The Happiness Conundrum & Language study

I think this post has been lingering in the recesses of my mind for a long time. What’s weird about my passion for studying Japanese (to me) is that so far its been a pretty solitary journey. Solitary in the sense that my interactions with other people on a similar quest have been next to none.

This blog can show you that I have a kind of “academic” or “documentary passion” for the stuff behind language learning, but my biggest issue is 100% enjoying this process.

I started my video blog as a way to try and connect to language learners that want to understand methods or approaches to “believing” Japanese is possible, more so than explaining to them “how Japanese is possible”. I know all the methods, I know the formulas and practices work, I also know that me personally with enough effort can become very good at Japanese if I put my heart into it.

The problem though, is that for the most part right now, I am doing this alone and it’s not fun. Waking up and writing sentences by myself everyday isn’t fulfilling. Not being able to really chit-chat in Japanese with anyone regularly is also dissappointing and creates this super hot/cold situation in my mind that makes me keep starting and stopping which creates consistency-based frustration.

A part of me wishes I had this kind of mental revelation when I was actually in Japan, but I can’t really blame myself for how I reacted to culture shock when I was there. To explain the stress of living in one of the world’s most expensive cities as a very underpaid English teacher (and then pile language study on top of that) isn’t very difficult, mixed in with all the regular social stresses of adult life. Just before the earthquake hit and I subsequently left, I was starting to really appreciate Japan, the country, the culture and the people.

This blog has been an expression of both my passion and my failures, a look at the whys behind someone keeps starting and stopping. My frustrations evolved from thinking “learning Japanese was impossible” to “realizing it was possible” to “functionally understanding Japanese” to “seeing the big picture and knowing it could happen”. But beneath everything, the key component that was missing was a sense of joy in the process.

In fact, this sense of joy seemed to disappear from my passions a few years ago when I a series of bad circumstances hit me. Passion to me, is not just the gung-ho attitude to go after something, but a mixture of dreaming, belief and excitement that create a fuel that keeps you up. Somewhere I feel like this really faded with me, and it has majorly affected my perception of personal progress among other things.

What bothered me a lot when I was in Tokyo was the obvious difference between the self-perception relative to learning that I had versus other language learners. The kids in Tokyo that were doing language school, or people who were “pera pera” (excellent speakers) generally had a lighter approach to the task of learning that fit in with their regular life. Not everyone was “happy happy joy joy” of course, but the people who moved the fastest generally loved the culture and people very quickly, and I could see how it made their language learning a lot more palatable.

I’m not saying that it was any easier for them than me to learn Japanese, but trust me, if you wake up each day happy to learn Japanese and happy to make mistakes, then you will have a much better learning experience. Then there is me, a person who woke up mostly frustrated that I didn’t speak Japanese and that I knew how to learn properly, but I was so unhappy generally  that it was frustrating.

So it’s 1 in the morning here in Jamaica, and again i’m in this position. I’m amped up to really start getting into my “serious language study” but how can I do this alone? I’ve started hopping onto language exchange sites with the hopes of setting up a system where I can finally interact with other people to learn the language, but i’m afraid i’ll keep feeling unhappy and frustrated.

I often wonder if my passionate search for enjoying the study of Japanese is part of my overall search to find happiness in my life. Without being somewhat happy in your regular day to day, it isnt’ so easy to find happiness in anything else I gather.

Either way, I’m really posting this to get it off my chest.

There are Japanese words and phrases I can read now that I didn’t have a prayer of reading last year, and as I’ve said numerous times on this blog, I started learning Japanese without “properly approaching the study of the language”. I picked up a lot of grammar points and vocabulary from just having a life in Japan, I didn’t read any grammar books or do any heavy practice. For my first eight months of “study” it was mostly just trying to finish learning the 2,040 Japanese characters you need to read basic documents. But as i’ve said before, I was using the Heisig method, meaning I learned the meanings of the Kanji in English first, which is a step forward but it doesn’t allow you to read right away.

My language learning experience was filled with so much osmosis of the langauge it intrigued me, but I wasn’t happy. Maybe this is why learning Japanese is frustrating for me, or unusually frustrating. For anything to be enjoyable, one must first enjoy their life no? I think Japanese is showing me the dark underbelly of my inner self.

When I was in Japan, as I started understand Japanese better without completely understanding why. That triggered a motivation to keep going no matter what but my breaking point came when I realized that I needed dozens or hundreds of grammatical exposure situations daily to really step up the language speaking. So I was planning to go to language school and even engineered a campaign to finance it, but then 地震が来ました。(the earthquake came).

I don’t think I am the first person to be in this situation obviously, nor do I feel like I am the most frustrated person. But the more I watch youtube videos with proficient speakers or polygots, I notice that there is something about them a little more calm than I, a casual, more relaxed, upbeat and energetic spirit that fuels their language learning. This is what I want to cultivate through these blogs and really putting what I’ve learned out there. I want to keep going, and start feeling better about my progress, because sometimes the worst opinion you can give, is the one you give yourself. Maybe this entire language journey is forcing me to just open up, relax and enjoy the ride, because sometimes that’s the hardest thing for me to do. However, I’ll keep moseying on : )

To the future!

About marcusbird

Writer, Designer, Filmmaker
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2 Responses to The Happiness Conundrum & Language study

  1. ow Mrcus, I think the people that do well at it are the people who ar enaturally good at languages and studying them. They generally ususally have a strong interest in something pertatining to the langauge also eg anime or manga or j pop. I also think there,s a nother group who know that they`re not the best at languages but a different fascination with Japanese culture is keepig them here. It takes year YEARS to elar Japanese for most people and I think its almost impossible to leaern it without bing here. So if you’re still serious about the langauge mayeb you should come back. Its really easy to forget your japanese yo..

    • marcusbird says:

      I’m glad you said that. I’m not bad at “studying languages” and I generally don’t feel anyone else is either. This blog kind of grew out of my “learning through absorption” vibe with Japanese. I had plans to study originally, but got pretty bad culture shock and didn’t really “learn anything” other than tid bits of conversation over time. That said, I do have a pretty strong interest in Japan, but all the mess I was going through (but still learning in pieces) kept me sort of motivated to continue. A lot of people can become super proficient at Japanese outside Japan (although it is easier living there naturally) and right now i’m not advocating any particular course. I find that just chatting to someone in Japanese each day adds up, but i’m considering returning, but in a different capacity if I can. That last post was an insomnia-based rant mostly, but still true. When I was in Japan teaching English wasn’t fulfilling for me and just left me very tired and disgruntled at the end of each day. Should i return to Japan, hopefully i’ll have a 100% different approach to everything u zee!

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