I don’t remember the exact day that I decided to study Japanese, but I think I’m approaching the two year anniversary at some point in the next couple of months. It’s been a lot of ups and a lot of downs, a lot of “I don’t know if I can do this” and a lot of “hey, this is starting to make a little sense now”. To be frank, I’m not entirely sure where I am at the moment. I think I could probably pass the JLPT N5 if I chose to take it, but I want to keep studying for right now.
If I had to go back to the beginning and tell myself what the most important thing about learning Japanese is, I’m not entirely sure what I’d say. I’d say that certain parts of it are deceptively simple, but in Japanese, the devil is always in the details. I’d say that trying to self-teach is a fool’s errand but that learning in a classroom setting may not be the best of ideas either. I’d say that most people who claim to be able to teach Japanese don’t have the slightest idea how to teach it – even if they can speak it and promise up and down that they do. I’d say there are zillions of online resources out there that claim to teach you Japanese and 99% of them absolutely suck. It’s not that they’re bad, or wrong, or anything like that. It’s just that they’re not good at teaching. I’d say that you have to find all sorts of different resources and mesh everything together to even start to get a good grasp on how the language works. And first and foremost, I’d say “do you really want to do this?”
Learning Japanese can be a “cool” thing. It’s almost always an interesting topic of conversation. It can also broaden one’s mind as to how language works, how culture shapes language and vice versa, and also how much of my own views of the world are constrained by language. It is also a very difficult thing to which there is no easy solution, and the only way to really succeed is to find a way to learn that works for you and keep doing it until it sinks in. Eventually it kinda does, but never immediately.
The logographs, or kanji, can actually be really pretty, and some can tell an interesting story on their own. Once you understand the symbology, some kanji are striking in the stories they tell, such as 桜 or 休み. But two years in, is it really worth it?
To be frank, I’m still not entirely sure. It really hasn’t opened new worlds for me, and I’m starting to wonder if it ever will. And isn’t that kind of the point? But I still learn.