Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Language Plateau


Marudo Plateau, Japan
Courtesy of Snow Japan

Useful Cultural Expression

NEET - "Not currently engaged in Employment, Education or Training".
Commonly used in Japan


Stop me if this sounds like you. You've been in Japan for a few months, most likely brought here by the falsely intoxicating lure of the eikaiwa. You have a cell phone, a bank account, internet in your small apartment (assuming you went into debt to buy a computer like me). Your "honeymoon period" in Japan is over. You are comfortable. You go out with your friends, you're confident ordering food at a restaurant, and you have no trouble navigating the intricacies of the JR system. What's missing?

Remember when you first arrived, just how eager you were to learn the language? How you talked to people during your eikaiwa training, saying "yeah, I've heard from a lot of people that have stopped studying Japanese, but I really want a strong grasp of the language. I don't think I'll stop."

Well, guess what? Most of us stopped - my praise for you who didn't - and I think I understand why. Naturally, if you came into the country with 0% Japanese, every little word you learn feels like a huge accomplishment. And it is, as it slowly fills your brain with Nihongo. But as your mind is slowly filled to the brim, you begin to lose a certain motivation. Why? Your essentials are met. You have internet. Your gaijin card is registered. Your bills are automatically withdrawn from your bank account which was set up by your company. And working in an eikaiwa environment, you don't practice Japanese most of the day. You go out with foreign friends, and the little necessary language you need to survive, you already have.

Once you hit this language plateau, it's really hard to continue going uphill. The motivation is less, as you aren't starving or struggling to live in this world. Now, this is a harsh generalization - many foreigners know Japanese beforehand, or have had the dedication to keep studying 24/7. I know that. But I would say for many newcomers, this phenonomenon would be and is rather common.

Well, there's no better advice than gambatte. Keep your chin up. Practice writing Katakana and Hiragana at night. Look over Kanji symbols during lunch, just so the shapes are familar to your eyes. Practice your speaking and listening at international center classes. Get right back into it, and realize that although you may be able to "survive", survival is insufficient. You can't have a meaningful conversation. You couldn't deal with the bureaucracy - banks, government, etc - if your life depended on it. You can't pick up girls who don't speak English (unless of course they're into that). Try again.


Free English Lessons - International Centers

The international centers I'm kind of split about. They usually have two types of classes - beginner, to review vocabulary, simple grammar skills, and improve writing. Advanced - for those who can read and write in Hiragana and Katakana (though probably not any Kanji), and those classes involve more complex sentences. I'm right down the middle. Many of us are. So go to the beginner class, reinforce what you know, study on your own, and work your way to the expert level.


Working on getting a wire transfer between my Japanese and American bank accounts - will post more on that. Tokyo is definitely in the works for December, followed by Kyoto. I have no money, but it's still worth it. My articles on cultural differences and practices will spread across the land of the rising sun like wildfire. Grasp them, sense them, embrace them. Goodbye, and we shall meet again.

1 comment:

Niwajin said...

Hello Gaijin on the run,
I can understand what you mean with the language plateau. We have been in Iwakuni for almost three months, we can order, buy, get anything we like, but in order to really make contact with Japanese, you have to study Japanese...
Hopefuly we have the courage to go on.