesn’t sound like English.
That’s 17 ranks of how your native language is processed (and I’m sure there are many more). Most people who become fluent in Japanese can cover the active and passive rankings above (1 through 9). But it’s rankings 10 through 16 that provide that native-level comfort.
This is what takes time. You don’t gain these rankings through any textbook. You gain it through experience. Build up that experience, build up that comfort and one day you’ll feel as comfortable with Japanese as you do with English.
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.