Learning Japanese: What Happened?

In 2020 I committed to explore one of my lifelong fascinations: the Japanese language. Lack of a focused plan of study and other life priorities allowed my efforts to dissolve.

In 2019, my life was a carnival of free time. I had time for all my hobbies. I even exercised on most days. The only existential dread I felt was directed at how I should be spending all this time – is it worthier to play a guitar at a high level, or work on Classical Chinese? Should I learn a new language, or should I enroll in a degree program? As time went on, I felt like my schedule was pretty solid and that I was ready to begin a new hobby. I committed to “Learning Japanese” as my 2020 New Year’s resolution. But change was coming: one change was something I knew about – my wife was just beginning her second trimester. The other – the coronavirus – was just a rumor, like West Nile Virus or Swine Flu.

The coronavirus was initially a boon to my study time. With a pregnant wife and so much indoor time, I committed to as much study as possible, as has been documented pretty thoroughly in this blog. When I became a parent, that changed. Initially trying to work from home with an infant was incredibly demanding, robbing me of the mental energy and relaxed conditions I required to focus on myself. After those hard first though, I found that I had a little bit of room to get back to some of my old hobbies – just not all of them. I opted to “declutter” my personal life of all the things that I didn’t see as essential to my identity, and focused entirely on playing guitar and maintaining my Mandarin language skills. That’s what I did before COVID and being a parent, right? So those things logically must be the real “me”, with everything else being little more than superfluous activities resulting from an excess of free time.

Or so I thought. For sure, quitting Japanese and declining to try anything new helped alleviate some of the stress that was beginning to overwhelm me in 2020. But after a bit of a reprieve, I started to feel that 2021 offered a real dearth of new experiences for me other than the ones prompted by parenthood, and as a result I’ve felt pretty hollow. Looking back on my experience learning Japanese, it’s clear that I was just fumbling around, first with Pimsluer, then with other methods – mostly self-guided. I never had a plan, or a clear motivation. I never really invested in a class, or tutoring. I just wanted to be someone who is good at new things they try, and rarely did I ever stop and think about how much enjoyment I was getting along the way. It almost feels like language acquisition – along with my other hobbies – were devolving into exercises of self-esteem, rather than pleasure. An abundance of time smoothed over the edges caused by abruptly shifting goals, as will as inconsistent temperaments and rationalizations for studying. As a young parent, I learned that doesn’t work. I need to do things for myself, for the pleasure of doing them.

In the end, I still haven’t learned Japanese. And maybe I never will. But I’ve learned something more valuable – that time is precious. When I started Learning Japanese, I went the cheap route. I didn’t want to commit to classes or tutoring until way too late, because I felt insecure about the whole project – why should I invest a lot of myself into something that might not get my anywhere? Through all this, I never allowed myself to consider that my own pleasure was worth it. In the future, I hope I’ll continue to try new things, like I did with Learning Japanese. But I also hope that I’ll have the courage to really commit to them both financially and as far as my schedule and personal priorities allow. Because I am worth it.

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