My Japanese language learning journey has been anything but smooth or linear. Sure, I eventually figured out what works best for me, but it took a lot of trial and error. If I were to go back and start learning from scratch, I would certainly do things very differently. And I certainly have done exactly that as I’ve started other languages. At the same time, I am grateful for my missteps as they have proved to be one of the most effective teachers one could ever ask for. As Brazilian Jiu Jitsu legend Carlos Gracie, Jr. put it, “There is no losing . . . You either win or you learn.” I’d now like to share my “trail map” with you and point out my five biggest blunders so you can avoid them on your Japanese journey. You can then save your mistakes for practicing the language itself instead of “wasting” them on selecting your methods, materials, or beliefs.
Once upon a time, you had to two choices if you wanted to get fluent in Japanese: ① Take Japanese language classes. ② Move to Japan. I did both and had a (mostly) great time doing so. But while I think classes can be great for those who can afford the time and tuition and that living abroad can be a profoundly transformative experience, neither undertakings are a requirement for learning a language. Today, anyone with an internet connection, a little creativity, and sufficient discipline can reach a high level of fluency anywhere in the world if they design the proper environment. Read on to see exactly how to create a fun, effective Japanese language environment no matter where in the world you happen to live.
I am pleased to welcome back my first repeat guest on the podcast: the author, teacher, and grammar guru Ellen Jovin. A lot has happened since our first chat over five years ago, including travels all over the United States discussing the inner workings of English grammar with passing strangers at her “Grammar Table,” and a new book for English learners called “English At Work: Find and Fix Your Mistakes in Business English as a Foreign Language.”
Katie Harris is the founder of Joy of Languages, a site dedicated to helping make language learning a joy instead of a chore. She was bored to tears with languages in school, but eventually figured out a more fun, effective approach to language learning that is focused on communicating with people and enjoying authentic listening and reading content. With a Masters in Linguistics from Cambridge University and an MRes in Speech, Language and Cognition from University College London, Katie does a great job peppering in just enough linguistics, psychology, and neuroscience to help language learners, but always keeping the focus on fun and efficacy. We first met at the 2019 Polyglot Gathering in Bratislava where I attended her talk How to Learn a Language by Watching TV and Film. Her philosophy was right in line with my “Anywhere Immersion” approach and I was eager to get her on the podcast.
Elisa Polese is an Italian polyglot known for teaching multiple languages at once (up to ten languages at a time!), including Arabic, Catalan, Dutch, Italian, English, Esperanto, French, German, Greek, Hindi, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish. In addition to her focus on multilingual learning, Elisa is also a big proponent of speaking from day one and getting over the fear of making mistakes. I had the privilege of witnessing her impressive multilingual teaching skills firsthand at the 2019 Polyglot Gathering in Bratislava, and it was exhilarating to see so many languages flying around in the room at once!
We get better at what we practice most. Sounds obvious, yes? Yet far too many language learners wonder why they aren’t getting better at listening and speaking despite all the hours they’ve spent reading, memorizing vocabulary, and studying grammar rule. See the faulty logic here? Trying to get better at speaking by memorizing words and rules is like trying to get better at martial arts by watching kung fu movies. Not exactly a recipe for success.