Learning Japanese Is The Opportunity To Create A New You
People are always looking for ways to reinvent themselves. Change who they are based on who they want to be. It’s a fairly complicated task, as you’ve been you your whole life. People can and do change all the time. But it’s often on a small scale, with major adversity attached.
When you learn Japanese you are not just reinventing yourself, but get the ability to create a new you.
I know I know. Language is just an expression of your thoughts, so it shouldn’t matter what language you are speaking in. You are still you. But as anyone who goes far in Japanese can tell you, Japanese isn’t just an expression of your thoughts, your thoughts often come from the expression of Japanese.
You notice this in a few standout ways when you speak Japanese:
1. Your outward personality may change
Many people use Japanese as an opportunity to act out in ways they never did in their native language. You may become more outgoing, more friendly, and more open. Or on the flip side you may become more reserved and humble.
2. Your personal attachment to meanings change
Growing up in your own language, a lot of cultural and emotional baggage gets attached to language, providing feelings towards many words. Often those same words, said in Japanese, don’t produce the same feelings. Japanese frees you. There will be a lot you say in Japanese that you would never say in English.
For example how many people freely with no hesitation use the word うんこ in their conversation, but would rarely use the word poop in English?
3. You define how you talk and what you sound like to others
Growing up, your way of speaking, which in turn gives the impression of who you are to others, is defined by your close environment. Mostly your family, friends, school, and TV. For the most part this is an unconscious choice. With Japanese, you create your character by choosing the type of language that you want to use. You choose who and what you want to mimic, and essentially who you want to be.
One of the most common examples for guys is deciding which “I” pronoun you use. The hip and casual 俺 or the reserved 僕. Even just one word can change how you present yourself.
4. Your way of thinking
Language is not merely an equivalent of words that exist everywhere. Sure, an apple may straight up be a りんご. But おもてなし goes way deeper than the word hospitality and よろしくお願いします has depth beyond your wildest imagination.
Language stems from the culture. The two are intertwined. If you are absorbing the language you can’t help but absorb the culture. And a culture has a major influence on your thoughts, both good and bad.
Next time you finding yourself agreeing with the Japanese point of view, you’ll know why.
Separate and Combined
Creating your Japanese character is not some artificial process where you are trying to throw away who you are. The truth is you really end up getting 2 crossover personas. If you ever talk with bilingual Japanese friends, you may have heard that you sometimes act differently in each language.
There is overlap.
You still hold cultural and personal values from Japanese when you are speaking English, and vice-versa. But there are many exclusive to the language traits you start to naturally acquire.
There is also also separation.
You may hold important personal values that Japanese culture does not follow, and regardless of the language you speak in, or how much you absorb Japanese culture, those values hold strong.
Enjoy the character creation process
You are getting two viewpoints. You can’t beat that. If you let it, learning Japanese will be one of the most interesting developments of the self you will face in your life.
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.
Woah, this is one of the most interesting posts I’ve read in a while. The idea that using different languages results in different ways of expressing yourself is not new to me, but it struck me even more now. It is almost as if there are two, or three, different versions of yourself, each with slightly different characteristics yet the same soul. It’s as if your consciousness expanded and the entirety of your new consciousness cannot be contained inside a single language anymore. Sometimes, not only does it expand your consciousness, it also completely changes it. Great job with the article! :)
Thanks! Really glad it hit you in the right way.
And I think your example about expanded consciousness is right on target.
I know someone who talks in a higher pitched voice in Japanese than the other 2 languages she knows. She knows she does it, but its not like a conscious effort, it just kinda comes out naturally ^^
Voice pitch becomes an apparent change pretty quickly. A lot of it depends on who/what you are listening to your entire journey. Maybe you can go for the super low Japanese voice?
I found more towards the intermediate part of my journey, my voice pitch in Japanese got lower, but not for this reason, rather as a transitionary phase. I knew it wasn’t me in Japanese or anything. I’m no longer that way.
