It’s been a month since I got back from Japan, and I still haven’t written about my trip here! Which isn’t a sign that it wasn’t a great trip—it was, I’m very glad we went. That silence is instead more a sign that I’m not a travel blogger; it’s also a sign that I’ve been busy recently. (That busyness I probably will blog about in a bit.)
But I did at least want to write about the trip in the context of learning Japanese. As I mentioned before, I started taking Japanese lessons a couple of months before we left. And that turned out to be a great idea: partly because of the content of the lessons, partly as calibration of what I could and couldn’t do, but mostly because of a mental shift it triggered. It made the question of speaking Japanese a much more real one, so it flipped a switch in my brain where, even before leaving the house, I’d find myself thinking about how I would say something in Japanese.
And, as it turned out in the trip: yes, I can speak Japanese! Not well, and not comfortably: I do a lot better in France or Germany. But well enough to make myself known whenever we needed that to happen, well enough that people I spoke to didn’t generally answer me in English, well enough that we never had any serious problems.
Essentially all of this speaking was in specific, focused situations: generally some sort of business transaction or ordering dinner or whatever. (And actually my reading practice came in handy as often as my speaking practice.) There was a grand total of one instance over the two weeks when I carried out an actual conversation, and a lot of vocal fumbling happened in general. But still: the point was for us to have fun and enjoy the trip, not to give me immersion practice. (And one conversation is more than zero conversations, after all.)
So: yay for language study, yay for us being able to relax and enjoy ourselves halfway around the world! And yay for lessons, too. Despite which I haven’t continued the lessons since I came back. In fact, they stopped a few weeks before I left: my teacher was selling her house, so she had to cancel several weeks in a row because she was holding open houses. And I was glad to have that couple of hours of my weekend back, as it turns out.
But I do want to change my approach because of this experience. To spend more time thinking about how to form sentences, not just reading them. Maybe not to spend more time on Japanese during the weekends (though that’s not out of the question), but at least spend more time on it during the week. (After all, reading a chapter of Hikaru no Go is a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend twenty or thirty minutes if I happen to have a bit of time between when I get home and when we’re making dinner.)
Or at least I want to tweak my approach: there’s a lot that I won’t change. (Because, after all: it seems to have worked!) Above all, just keep on going: I’m not going to make nearly the sort of progress that I would if I were immersing myself in the language, but if I just keep on working smartly at it, I’ll keep on getting better.
This post has not been revised since publication.