I Planned to Become Fluent in Japanese in 1 Year
One year. That’s it. That was my answer I gave to a Japanese friend from college who asked me how long I planned on studying Japanese for. “I’m going to study for a year, become fluent, enjoy Japanese TV, and then move on.” I had everything figured out.
You never assume you are being naive when you tackle studying a new language. But one day it hits you right in the face. Surprise! I wasn’t fluent in a year. Maybe around the 3-4 year mark, depending on how you define fluent. Then I was done. Or so I thought…
Learning Japanese is a goal to achieve something. Whether that’s for a job, or understanding anime, or being able to communicate with a significant Japanese other, you eventually get there. You do. It happens. But then what?
The high level blues? What about past that? The fluent blues?
You’ll reach a point one day where you have to decide if Japanese is a goal to complete, or is something more. That something more takes the shape of 生涯学習 (しょうがいがくしゅう) or “lifelong learning.” Lifelong learning dwells in many areas of your life, and a foreign language is no different.
When you become fluent, you reach a turning point. You can stop and enjoy the fruits. Or continue and go on forever. You’d think the former would be more common. You struggle to master Japanese, so after years of work, who wouldn’t love to finally be able to relax?
The truth is that many people who make it to fluency usually go forward. It comes down to a simple revelation: lifelong learning makes life worthwhile. If you loved Japanese enough for the first several years till fluency, you’ll most likely love it for the many years that come after it. Your way of studying will have changed, but you will bask at the chance to enjoy fresh knew Japanese knowledge. The language and culture evolve so you evolve with it. Fluency is only the start.
This is where I am. Trust me, I was never a “language learner.” My one year prediction was real. And when that didn’t happen, and my postponed path to fluency was achieved, I thought I would be done. But I’m not. I enjoy the game now more than ever.
There’s always more. I just recently read a book about the life of a veteran convenience store worker in Japan. Did I know anything about working at convenience store in Japan? No. But I do now. And that feels good.
Everyone is in a rush to fluency. Was I? Of course? Whatever you are imagining, double that. But if Japanese is lifelong, with no end to the game, was there actually a need to rush? For the people that like to take the slow route, isn’t that as noble a road to take?
If it takes you 2 years, 5 years, 10 years, 20 years, and you still aren’t fluent, you haven’t lost. If you are enjoying the game, you are winning. I know plenty of casual learners who love Japanese, yet they plan to play the lifelong game at as slow a pace as they feel comfortable with.
What’s your game length?
How long do you plan on learning Japanese for? Do you see yourself as a lifelong Japanese learner?
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.
Nice article. I used to want to rush through to fluency – like most people I suspect. Now I’m starting to want to draw out my study a bit more, to savour the experience so to speak.
I think too many people frame language learning as an end goal (fluency), like – for example – getting a degree. My other hobbies (boxing, climbing) are all about having fun. Whilst I train to get better, the priority is enjoyment… Much like going out for a steak (mmmm steak). That seems like a healthy attitude to apply to Japanese, as long as it’s not an excuse to slack off on the study.
I agree. I think a lot of people get mixed up because they think that Japanese is merely a means to have fun with other things. They need to have that Japanese to have fun watching anime or movies.They don’t realize that the Japanese is the fun part itself and also can/should be enjoyed.
Interesting! I think I always expected to enjoy and learn Japanese forever (I am a huge proponent of lifelong learning and self-teaching), but in my head I always defined “learning” as “how long I will be adding lots of cards to Anki”/”how long will I be in the textbook phase”.
By my definition, I hope to be done “learning” in maybe 3 years, with around 3000-4000 cards/year.
But as for continuing to engage with the language and practice and develop skills in all 4 aspects of language (passive and active), as well as enjoying Japanese media, well, never really expect that to stop.
You bring up an important point about the perception of what Japanese learning is many years down on the road. It definitely is not the same type of learning that leads you up till fluency. It takes on a completely new form, but it is still learning nonetheless.