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5 years and can't speak Japanese

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  • 5 years and can't speak Japanese

    After visiting my college buddy (who is Japanese and lived in the States for 9 years, graduated from US univ.) I have come to realize that I can't speak Japanese for crap. I work in an all Japanese enviroment, drive, pay bills, do mostly everything by myself in Japan---but I teach English all day. I have study guides, take some free classes, but I'm so freakin frusterated with not improving and not really sure why. Any advice?

  • #2
    Originally posted by nawlinsgurl View Post
    After visiting my college buddy (who is Japanese and lived in the States for 9 years, graduated from US univ.) I have come to realize that I can't speak Japanese for crap. I work in an all Japanese enviroment, drive, pay bills, do mostly everything by myself in Japan---but I teach English all day. I have study guides, take some free classes, but I'm so freakin frusterated with not improving and not really sure why. Any advice?
    First of all, how does a Japanese living in the states for 9 years compare to you living in Japan for 5? He's been "studying" English since grammar school, whereas you probably have never taken a proper language courses in Japanese, ever. You are in a completely different league.

    But to be productive, you probably use your Japanese in every day situations. It does not take a genious to pick up on how to order a katsu-don in a restaurant without no actual work at all. When you pass the point of frustration and realize that you can actually do some stuff in Japanese, you stop paying attention to the language and basically stop studying.

    What you want to do is do different stuff in Japanese in your every day life. If your routine is to study 5 words a day, but then you never use them anywhere you are basically studying for nothing. So, how about writing a diary in Japanese? Watching TV without subtitles? Something different that forces you to use your actively acquired vocabulary in an real life situation. If you just buy katsu-don every day for 5 years, you just get very good at buying katsu-don.

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    • #3
      Originally posted by Trichophyton-in-my-pants View Post
      First of all, how does a Japanese living in the states for 9 years compare to you living in Japan for 5? He's been "studying" English since grammar school, whereas you probably have never taken a proper language courses in Japanese, ever. You are in a completely different league.

      But to be productive, you probably use your Japanese in every day situations. It does not take a genious to pick up on how to order a katsu-don in a restaurant without no actual work at all. When you pass the point of frustration and realize that you can actually do some stuff in Japanese, you stop paying attention to the language and basically stop studying.

      What you want to do is do different stuff in Japanese in your every day life. If your routine is to study 5 words a day, but then you never use them anywhere you are basically studying for nothing. So, how about writing a diary in Japanese? Watching TV without subtitles? Something different that forces you to use your actively acquired vocabulary in an real life situation. If you just buy katsu-don every day for 5 years, you just get very good at buying katsu-don.
      Well put.

      I would add that I'm in a similar situation. I've been in Japan for more than five years and while I can order katsu-don like a native, my overall ability sucks.

      The times when I have had brief spurts of progress were when I was studying and really enjoying it. For me study just as a choir results in little or no progress, it's partly a state of mind I guess.

      The part about using it in different situations is also important and probably essential to becoming really proficient

      Gambatte ne!

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      • #4
        Originally posted by nawlinsgurl View Post
        After visiting my college buddy (who is Japanese and lived in the States for 9 years, graduated from US univ.) I have come to realize that I can't speak Japanese for crap. I work in an all Japanese enviroment, drive, pay bills, do mostly everything by myself in Japan---but I teach English all day. I have study guides, take some free classes, but I'm so freakin frusterated with not improving and not really sure why. Any advice?
        why would you want to improve?? Give up! Give in to the dark side!!

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        • #5
          Originally posted by nawlinsgurl View Post
          After visiting my college buddy (who is Japanese and lived in the States for 9 years, graduated from US univ.) I have come to realize that I can't speak Japanese for crap. I work in an all Japanese enviroment, drive, pay bills, do mostly everything by myself in Japan---but I teach English all day. I have study guides, take some free classes, but I'm so freakin frusterated with not improving and not really sure why. Any advice?
          If you are teaching English all day you are not in an all-japanese environment as you are speaking English to japanese. Your body is in Japan but any time you are speaklng English is time you are not using or studying Japanese. To learn to speak Japanese you need to get out of the gaijin bubble and put yourself in situations where you can NOT rely on English to get by. My 3rd year in Japan I had a japanese room mate who didnt speak English, I used to hang out at local izakaya rather than the gaijin pubs. At the moment I study guitar with lessons taught in Japanese. Ditto for karate.

          If all you do all day is go to work and then go home and watch English-language TV and go to Sam and Daves you wont improve even if you are physically in Japan.

          There have been long threads on how to study Japanese and I even downloaded a long article on the the topic. Everyone has different needs and different ways of studying. You need to find a way that works for you. A few pointers.

