I had a whirlwind adventure over several weeks, and am right now in as opposite a culture as I can imagine, in Texas (to launch my book Fluent in 3 months when it gets published in just a few days, don’t forget to check out the US giveaway or UK giveaway while you can before they are taken down in a week!)
While here my girlfriend and I have had time to reflect on the many things that are different in Japan. After living in over two dozen countries and even absorbing some of their cultural habits, most of what I discuss here truly is unique to Japan (some may be true in neighbouring countries though).
Here are 24 things that come to mind. Enjoy!
1. Cuteness overload
You know the way anime have characters with incredibly large eyes? I don’t know how they do it (Genetic engineering? Mutants from another dimension? The anime characters somehow jumped out of the TV) but Japanese cats and dogs in real life tend to have bigger eyes than in the west. Read the Rest!
This is a breath of fresh air when most experienced learners were more interested in “putting me in my place” by “warning” me about the mountain of work ahead, and making sure I was aware that Japanese was the one true hardest language in the world.
They are widely believed by many would-be Japanese learners.
They get in the way of learning the language.
They are completely bogus.
To succeed in your Japanese mission, you must ignore the cynics, defeatists, killjoys, naysayers, party poopers, pessimists, sourpusses, and wet blankets. Japanese is not nearly as challenging as the Debby Downers would have you believe, and is in fact easier in many key ways than supposedly “easy” Romance languages like Spanish. Read the Rest!
But I quickly ran into a hitch of being desperately sick, just when I was starting to build momentum. A week out of action, also meant a further week catching up on work so I couldn’t study full-time for almost two whole weeks!
But unfortunately, I have not reached my goal of fluency in Japanese.
Those early setbacks certainly didn’t help, but the main reason my mission remains incomplete (for now) is that I broke one of my own cardinal rules: Focus on one major project at a time.
My new book (UK/US), which I had managed to keep top secret for a year and a half, spent three months (in Berlin) writing without anyone realizing what I was up to, and naïvely thought my work on it was pretty much done, started to make serious demands on my time.
Launching a traditionally published book actually turns out to be an extremely complicated affair.
This is when I had to make a tough choice.
Ultimately, success in my Japanese project would have meant a better experience in Japan, but the book is much bigger than my single projects. It’s a chance to reach potentially millions of aspiring language learners, and I wanted to make sure people get the quality book they deserve, and that it is promoted in the best way possible to reach even more people out there who could be polyglots-in-waiting without even knowing it yet.
If I wasn’t a man of reason, I’d say that evil fairies had sprinkled bad astrology curses all over my lucky tarot cards. It wasn’t the universe working against me, but it was a series of unfortunate setbacks, all while amazing opportunities for my book were cropping up, so I’m in no place to complain.
Lesson learned: Don’t bite off more than you can chew
I like to take the positive out of whatever I can. This project didn’t go according to plan, and I didn’t get to invest three months into it, but I did get to reach a pretty good level after 2 months, and use that to enhance my experience to travel through Japan.
The irony here, is that I have a section in the book specifically about how success in a language project requires your absolute unfiltered focus.
But I bit off more than I could chew, and didn’t put the full three months I had initially planned into it. It was a mistake to think I could handle something as demanding as intensively learning a language over three months to a high level, while also launching a book across two continents, and putting finishing touches on that book.
Fail fast, and fail often
I have to say that I’m very sorry to those of you who were expecting more videos, and the cultural updates from reaching a high level in Japanese that I like to do in these projects. I’ve had such a mountain of work (and still do, especially after taking the time to truly explore Japan – for instance, my pending emails/comments is now into 5 digits…) that I haven’t been able to even update the blog consistently.
I never promised that I’d reach that fluency goal, (I said from the start that this was an aim), but I did promise that I would try my best, and spreading myself thin over two big projects was not quite doing that, so in that regard, I messed up.
Aim for the moon, because even if you miss, you may land among the stars.
So I didn’t reach my target, but this project was still another learning experience that left me with a hell of a lot of Japanese learned! I am proud of what I accomplished during my first two and after seeing how I could speak in this video, I hope you all can be inspired by what you can achieve in a really short period of intensive study!
And it turns out that Japanese is not that one true elusive hardest language in the world, and the very next post will be a blast of encouragement for would-be Japanese learners. And next week, I can share some cultural observations after this fascinating and wonderful visit to Japan!
We all have permission to mess up once in a while!
As with all setbacks, it’s just a chance to dust yourself off, re-evaluate things, and pick yourself up from where you left off.
I’m of course focusing much more on the book now, so that it launches in the best way that it can in just a couple of weeks (the UK giveaway and US giveaway are still going strong, so grab them while you can!), since I’m very passionate that this can make a huge difference to so many aspiring language learners’ lives.
After focusing on that, I’m getting right back on the language learning horse and focusing on maintaining and improving each of my long-term languages, and looking at future intensive language learning options after this year.
One thing that is certain; this is not the end of the world
And most importantly, if you’ve had a language learning project that didn’t go according to plan, keep in mind that even experienced polyglots like myself mess up and don’t reach our targets. It’s not about how hard you fall, but about how high you bounce back up, and I have a lot of bounce in me ready to take on the rest of this year’s projects doing the absolute best that I can.
Since many of you may be curious to find out the process behind how diplomats learn languages, I invited Shawn to share how that works on the blog today!
Shawn Kobb has been with the U.S. Foreign Service for nearly 8 years and has served in Ukraine, The Bahamas, Washington DC, Afghanistan, and soon Austria. He maintains the blog www.ForeignServiceTest.com which aims to help people pass the notoriously difficult entrance test to the Foreign Service. Over to you Shawn!
