I am a reasonably accomplished early-40s man. I can play the piano reasonably competently. I know how to program in quite a few programming languages. I became an expert at the Linux operating system. I have studied, to varying degrees, math and electronics, and I consider myself to be of significantly above-average intelligence. I have thoughts about theology that make pastor friends tell me that they remind me of C.S Lewis, or even Augustine.
All this is to say that trying to learn Japanese is probably the first thing in my life that I’ve taken up that I am not sure I will ever master with any degree of competency at all. It is orders of magnitude more difficult than any of these things I’ve mentioned.
I could say that the reason is that I have to learn two entirely new syllabaries. I could say that the reason is that I have to learn an entirely new vocabulary. I could say that the reason is the entirely different postpositional grammar of Japanese. I could even say that the reason is that there are a couple of thousand kanji, each with multiple readings that only apply in certain times. I could even say that the reason is that Japan has an entirely different culture, and that even if I master the language technically, if I don’t understand that, then I may as well hang it all up.
I could say any one of these are the reason, but that’s not entirely true – all of these things at once are the reason.
I am embarrassed to even attempt the simplest sentence with a native, or even competent, speaker. I don’t even want to open my mouth. I don’t want to write a single sentence. I love the idea of learning the language, I think it is a great challenge and I like the people and culture, but truth be told, I don’t know if I can do this. I don’t even know why I’m doing this.
One of the first words I learned in Japanese was 恥ずかしい. Hazukashii. It means embarrassed. And I can think of no other word to describe my utter lack of competence and confidence in this undertaing.
And worse, I don’t even know if the approach I’m taking is the right one. Or if there is even a right approach. I’m so woefully lacking in this endeavor, with so many different resources clamoring for my attention and telling me I can become fluent if I do this and that and give this one money and give that one money and try my best, that I’m seriously wondering if I’m doing myself a disservice by using any one, or even all, of them. Yeah, I can recognize more kanji than I used to. Big whoop. Even that little tiny bit of accomplishment feels like a big deal, and when I look at the huge sea of things to learn, knowing what a few more kanji mean seems to be like pissing into the ocean.
I’m not seriously considering giving up at the moment, but I’m wondering if there’s any point to continuing. There’s a difference.