Learn the language. Go to the country. Mingle with the people. You’ve probably heard something like “if you really want to connect with the people of a country, you need to learn the language, and show them you actually respect and care about their culture.” So you study your ass off to get to a significant level.
You then face a strange phenomenon. People liked you more when you knew less, and like you less now that you know more. That’s unfair! You learned the language and showed maximum dedication and discipline. You are demonstrating how much you love Japan. So why don’t people love you more?!
People enjoy being liked, and being able to make friends. So this feeling is crushing. All is not lost though. Once you understand what causes this, and why this is actually good, you will save yourself from frustration and anger.
Why Japanese people like you when your Japanese is bad
1. You’re cute
Regardless of your appearance or personality, when you are a beginner in Japanese, you are cute. Why? Who do you know that you sound just like?
Babies and small toddlers.
You sound just like them (if not worse) when they first start learning their native language. This results in an instinctive feeling to Japanese people that you are childlike, and by extension, innocent. This feeling may be even stronger in Japanese women/men who are dealing with or have dealt with babies/toddlers on a frequent basis.
You are a cute, innocent child, despite being an adult. And cute, innocent children get positive attention.
2. You’re exotic
Many Japanese have barely traveled outside of Asia. Some Japanese have never talked with a foreigner in their life. That makes you a mysterious, unknown creature that has wandered into their world. Curiosity and intrigue will draw them to you.
Forgot what this is like? Think about if you were at a party in your home country. You have a choice of 2 people to talk to:
● Someone from a country you’ve never heard of, with a culture you know nothing about, who just exudes mystery.
● Someone that looks and acts like people you see every day in your company and daily life.
Who would you choose?
3. English Practice
Studying English in Japan is extremely common. But most of that studying never involves real speaking practice with native English speakers. You know how that feels when you want to speak with Japanese people, but can’t find any.
All a sudden a Japanese person has the opportunity to speak with a foreigner, and that opportunity appears right before his eyes. What do you think he’ll do?
4. Can relate – no inferiority complex
While everyone studies English in Japan to some extent, most of these people started off with no choice (since it is required in school). Forcing language study, or studying language in a school setting that doesn’t match your study style, produces minimal results. There is no actual need for the language, and they don’t get very good at it. They struggle. They may want to get better but they can’t. You know this all too well.
When you finally talk with someone, which thought feels better?
“They are just like me! They are struggling with the language just like I am struggling with English. They can barely put together coherent sentences. Language learning is hard! They know it and I know it!”
“Why are they so good? How are they so fast? I’ve studied for a decade and am having so much trouble, yet they studied for a year and are already better than me. What is this garbage?!”
When the negativity starts to settle in
All foreigners studying Japanese will eventually discover the above. You started off being loved, and enjoyed the attention (who wouldn’t?) It felt great and was motivational. As you get better, this is all disappears, and negativity creeps up.
You want friendships and to develop deeper relationships, but can’t, now that you have better Japanese. You may start to become resentful and dislike things about Japanese and Japan, because of it.
This is a very dangerous line of thinking. This is how people fail to reach fluency.
Why none of this matters and you need to remain positive
After you enjoy the initial attention as a beginner, you need to stop thinking about this as a problem as you get better. Because it isn’t.
You lose all that initial love. But as you already realize, it was all shallow love. You can’t make friends in the same way, and you aren’t special or the center of attention. Good. You need to lose all of this. Because if you want to develop real and meaningful relationships, you can’t rely on this status.
Once you lose the spotlight, you develop relationships in the normal adult way; through time and effort. As an adult, this is what you crave, and it isn’t supposed to come easy. When your Japanese is good, you make connections through deep conversations and shared interests. That’s the way it is meant to be. You just got blindsided by the initial spotlight.
Are you stuck in the “spotlight phase” or feeling negativity as your Japanese grows and you exit this phase? How did you successfully transfer from the “spotlight phase” to the “real connection” phase?
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.