My voice pitch in English changes based on my confidence level or scenario (who I’m with/what I’m doing) and it does in Japanese too. I have a naturally high pitched voice in either language, not sure if anyone can detect these changes but me, but I feel the difference.
I should note, when I was learning Mandarin I also experienced talking in a low pitch when I was already past that phase in Japanese. I recognized it as the same phase I went through with Japanese.
I agree, and the part I really resonate with right now in my journey are the beliefs you don’t give up during the process. I recently came to a realization that I can still be me and bring over my American traits when I’m speaking in Japanese and being with other Japanese people and it’s not rude! As long as I’m respectful of other people of course. And yes, I’ve felt parts of me change throughout this journey too as I was being taken out of my own cultural bubble. It allowed me to step away from my own culture and see how things are done in another’s.
Japanese culture actually really changed who I am as a person. I used to be boyish before it, but now I’m girly. I didn’t like the American version of girly and saw no other option before falling in love with Japanese culture and finding new inspirations and rolemodels. I know this sounds superficial, but it was an important change in my life concerning feeling comfortable with myself.
As for two different personalities based on what language I’m speaking, I’m not sure right now where I am in that, but I do believe that to,be true. But not sure how I am different in either language at the moment. I think I used to have two different personslities in them, but now they are becoming a blur. I can’t really think of how my husband’s personality is different either, but maybe because I know him too well. I know the more talkative and jokey side of him, which not everyone gets to see. These things may be too microscopic and fluid for me to realize in both of our personalities, but if anyone here has seen me use both Japanese and English feel free to let me know if you have any impressions on the differences!
I think it’s that cultural mix created by people who study Japanese (or other foreign languages) that makes people really interesting and unique.
Oh what an interesting article! For myself, I feel like I can be who I really am in Japanese in a way that I can not in English. My Japanese is still at a rather low level.
I have been studying about a year and a half, fairly intensively. I am not sure where I would fit in to the level scheme here, but I am probably at the Intermediate stage.
Still, even at the level I am at, I find it easier to express myself in Japanese. In Japanese, when I can not express myself, it is because of my level and there are things that I have not yet learned. In English, which is my native language, even with a graduate school education, there are so many times there does not seem to *be* words to convey what I want to express. There have been many times in English that I have had to translate a natural Japanese expression into awkward English in order to convey what I wanted to say, たとえばよろしくお願いします. That is such a useful expression, isn’t it?
I also find that I am much, much calmer in Japanese than I am in English. Heee…that is troublesome for working on my inner monologue, in that my English thoughts go round and round in circles endlessly! When I settle my English mind and switch to Japanese, often I find myself just enjoying the quiet (which is good for my soul, but not very helpful for my Japanese, I am afraid).
Thank you so much for this article.
As you’ve found out, learning Japanese can also really be a great process of self-discovery.
And English could sure use a よろしくお願いします phrase.
Another quite useful expression that does exist in an English form, but is not used nearly so much.
Heee…although, um….the frequent use of 相槌 in Japanese can be a bit too convenient (when one is being a bit of a 怠け者 during 分からない時).
Such an interesting article. Thank you!
“Next time you finding yourself agreeing with the Japanese point of view, you’ll know why.”
Actually for me this went the other way around. I have never felt at all comfortable with the “English (language) point of view”. I had dabbled in a few languages without falling in love. When I encountered Japanese I started realizing very early on “Here is an outlook I can actually empathize with for the first time in my life! Here is a language that expresses things the way I’ve always wanted to express them!”
Rachel, thank you for your comments. I find my voice is deeper in Japanese and was wondering why. I thought perhaps it was connected with the way the language seems to be formed lower and further forward in the mouth. I am quite relieved to know it is a phase one goes through!
That’s great to hear that Japanese has given you the ability to express things in a way you’ve always wanted to but felt you couldn’t with in English.
The power of foreign language!
I remembered reading this Article, when I saw this here in the Japan Times:
https://goo.gl/LnKVPP A whole Kanji-drilling workbook involving うんこ.
Even if its for kids, I can’t quite see in in western culture…