Obligation Language Learning vs. Passion Language Learning
When people think of language learning from their early school days, unpleasant memories may arise. This is especially true in the U.S. school system, where the way language is taught along with its perceived need, does not satisfy bringing up a generation of foreign language lovers.
Learning language in elementary, junior high, or high school was obligation language learning. And this type of learning comes with heavy baggage.
Depending on your home country, you could probably only choose between a small handful of languages (most likely that involve some combination of English, French, Spanish, Italian, German, other romance languages). You may be starting off from day one with a language you don’t have much interest in.
Excitement is what gets you to the golden land of language learning rewards. When it’s not there, your attention is on assignments, homework, quizzes, tests, and grades. Obligation language learning in school does have its good moments and there are plenty of success stories. But I think more people have a negative experience. This negative produces a terrible result:
I don’t like language learning.
This person won’t pursue a new language after they graduate and become an adult.
Enter Passionate Language Learning
When you choose to learn a language on your own time, unrelated to school or anyone telling you to do so, for your own fun reasons relating to something you love, the experience is vastly different.
When I talk with people who had bad obligation language learning experiences, and tell me that they are bad at languages or ultimately hate them, it can be hard to convince them otherwise. It is hard to show them the fantastical world they are missing out on. I’m not saying passionate language learning is an easy world. But it has the potential to bring unlimited pleasure and happiness.
Japanese is unfortunate (or fortunate?)
Japanese is probably one of the rarer languages taught in schools. I know Chinese has increased over the past decade, but Japanese doesn’t show its face much. At first glance, this might make you sad. You couldn’t learn the one language you wanted to in school. Imagine if you could have spent 5+ years learning the language as part of your childhood education?
Good or bad?
You choose a language you are passionate in and turn it into a school obligation. If you aren’t careful, it can suck the life out of that language. It becomes a school subject that you lose all control over. I’ve heard of people who try to bring in what they love (anime, manga, video games, etc.) and are told rather sternly to “save that hobby stuff for later.”
I sometimes wonder if the reason why people that study Japanese intensely love it is because they didn’t learn it in school. Japanese is almost always passionate language learning, which increases the chance of success and overall satisfaction. I started Japanese when I was 21. I don’t know if I would have developed the same love for it if I started when I was in high school.
Stick with passion?
If you are here on Jalup, Japanese is passionate language learning for you. Do you wish you had the chance to learn Japanese in school or are you glad that it stayed far away from obligation?
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.
I don’t wish I had learned it in school because I feel the school system is broken and often creates people who hate to learn. Passionate learning is awesome.
I DO wish I hadn’t wasted 5 years on horribly inefficient ways to learn Japanese before finding Jalup. It’s rather depressing lol.
At least it leaves you with a good story to tell about how all your previous failures eventually turned into greatness
I had the experience above exactly. I did Spanish in high school (would rather have had Japanese but it wasn’t available), fell behind, hated it. Thought I was just *bad* at learning languages. Years later I finally made that decision to try to learn Japanese on my own. Totally opposite experience so far, enjoying it immensely.
Side question. What is the deal with all the JLPT tests? What is the point/benefit of these? I see them talked about everywhere. As a purely passion learner are they any benefit or just a measuring stick?
I’m just going to focus on the tangible benefits. I am sure other regulars will come and mention its other uses.
For the most part the only time the certification itself is useful is the N1 certification. Thus for many other uses self taken practice tests will give you a lot of the same benefits.
1. If you want to apply for a highly skilled foreigner visa then having an N1 certification gives you a lot of points towards qualification. This is the visa which can get you Permanent Residence in Japan in as few as 3 years.
2. If you want to get a job in Japan you will often need to have your JLPT level as N1 or N2 on your resume. Since most companies check your Japanese level other ways they rarely require a certificate so even this is point is debatable.
Ultimately its just a useful way to discuss your ability level with regards to reading, listening and comprehending Japanese. Its main weakness is that it doesn’t test speaking at all and doesn’t test production very well. Adam has a few articles discussing it as well so you can just search this site for JLPT.
Even when you are successful at a language in school, you may still end up hating languages.
When I learned French, I was decent, got good grades and did everything I was supposed to. But after finishing my requirement, I never wanted to learn a language again.
And then Japanese waved hello…
Mike’s comment is spot on. It provides benefits for people who want a job/to live in Japan. If that’s not in your plan, then you decide if it is worth it for yourself for motivation, setting a long term goal, etc.
Apart from what Mike M said, I think the lower levels of JLPT (N5/N4/N3) are relatively popular with learners as well as they give some goals to work towards and you can measure your progress somewhat. Most conventional textbooks very rooooughly align with the levels, so they can also help a lot of learners to evaluate how far they’ve come and what materials might be benefitial next. (Which might not matter much to you if you mostly focus on immersion)
But yep in the end they are just a measuring stick and if you learn with other methods they might align less with your actual Japanese level and there are other skills unrelated to your Japanese level involved as well (test taking skills in general, how familiar you are with the format, how good you are with the specific question types) and even concerning Japanese level, there is no section that tests any production skills either.
