Remove Mental Barriers

If you're anything like me, the shy, excuse-loving part of yourself is going to try to talk you out of scheduling your first lesson right away.

One way to make sure you go through with this is to get some of the common self-talk that will get in the way.

I'm talking about excuses like...

 

I'm not good enough at Japanese to have a meaningful lesson.

I've fallen back on this excuse a lot in the past. What's the point of having a lesson? I can't say anything, anyway!

Even if we don't know a single word in our target language, though, a teacher can help us with things like:
  • Our pronunciation of common greetings. こんにちは!
  • Our understanding of Japanese etiquette, which is picked up naturally in lessons.
  • Our motivation to keep learning.
This last one is perhaps the most important. When you meet a friendly, caring teacher that is committed to seeing you improve at the language, your desire to improve becomes stronger. You want to tell this person things about yourself — your hopes, desires, and everything else — and learn about them in turn.

 

I can't afford it!

Not having money is probably my all-time favorite excuse for not taking language lessons.

The thing is, Japanese speaking practice is free if you really want it to be free.

There are so many Japanese students of English on sites like italki or MyLanguageExchange (and a bunch more than that if you do some googling for the latest and greatest ones) that are dying to have serious, productive language exchanges.

It's easy. There are a lot more Japanese people studying English than English speakers studying Japanese. This means that it's not hard at all to find a language exchange partner. No, they won't be as experienced as a professional teacher. And you'll have to spend more time to get the amount of structured, focused feedback you really want. But it's still a great way to get started speaking. Give 30 minutes of structured English practice. Get 30 minutes of structured Japanese practice. Easy!

Even if you pay for lessons, most of them are under $20, and a lot of them are even under $10.

I often complained that I didn't have money for lessons, but if I were being 100% honest with myself, not practicing speaking has always been about my lack of effort, or my fear of doing something uncomfortable.

It's pretty hard for me to convince that introvert brain of mine that taking a Japanese lesson is more important than making 30 new flashcards. I'm getting better, but, yeah… it's a work in progress.

 

I'm going to embarrass myself.

This is more of an excuse for talking with friends, acquaintances, or language exchange partners — that is, being shy in general.

When you're talking to a teacher, who cares if you suck? It's their job to talk to people who suck at Japanese. But when it's with an non-teacher, things can get a lot scarier.

Luckily, we can...

Learn to laugh at ourselves. Frankly, I have no idea how anyone makes it past the beginning stages of learning a language without having the ability to laugh at themselves when they make stupid, embarrassing mistakes. There have been so many times when I made a mistake—probably the same mistake I've already made 8,000 times—and I found myself facing two options: (1) get angry at myself, or (2) laugh at myself. And I've found that, with a little bit of effort, two is always a feasible option. We have to make mistakes in order to improve. If we fear mistakes, then we also fear improving.

Flip our concept of inferiority around other students of Japanese. This is a big issue when it comes to talking around other non-native speakers (i.e. in a group setting). I think that the hardest thing to do is to speak a foreign language around other students of the language that are far better than you. This is my defense mechanism in such situations: First, think about how you feel when you're around somebody who's much better than you at [insert foreign language]. Does it make you feel good? Probably not. It makes you feel embarrassed and inferior. On the other hand, think about how you feel when you're around somebody who's not as good as you at [insert anything]. How does that make you feel? Proud of yourself? Confident? Finally, how do you want the people around you to feel? Most likely, you want to make them feel happy, confident, and proud of themselves. And you can't do that by being perfect. So don't try to be perfect. Being bad at something is an awesome opportunity to lift up the people around you, to make them feel awesome. If I'm bad at something, there's no need for me to feel bad about being bad. Instead, I can feel good about making people feel good that I'm not as good as them (might have to read that twice ^_^).

Flip our concept of inferiority around native Japanese speakers. It's also easy to be embarrassed around native speakers. After all, our Japanese is imperfect and full of mistakes. However, the very fact that we are speaking Japanese with a native speaker means that they are equally to blame for the inability to communicate. I used to tell this to my Japanese students of English all the time when they told me about how they're so embarrassed about their English skills. I told them that the very fact that the conversation must take place in English means that the person you're talking to is more to blame for this inability to communicate. The same goes for speaking Japanese with Japanese people who are unable or unwilling to speak English. You win, because you're the one making the effort. (This only works for Japanese people who don't speak English. It doesn't address the entirely opposite problem of Japanese people insisting on speaking English, even when your Japanese is much better than their English.)

Stop caring about who's better than who. It doesn't even matter in the first place. You can't make learning Japanese into a competition, because you will lose every time. You will lose every time because the opponent in your head doesn't exist—it's some all-powerful, native-speaker-level ninja boss that you'll never meet. If you meet someone who's better than you, congratulate them and ask them for advice. If you meet someone who's worse than you, see if you can help them improve (if they want help, that is).

Realize that messing up isn't embarrassing. The only embarrassing thing is our reaction to messing up. If we totally embrace our mistakes (for example, by laughing at ourselves), then no one feels uncomfortable… which means that there is nothing to be embarrassed about. Sweet!

 

It will be miserable.

It won't! Speaking Japanese is fun—whether it's in a lesson or out in the world; whether you know 2 words or 20,000 words.

Learning languages is about connecting with other people. We can learn, build relationships, and even find love and lifelong friendships. Language only has meaning because it connects us to real life—that is, life with other people. It's not about getting your grammar perfect or memorizing a million vocab words. Because at the end of the day, things like that are nothing more than tools for us to have a deeper and more fulfilling interaction with the world around us.

So, have fun. Don't worry about mistakes. Don't worry about not having enough money for a proper lesson. Don't worry about stumbling through a disaster of a conversation. Worry about putting a smile on someone's face. Worry about hearing something new from a person who, without your language-learning efforts, you never would have been able to connect with at all. Find out about their dreams and fears and knowledge and experiences. At its core, learning a language is a deeply fulfilling and deeply entertaining adventure. So let's take it for what it is.

Whatever your mental block, do whatever you need to do to get past it and commit to start practice speaking in a safe, comforting, and productive environment. I'll show you how to create that environment throughout the rest of this course.



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