The year is 2020, and I have decided to star learning Japanese. It’s early goings so far, but I’ve also decided to blog occasionally about the experience, something I have never done (and regret never doing) in the 10+ years I have spent learning Chinese over the previous decade.
As I approach fatherhood, I’ve been thinking a lot about my own childhood, and trying to remember what it was like. When I think back to my early teens, my mind immediately goes to my favorite types of days – rainy, dreary, cold Chicago weekends sitting bundled up on a futon in the den, the faint buzz of a cathode ray tube television humming beneath one of any number of JRPG soundtracks emitting from the screen; or late nights in a dark living room, half asleep, as dubs from Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory and Serial Experiments: Lain played on Adult Swim and TechTV. These were mesmerizing downloads for a young and impressionable mind.
I left these things behind after high school, but I’ve never forgot about them, and now passed the age of 30 I have found that I still have great nostalgia for the same types of things that I liked as an early teen. And yet when I look back at these imports which so thoroughly populated my life as a young teenager, I find myself wishing that I knew more about the country that produced them, and its culture and people. I wish I could appreciate these works more fully, but not only that, I want to understand the source more deeply.
Here in the United States, Japanese games and anime are as popular as ever, especially for kids. But we still maintain a certain arrogance in our interactions with the outside world, enjoying the content contributions that other cultures make to our lives while rarely attempt to participate ourselves, instead always being content to aloofly sit atop the food pyramid of international commerce as the least bilingual nation in the world. I would like to set a different kind of example, for myself and others (my future family included), that rejections the notion that language learning and cultural exchange is either superfluous or will be in the future thanks to technology. In fact, as we watch relationships break down across the globe and all peoples becoming more insular, I have to wonder if our neglect of deep cultural exchange has had something to do with that…
I have studied Chinese for over 10 years, and have almost developed a sort of allegiance to it. Studying a language is a lifelong commitment (a marathon, not a sprint). Truly, I could likely spend the rest of my life only studying Chinese, but I feel it is time to let myself explore a little more…
I am starting slow, and trying to keep in mind some lessons learned from my experiences with Chinese. Pimsleur’s gentle monthly subscription plan seems as good as any in terms of a starting position – when I began studying Chinese, I neglected to actually listen to the language for the first several months of class (tapes were generally locked up in the dingy campus “Language Laboratory”), and as a result of those bad habits it my Chinese listening has always lagged considerably behind my literacy. I will not make the same mistake with Japanese. I will spend the early days doing nothing but listening, getting a good feel of the language and the types of words and phrases and sentence structures that can be used to express one’s self. Later, I will look to begin the written scripts, perhaps by guiding myself through a textbook, perhaps by finding a tutor. Since I already know the meaning of the Kanji thanks to my Chinese study, I hope that learning Japanese will go a little bit more smoothly for me. Later on, I may look at Chinese materials designed to teach Japanese, since I am uniquely positioned to do that.
In the coming days/weeks/months, I will update my progress here, recounting major things I’ve learned or other anecdotes from along the way. So far, as I said earlier, it’s still early goings. Just two lessons in, I’ve felt humbled by my inability to retain even half of what I’ve learned so far, and I’m experiencing what my wife (who has now been studying Chinese for 6 months) has felt early and often in her own study. But I have also felt excited again, in a way that only language learning has ever managed to excite me.