Let’s be honest. I can take it. Americans aren’t exactly known for our foreign language ability. Often, we speak English and we simply expect the rest of the world to do so as well. There are many reasons why this problem has developed, but that’s not the purpose of this article.
As with all stereotypes there is both a bit of truth here as well as many exceptions. I’m an American diplomat (or Foreign Service Officer as we’re officially known) and it is not only helpful in my job to learn foreign languages, it is required.
Although American diplomats are not required to speak any languages other than English upon joining the service, we are required to become fluent in at least one foreign language within the first five years. Fluency in at least two foreign languages is required in order to reach the highest ranks and, in reality, most American diplomats speak three or more foreign languages with at least some proficiency. Read the Rest!
Happy Valentine’s Day! Well, at least it is for me, because I finally have someone to celebrate it with. To jump on the theme of love and relationships, let’s tackle the question; Does having a significant other who speaks your target language, help your language learning skills?
The answer isn’t as simple as you might think! Emily Liedel who writes at The Babel Times is going to take on that question for us! Over to you Emily!
If you’ve been learning a foreign language for very long, you’ve probably heard the “conventional wisdom” that having native-speaker lover is the best way to advance. You might even have had the thought yourself. Believe me, when I was living in Russia and feeling cold and lonely, there were moments when I thought that if only I had a Russian boyfriend, I would not only be less lonely but I would also learn so much more.
That was 10 years and several languages ago. Now I know that shacking up with a native speaker is by no means a foolproof way to advance your language learning, although it may help with the cold and the loneliness. In my own experience (and based on years of observations of other couples), sometimes having a native-speaker partner can actually hurt.
I’ve met some people who were astoundingly fluent in their partner’s language. I’ve also met people who can’t speak a word of their partner’s language. I even know a few couples who seem to be able to communicate with each other even though neither one has a very strong command of the other’s language. Here are some thoughts about what factors in a romantic relationship can help or hinder your language goals. Read the Rest!
While I continue my train travels through Japan with updates coming next week, today’s guest post is from long-time Fluent-in-3-months reader and travel enthusiast Myles.
When he was 20 years old, he could only speak English, but after three years of living abroad, and immersing himself as much as possible, he now speaks fluent Dutch and Mandarin Chinese. He is currently learning Spanish, French and Iñupiaq Eskimo, the language of his hometown in northern Alaska. He is also an advocate for endangered languages, especially for those in the United States and Canada.
I can appreciate his words, because I myself tried to learn a language native to the Americas, Quechua, and speak my own country’s language, Irish. I really feel there are many reasons more people should consider giving less popular languages a try!
When I tell people that I am trying to learn Iñupiaq, the native language of my hometown in Northern Alaska, invariably I hear a long, drawn-out, “Whyyyy?” “Not many people speak the language, so what’s the use of learning it?” “Almost all the people who can speak English anyways, right?” “I thought you were a white guy?”
All these questions are of course ridiculous and to prove all the naysayers wrong, here are 5 reasons why learning an endangered language is not only a supremely gratifying endeavor, but it’s one that can be done more easily than you think! I have experienced this by attempting to learn Iñupiaq, but these reasons can apply to any endangered language! Read the Rest!
I’ll announce other Hangouts with time, for those of you in timezones outside the US, but see the Giveaway packages to join me in very small or one-on-one groups to chat with me more directly at times more convenient for you over the next month. Otherwise sign-up to the free public hangout next month!
[Sorry for the limited updates recently, while I dealt with travel issues. Some fascinating guest posts, and then my own non-book updates coming soon. I'm still in travel mode in Japan for the moment though, and about to jump on a train for the next week!]
Ever since I announced the book, and followed it up with the HUGE language learning giveaway (US here, UK here), one of the most frequent questions people have asked me is what the difference is between Fluent in 3 months and the Language Hacking Guide.
So, for those of you wondering, here are the answers!
Language Hacking Guide: Idea to reality in just SIX WEEKS
The great thing about self-publishing is the speed with which it can take place. I had an idea to write an e-book, I got on it immediately and took a few weeks off my work as a translator, wrote out about 30,000 words, had a friend or two read it for me to edit it, and BAM, released it to the world.
Six weeks – that’s all it took! It was six weeks working mostly full-time, but it’s still a pretty short time span. That was also in 2010, when I had four years less experience learning languages (and no experience at all in non-European languages). Read the Rest!
Reminder: HUGE language learning giveaway running strong – new free ebooks recently added to help those of you who want to use your languages while travelling, with everything you could possibly want to know about travel hacking! All you have to do is pre-order multiple copies of the upcoming “Fluent in 3 months”, published by Collins. Check out details for US/Canada here, or for UK/International here.
Time to give you my update from Japan!
I got into Okinawa just over a week ago, and have been settling in, exploring that beautiful island paradise, and have just got into Kyoto, where I’ll be spending the next 2 weeks. Read the Rest!
My award winning current Youtube channel, with real live examples of me using my target languages, several viral hits, as well as cultural and travel updates through other languages:
My BRAND NEW channel, where I will give pure language learning tips, strategies, product reviews, recommendations and encouragement, starting January 2014! Just click "subscribe" now to not miss out on any of this:
See the guy at the top-right and in the main image of all posts (other than guest posts)? That's me Benny! I have been travelling for almost a decade, while discovering new cultures and learning new languages and encourage others to try to learn their target language too. You can read more about my story and about this website here.