Written by Amrit Kumbhar
My Experience of Learning Another Language
Born in India, raised in Australia, but speaks fluent Japanese… How did this happen?
My journey to learning a new language started in Year 8 of high school. Like many, initially, it was my passion for anime and love of Japanese food that led me to start learning Japanese. Once I started, I simply couldn’t stop – I fell madly in love with it. 8+ years of learning and now we’re here.
Over the next two pages, I have laid out some useful titbits, tips, and advice for learning Japanese or, in fact, any language.
What it Means to Learn Another Language
As we learn in Applied Linguistics, language cannot and does not exist in isolation. The meaning of any utterance is shaped and determined by the sociocultural contexts that surround it. This complex and inseparable relationship between language, culture, and context is the reason why learning a language is a lot more than simply learning the vocabulary, grammar, and sentence structure. A language’s history, the changing societal values, ways of expressing politeness and the culture; unique, yet, shared ways of doing and being. In trying to learn another language, you are attempting to learn a whole new way of perceiving, interpreting and understanding the world.
How To Learn
So, are you looking for the best studying technique or the fastest way of learning a language that works for everyone 100% of the time? Well, too bad, because that simply doesn’t exist. It comes down to how fast you pick up the sentence structure and grammar, how long it takes you to learn the alphabet, and how well you can pronounce words. All these factors will differ at an individual level because we all come from different language backgrounds and have access to different linguistic, socio-cultural, and economic resources that we draw when trying to learn another language. That being said, in my personal experience, two major factors that influence the rate of language acquisition are “intrinsic motivation” and “level of cultural immersion”. The principle is quite simple, if you have a strong desire that comes from within to learn the target language and are motivated to do so, you will enjoy learning it, you will see studying as fun as opposed to “work” that must be done; you will be more prone to actively seeking new ways to learn or involve yourself in the language or culture. This brings us to the next factor: the level of immersion. The more you delve into and immerse yourself in the culture, the more you learn about the language. You don’t have to go to the language’s target country to immerse yourself in the culture, especially in Australia. We have numerous clubs and communities (both in-person and online) for a range of different languages. Involving yourself in such communities can further pique your interest in the culture and, in turn, furthering your motivation to learn the language.
“Language cannot and does not exist in isolation…”
I myself saw, and still see, learning Japanese as a hobby. In pursuing this hobby of mine, I studied Japanese as a subject in school, watched anime, hosted Japanese exchange students, participated in and even made Japanese conversation clubs, entered speech competitions, went on exchanges to Japan, hosted a radio show on Japanese songs, and made covers of my favourite songs on YouTube and much more. Yet, not once have I considered any of this as “work” or a “chore”, because it’s something I love and enjoy doing; this is how I became fluent.
“In trying to learn another language, you are attempting to learn a whole new way of perceiving, interpreting and understanding the world…”
In terms of studying techniques, the point to remember is there isn’t one technique that will magically make you fluent; different methods target different aspects of the language, and they are all important. As such, use textbooks for learning grammar and structure and video resources to practice listening and learning useful phrases. Actively practice speaking with other learners, as well as native speakers; just make sure you don’t limit yourself to one method. Use all of them in combination as they all complete each other. With that being said, I would particularly encourage people to make speaking a component of focus. I say this because, language is inherently a social act, whether it be spoken, signed, or, heck, even danced, it’s meant to be used to communicate something to someone – so use it!! You can have a perfect understanding of the grammar and an extensive vocabulary, but if you cannot or do not use it… what’s the point?
“Language is inherently a social act…”
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Many learners feel shy, embarrassed, or even afraid to make mistakes when speaking and, as such, limit or avoid otherwise perfect opportunities to practice speaking. Here’s the thing: no one starts fluent, and everyone makes errors. My outlook on faltering when practising speaking is that each mistake presents you with an opportunity to learn from and improve. Ironically, with this mindset the more mistakes you make the better you get because you keep learning and improving with each opportunity. When you start to appreciate making mistakes as opposed to fearing them, you will find that over time you have more confidence in speaking and end up making fewer errors.
Let’s Learn Some Japanese!
The Three Writing Systems of Japanese
Hiragana (????): The standard Japanese alphabet with 46 characters in total.
Katakana (????): Also 46 characters, but used to translate words from other languages.
Kanji (??): Over 3000 different characters, in most cases each character denotes a particular meaning, i.e., ??love, ??home, ?= dog
Politeness in Japanese
Whereas in English we achieve politeness by adding words, for example, “please”, or phrasing them in particular ways that denote politeness, like, “may I” or “would you mind”, in Japanese, politeness is built into the language. Depending on who you are talking to, honorific morphemes are attached to nouns, verbs and adjectives, in order to denote particular levels of politeness.
The Three Different Levels/ Forms of Politeness
Jyotaigo (???): Lowest level of politeness (i.e., for close friends and family)
Teineigo (???): Normal level of politeness (i.e., for strangers and those with similar social status or age).
Keigo (??): Honorific form used to show deference or respect to those of a higher social status (i.e., boss or employer).
Below are a few ways to greet others in Japanese!
My name is Amrit = Watashi no Namae wa Amrit desu (????? ????? ???)
Good morning = Ohayougozaimsu (?????????)
Good afternoon/ day = Konnichiwa (?????)
Good = Konbanwa (?????)
Goodnight = Oyasuminasai (???????)
Nice to meet you (for the first time) = Hajimemashite (?????? )
Farewell = Sayonara (?????)See you again = Mata ne (???)