When I tell people I'm a Japanese teacher they quite often ask: how did you learn Japanese? And I don't find this question particularly easy to answer in an honest way.
Sometimes I give a quick answer which is that I used to live there.
But you can live in Japan for years and not learn Japanese.
I've met lots of people like this (and there's nothing wrong with that, unless learning Japanese is the reason you moved to Japan).
The long and more honest answer to "how come you speak Japanese?" is that I studied a bit in university, then studied a LOT in my free time, got slightly obsessed with kanji, spent a lot of time with Japanese-speaking friends, avoided English-only situations and people who wanted to learn English from me for free, took all the JLPTs, went to Japanese language school full-time for a bit, read books and manga and newspapers (even when I couldn't read them yet), and watched a lot of Japanese TV.
You don't need to be in Japan to do any of those things. You can do all these things right here:
- listen to Japanese audio all day
- learn kanji on the bus (with Anki. Use anki. I'm going to write a blogpost about that too soon)
- find friends who speak Japanese
- watch Japanese stuff on netflix (seriously, there's loads)
Being in Japan was great motivation to learn Japanese for me because I hate not understanding things and find it incredibly frustrating. If you're in Japan and you want to know what's in your lunch or what that sign over there says or what the person next to you on the train is saying, you need to understand Japanese. That was a big push for me.
But you definitely don't need to live in Japan to get motivated.
I also started off working in English conversation school which was a good opportunity to listen to the kind of Japanese that five-year-olds speak. And one of the many good things about conversation school is you have the mornings off so I would get up and STUDY. Every day. Forever.
But I also probably have more free time now than I did in Japan.
You don't need to live in Japan to learn Japanese. There are people all over the world who learn languages without living in the country the language comes from. I've met lots of people like this and had the pleasure of teaching some of them.
(The other thing I tell people when they ask how I learned Japanese is that I didn't learn it. I'm still learning.)