I Tried to Speak Japanese Every Day for a Month (Without Being in Japan)

 I Tried to Speak Japanese Every Day for a Month (Without Being in Japan)

Many people believe you need to live abroad to get speaking practice in a foreign language, but this isn’t true.

Similarly, people often assume that if you in Japan, like I did, you’ll pick up the language easily. But that’s not necessarily true either.

If you speak English, it’s possible - indeed easy - to live in another country for years and not become fluent in the language.

I didn't make any year-long New Years’ Resolutions this year. Instead, I decided to set myself some monthly language-related challenges. I’ll decide them as the year goes on, and I’ll probably do one every other month.

In January, I decided to speak Japanese every day for a month.

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Hiking the Shikoku 88 Pilgrimage Trail in 2018 - A Round-Up

Hiking the Shikoku 88 Pilgrimage Trail in 2018 - A Round-Up

The week I spent last spring walking the first leg of the Shikoku 88 pilgrimage trail was peaceful, thought-provoking, and challenging - often all at once.

Here’s all my writing about that trip in one place.

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Walking the Shikoku 88 Pilgrimage (Part 8) - O-settai, or, "I'll treasure this tissue case"

Walking the Shikoku 88 Pilgrimage (Part 8) - O-settai, or, "I'll treasure this tissue case"

Near Kumadani-ji, temple number 8, we had stopped in front of some glorious cherry blossom, and I got chatting to two older gentlemen who were walking the trail. One told me he had never spoken to a gaijin-san, foreigner, before.

(The cynic in me wonders if that’s really true, or if by “foreigner” he meant “white person”…)

We took some pictures in front of the cherry blossom, and walked up the hill together.

Further up the road, a lady came out of her house and gave us some hard-boiled sweets ...

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Three Reasons Why Language Learning is Just Like Skateboarding

I bought a skateboard. And not just so I can start calling myself "the skateboarding Japanese teacher".

I've wanted to learn to skate for a long time. I'm turning 30 this year and I thought I should probably get on with it.

You know that Chinese proverb, "The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now"?

Well, I should probably have started skateboarding 20 years ago, because it turns out skateboarding is really hard. I didn't start when I was nine though, so now will have to do.

I'm not very good yet. In fact, I'm very bad.

I know I can do it though. It's just like learning Japanese! (Hear me out, ok...?)

1. You need to fall over a lot

You're going to fall off a skateboard, and make mistakes, and mess things up. It's going to hurt.

Sound familiar? 

Learning to speak a language is a process of making constant mistakes, and gradually getting better.  If you don't make any mistakes when you're speaking a foreign language, you're not learning anything.

The only way to learn how to be good at something, is to first be very bad at it. 

(I tell myself this constantly as I wobble around town on my little skateboard).

Image source: Verity Lane / Tofugu

2. It takes discipline

Learning any new skill takes considerable time and effort. You have to practice, even when you don't feel like it or when something else seems more appealing.

In a way, it's easy to be motivated, i.e. to want to do something. It's much more difficult to be disciplined - to do something even when you don't want to.

Taking your skateboard out on Saturday, even when it looks a bit windy, and you're not any good yet, and there are builders on the corner of the street who might laugh at you - that's discipline.

Studying a little bit of Japanese every day, even when you just feel like watching TV instead - that's discipline too.

Nothing that's worth doing can be learned overnight. (Unfortunately.)

3. You might feel like a bit of an idiot

One of my students wrote this on his class feedback form last year:
"...while I feel terrible and clumsy while doing it, the speaking practice afforded by the class is something that is very difficult to get anywhere else."
I was a bit taken aback by this, because he doesn't sound terrible or clumsy when he speaks Japanese.

But a lot of people feel this way about doing something new, especially in front of other people. I certainly do.

Making mistakes can make us feel embarrassed or awkward.

(As a teacher, there's an added dynamic: I don't want my students to feel uncomfortable. But I do want to stretch them, and help them to push out of their comfort zone. It's a difficult balance, sometimes.)

I feel like a right prat on my skateboard. Sometimes you've just got to push through it, I think, and focus on the goal.

"Think how good you'll feel when you can casually skateboard to work", I tell myself. For me, it's the same feeling as:

"Think how good you'll feel when you can read a whole book in Japanese. Or have a ten-minute conversation. Or 30 minutes. Or a whole day!"

What do you think?

P.S. Don't forget to get your ticket to see me this Sunday 10th March at Women in Language, a brilliant new online event. I'll be talking about running an offline language school in an online world. There'll be skateboarding references, too ... Click here to find out more.

How Do You Say "Nice to Meet You" in Japanese?

How Do You Say "Nice to Meet You" in Japanese?

Hurray! You've met another Japanese-speaking person. Time to introduce yourself.

But how do you say "It's really nice to meet you" in Japanese? The first phrase you'll want is:



"Nice to meet you"

Hajimemashite (almost literally) means "we are meeting for the first time". So you can only use it the first time you meet someone.

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Summer Barbecue! Or, "Everybody Loves Corn"

Summer can feel kind of long.

For me, the summer break is when I get to reflect on the year gone and think "big picture" thoughts about what we're going to do in the next year.

But I know that the summer break can feel long for my students. I wanted to have an event in the holidays so we could spend time together, catch up on how everyone's summer has been, and hopefully speak some Japanese too.

I also just really wanted to have a barbecue. Everyone likes a barbecue, right?

I brought corn. Everyone else brought corn too. It was great.

An impressive selection of veggie and definitely-not-veggie food. 

David tending the corn.

Phil brought mochi! ありがとうフィルさん!

Delicious Japanese-y desserts. ニックさん、ありがとう!

After the BBQ, Paul and Will of Sussex Aikido treated us to a mini Aikido demonstration.

There's a little video of this on the Step Up Japanese Facebook page too.

Old and new faces. みなさん来てくれてありがとう!

As usual I was having too much fun (and tending the BBQ too much) to remember to take an actual group photo...

The question is, what shall we bring to eat next year?

Just kidding, I'll definitely bring more corn again!

It was really good to see everyone again, and hearing everyone's news - and speaking some Japanese, of course.

Did you know the Japanese word for corn is... コーン ("kōn")? 🌽🌽🌽