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?