Learning any language, particularly Japanese, for most people is a major commitment. There are some people who seem to be able to pick up languages very quickly, and don’t hesitate to make sure you know that, but their tricks don’t work for everyone, and I’m pretty sure their knowledge is broad but shallow.
But I think sometimes someone goes into a language thinking “I’m going to learn this language”, and then give themselves a goal. “I’m going to study for six months”, or “I’m going to study for a year”… and then they start to learn the language and find out it’s, like, really hard. Some languages are harder than others, of course, but no language is easy.
And people have lots of reasons why a language is hard, and most of the time, those reasons are legitimate. I’ve gone over why Japanese is a difficult language to learn many times in this blog alone, and I haven’t even begun to cover the important points. Mainly because I’ve been studying for two years, and I don’t even know what they are yet.
But the major obstacle to learning a language is time. Not to study, while the study is important. Not to learn grammar, while that’s important too. Not even practicing speaking it, while that’s important too. No, it’s the time you spend immersing yourself in the language enough that you can actually start to think in it and understand the vocabulary you know without effort when someone else speaks it. That is a process that takes time and can’t be rushed.
And, I think, that’s honestly the most valuable form of practice. When I first started to learn Japanese, it was literally gibberish to me. I listened to a young woman speaking quickly, and I could not even pick out words. It was utter nonsense – she may as well have been speaking in tongues for all the good it did me. But every now and then I go back to that, just to see how well I’ve progressed, and now I understand most of it. All of my studying was important to get there, but no amount of studying can prepare one for actually letting it get into your head, sink in, and start to live there.
And to become fluent, that’s what you need more than anything else. The vocabulary and grammar come in time, but fluency only comes with deep familiarization with the language – the kind that study simply can’t provide.
All of this is a lot of words to say: If you’re only studying Japanese and not living and consuming it as much as you can, you will never truly succeed at the language. It may be good enough, and Japanese people will certainly appreciate your efforts – even at where I am now, I could probably get around Tokyo or Osaka pretty well. But there will always be that limitation – that wall that will be difficult to climb.
Only experience breaks that wall down.