So they can give you a very rough guideline and an idea where you are progress wise, but in the end it will only ever be an estimate and depending on what type of learner you are, that could be either a pretty good estimate or a rather unreliable one.
I studied at a Japanese University for 5 years and could have taken class the entire time I was there. However as soon as I filled my requirements I stopped taking the classes because they were draining my energy and motivation for learning casual Japanese which was by far more interesting to me at the time.
Now I just have to apply the self study process to learn how to read all of that boring and dry Japanese stuff!
When you are going to start teaching Japanese classes at a Japanese university :)
Japanese was my non-elective language in year 7. I didn’t take it again, but it ran up to year 12. In the 80’s Japanese was considered to be a useful language for business, so I don’t think it was uncommon. The class was useful, because it was my first introduction to Japanese culture.
I didn’t even know about samurai before that class. In that same year I saw sushi for the first time (from a distance), I saw Akira at the movies, (so awesome it almost broke my teenage brain) and discovered Ranma 1/2 comics. That was a few years before the Viz translations were available, so “reading” meant looking at the pictures and wondering why hot girls sat naked in ponds all the time. Wut? No idea about onsen yet!
That might sound strange since Japanese culture is ubiquitous now, but that’s how it was in those days.
That’s interesting if Japanese was more commonly taught in school in the 80s and then died down. I guess it’s similar to the way Chinese has gained popularity in the past decade.
I wonder how it is for me.
I didn’t particularly like English classes in school, but they helped me somewhat to get to the point where I could just enjoy immersion eventually. I didn’t have much passion for English early on and it felt very much like obligation, but that eventually turned around when I got interested in English language materials outside of school. My interest was initially only relativly shallow and it might not have been enough to start learning Englsh from zero. But with the head start I had from school that wasn’t really necessary and I could dive in much easier and from there on became more passionate. So in a way I’m thankful for the lessons I had to take at school, because even though it took a while, they definitely opened up a new world to me.
However, we had to take another language in school (French for me) and somehow it never really worked out the same way for French. I never made the leap and didn’t find much that interested me in French. So apart from “it would be kinda neat to speak one more language” I didn’t really have any motivation for it and it never left the obligation-stage.
Japanese definitely started out as a passion language right away. Interestingly in the beginning mostly because of material I was interested in (I did karate, so there was that, and also manga/anime), but starting to learn and motivate myself was still pretty hard for me when starting out. But when I got a tiny little better, I actually started to really like the language itself! They way it’s structured differently to the European languages I know (I kinda know in the case of French) and how certain things are expressed. So I kind of developed a love for the language itself, which definitely is a first (even compared to English) and that helped immensely with motivation as well.
Do I wish I had learned Japanese at school? I honestly don’t know. I think it might have made the early learning way more structured than the mess I made. I think my English and French lessons actually weren’t too bad and if I had been taught Japanese in a similar way, that might have worked out for me as similar to English I have interest in material written in the language. Buuut… when I look at some languages taught as electives at my school (and Japanese probably would only ever have been one) those courses usually were super duper slow and never actually got you far. And learning Japanese that way might have just made me more frustrated more than anything. Which makes me think “maybe it’s actually good I didn’t have the option to take Japanese in school”. But I’m unsure…
edit: gosh, my comments are always so long….
TLDR: “obligation” turned into “passion” for English for me, but never did for French (learned both in school). I’m unsure if it would have worked for Japanese.
That’s a good point about the possibility of obligation turning into passion. I wonder how common it is (since you have had 2 completely different experiences) for that to happen.
Obviously it depends a lot on the way you learn the obligation language, and the teachers that influence you.
I’m very lucky because my love of language preceded my love for any one specific language. But you know what, I’m even luckier to have gotten through the education system with that love intact. Language education is truly awful.
I did French and German in school. I gave up German at 17, and French at 18. Both involved a change of teacher. Our new German teacher had two favourite students and pretty much ignored everyone else. Our new French teacher was a true stereotype- unforgiving of grammatical mistakes, and pointed out each and every one in the most sarcastic discouraging way possible.
So I left school still loving languages, wanting to take a language degree, but with no language left to specialise in. Many years later I discovered I could have taken a linguistics degree, which has the option of studying in English then studying additional languages during the program. Which highlights another issue with language teaching in school- they don’t encourage you to do anything outside of the curriculum (linguistics, non-European languages, etc.)
So I’m really happy that I studied Japanese away from all of the above nonsense. It paid off in the end because although I couldn’t follow my language passion at undergrad level, my self-study of Japanese allowed me to take it up at postgrad level. I’ve ended up in the field of ancient East Asian history, so now I get to study additional languages which is perfect for me.