Commit to Taking a Lesson
I'm about to explain how absolutely crucial speaking practice is for attaining what the world considers to be fluency in Japanese. I'll give advice on finding teachers, figuring out your ideal lesson style — all that good stuff. And I'll present a bunch of must-have phrases for taking lessons with a Japanese teacher.
We'll attempt to have a caveman-like conversation with a teacher or language exchange partner within 7 days of starting this course.
I am absolutely terrible at regularly attending face-to-face lessons with Japanese teachers. Also, I put off making lessons with teachers a part of my Japanese studies for years. There are a few reasons for this, some of which you'll probably relate to:
💀 Though I hide it pretty well, I'm a naturally introverted person, and attending lessons takes a lot of mental energy for me. Luckily this is much less of a problem thanks to the 2 years I spent teaching 37 English lessons per week in Japan.
💀 I absolutely despise scheduling things. I don't have a calendar, a planner, or pretty much anything resembling a schedule. I prefer to live life "off the clock," so to speak... so scheduling a lessons is a mental battle for me.
💀 I'm a cheapo. Lessons are affordable, especially if you take them online. And they're worth the money. But I'm still really bad about paying for them.
All of that aside, though, I do go through spurts where I'll take 3-5 Japanese lessons per week, and my communicative ability always skyrockets when I do. There's so much Japanese swirling around in my head, but it takes practice to get my brain to spit it out in well-formed sentences.
Detour: What's the word for "cheapo" in Japanese?
Are lessons worth it?
Back when I was at a much lower level of Japanese, I always had a hard time of justifying the time and expense of taking Japanese lessons.
Why not just study vocab at home, I thought? I could learn 10 words at home by myself in the time it would take a Japanese teacher to teach me 2 or 3 words.
My logic was flawed.
You are much, much more likely to remember words when you can attach them to an emotion-filled moment of your life. This is why we remember new Japanese words quite easily if we learn them when "out in the wild," as I like to say. Or, in the words of linguist and University of California professor Stephen Krashen:
Acquisition requires meaningful interaction in the target language — natural communication — in which speakers are concerned not with the form of their utterances but with the messages they are conveying and understanding.
This effect is somewhat lessened in a lesson, since it's always in the same spot (i.e. the same spatial context). But it does help to at least have some real-life context for the new information you learned, and to have a human relationship involved in the learning process.
Additionally, embarrassing mistakes will be seared into your brain for eternity. Say dumb things. Get a teacher to point out that you are saying dumb things. Feel shame. Remember your shame and, in turn, the correct things to say. Repeat.
The Cool Factor
Let's go back in time and look at young Niko studying Japanese. Let's say that he is studying 21 hours a week (3 hours a day, which is a great amount if you want to make rapid progress). He spends this entire 21 hours studying by himself, mostly by reading lessons and studying/making flashcards.
Okin (which is "Niko" backwards) also studies 21 hours a week, but 5 of those hours are spent taking face-to-face lessons with a Japanese teacher online.
Assuming that Niko and Okin are genetically identical and living identical lives, who will be better at Japanese after a year?
This is a very difficult question to answer. However, I would guess that:
- Niko knows more Japanese (i.e. more vocabulary, grammar, etc.).
- Okin is "better" at Japanese.
Japanese people like talking to Okin. He seems cool. He's "good at Japanese." Niko fumbles over his words. He takes too long to form sentences. He is visibly uncomfortable every time he tries to express something.
Sad truth: I am Niko and not Okin. I avoided face-to-face Japanese practice for years, and it seriously affected my communicative ability.
Luckily, I had the wherewithal to try my very best to speak with Japanese people in Japanese as much as I could when I later moved to Japan to teach English. It was a lot of work, but I was able to fill much of the gap between my knowledge of Japanese and my spoken fluency.
Things would have gone a lot smoother if I had just started taking Japanese lessons in Week #1 (or even Month, Quarter, or Year #1!) and continued taking them the whole time.
Oh, well. Live and learn. I'll avoid this error when tackling other languages in the future. And you can avoid this error with Japanese. Lucky.