          1. You wont learn Japanese by osmosis. You HAVE to study, memorise Kanji and vocabulary. You cant do much if you dont have a working vocabulary and you dont understand what people say to you.Learn good study habits and do lots of revision. Usually words wont sink in the first time. You also have to try and use what you learn or else you will lose it and it will go into short term memory.
          2. Keep in mind people dont talk like textbooks. Keep ears peeled for slang, colloquialisms, informal language. It will take a while to develop good listening skills (as opposed to speaking) and picking up on language. Even if you dont understand everything you can listen for 'gist' and the general meaning rather than on understanding every word or phrase.
          3. Regard learning Japanese as running a marathon, not doing a 200 meter sprint. Rome wasnt built in a day. You may have been 'studying' for 5 years but how much time was actually spent on learning Kanji, vocab, grammar? Do you think you will learn japanese just by being here and teaching English all day? I doubt it somehow.
          4. If you have no goals you wont know when you get there. Set some small, short-term goals, take baby steps and dont take on too much at once as you will get overwhelmed.
          5. What do you actually want to DO with the language? Dont just say you want to have conversations as thats too vague. You can have fluent conversations but if there is no solid basis of grammar etc then you wont get anywhere.
          6. I found Kara-oke is a good way to improve intonation and pronunciation as the song is quite melodic and you learn the 'rhythm' of Japanese when you sing in Japanese. Use flash cards, CDs, make a goal to learn 5 new words each day.
          Last edited by KansaiBen; 2010-01-02, 11:02 PM.

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          • #6
            Must have do or die reasons

            You don't have "urgency to learn" Japanese. Your friend in US had that urgency, or flunk out.

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            • #7
              Great advice.

              And all very true.

              Much appreciated.

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              • #8
                I can solve this riddle in two words:

                Try harder.

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                • #9
                  If you spend lots of time speaking English all day, you will be good at speaking English. If you spend lots of time playing tennis, you will be good at tennis.
                  I know people that have spent 20 years in Japan and can't speak better than a 4 year old. Also, since you are American I am surprised that you are surprised. Think of Chinese and Hispanic immigrants to the US. These are 2 big groups that are notorious for not learning English. They spend all day speaking their language and never learn English.
                  Don't take "some free classes". Take A LOT, and put yourself in an environment that you can use Japanese. If you spend time with the natives outside of the Eikaiwa, you will find that most people are very helpful to teach foreigners Japanese. Some only want to practice English, but most will help a little here and there.

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                  • #10
                    ditch free classes

                    I'd also suggest ditching the free classes. Free classes are all well and good if you've been in-country for 5 weeks and want to learn to order edamame and shochu, but if you really want to learn, pay a couple thousand yen for a class at least twice a week. There is a big difference between the free class teacher saying "yes, great!" even though you are mangling the language, and your "paid" teacher who will give you sh!t for not doing homework, being late, mixing tenses, and of course, inevitably, for dropping/adding/mixing your o ni ha ga de etc. etc.

                    It is a new year, and a good time to start. If you work 8 to 4, then 5 to 7 is your time, at least twice a week. Any answer to this that starts with "but I have to" will only lead to failure. Do it, do it now. 5 years is a long time. No more excuses.

                    Good luck with it.

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                    • #11
                      OP,

                      I know your situation, I lived (am living it)

                      2 points:

                      My overall level did not improve until I took a 3 month intensive class
                      My overall level did not improve until my son started speaking Japanese only (the English is coming along well now)

                      So I really think that your own NEED is critical. Also since we moved to Kyushu (inaka) where there is no English and they really don't want English it creates a need. In Tokyo/ Yokohama/ Osaka etc there is no need to learn Japanese to get by.

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                      • #12
                        there's no need to know japanese in tokyo but there's no reason not to know it either! no excuses, get crackin!

                        stop associating with english speakers outside of work and get some japanese speaking friends. find yourself a japanese boyfriend/husband/girlfriend/penpal/whatever and speak japanese with them. surely you can speak a little bit, and surely you can read and write a little, so just go for it.

                        i find that having a shot or two of liquor also helps speaking quite a bit. i'm not joking about that either. it really works.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by paradoxbox View Post

                          i find that having a shot or two of liquor also helps speaking quite a bit. i'm not joking about that either. it really works.
                          Agreed, thats something I hadn't thought of, but now that you mention it, it does give a major boost. I have noticed that many times.

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by paradoxbox
                            i find that having a shot or two of liquor also helps speaking quite a bit. i'm not joking about that either. it really works.
                            Originally posted by Andygawg View Post
                            Agreed, thats something I hadn't thought of, but now that you mention it, it does give a major boost. I have noticed that many times.
                            I am skeptical of the "fluency through alcohol" claim.

                            It's my bet that most who believe it are either:

                            1) too drunk to realize (or care) how bad they sound at the time, or

                            2) aware of how terrible their Japanese is and need some sort of liquid courage to get past their well-founded fear of mangling the language yet again ... thus sending them back to point 1.

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by shu View Post
                              I am skeptical of the "fluency through alcohol" claim.

                              It's my bet that most who believe it are either:

                              1) too drunk to realize (or care) how bad they sound at the time, or

                              2) aware of how terrible their Japanese is and need some sort of liquid courage to get past their well-founded fear of mangling the language yet again ... thus sending them back to point 1.
                              You may be right on both points. I should have written "seems" to give a major boost.

                              Either way, it's fun to be drunk!

                              Cheers!!

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