Life Outside of Fantasy: Learning Japanese Part 1

4000 words learned, 1000 to go. Then I can say that I have learned the vocabulary need for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) 3, the 3rd level of the Japanese government led fluency exam. But learning a language is more than just vocabulary. It’s the grammar, listening, reading, and speaking skills that combine to make a person fluent. And to top it off, the Japanese language uses kanji, Chinese characters that portray a meaning rather than just a sound. As if to engage hard mode, kanji have multiple readings, some with as many as 10 different ones, and the student just has to memorise each one as it is. It’s really fun, I promise…

Despite its difficulties, learning Japanese has been a huge joy. One of the most rewarding experiences of my life was during a trip to Japan. My girlfriend and I walked into a bar that was on the 5th floor of one of the many skyscrapers in Tokyo. A “salary man”, or businessman, was sat beside me. After a few drinks, I began to talk to this man sat casually beside me at the bar. He didn’t speak a word of English but we managed to have an in-depth conversation about the UK (where I live) and where he had visited and what he thought of it. A rather basic conversation you might think, but to me, this was a dip into a culture that I completely love, and otherwise would not have experienced. The look on my girlfriends face was an extra bonus.

As a diehard fan of anime and manga, I had always wanted to learn Japanese. But I was not stirred into action until I was backpacking around Europe. I met some amazing people, all from different parts of the world, who all spoke at least 2 languages, some even speaking 3. They were slightly taken back by my amazement at their linguistic abilities. I think it is unfortunate that native English speakers rarely learn a second language, which is understandable as there isn’t really a need for it. However, I think if more people learned a second language it will help to reduce the barriers and misconceptions we hold about other countries and cultures, which this world could probably use more of.

If anyone is interested in finding out some free resources where they can learn Japanese, leave a comment and I will get back to you as soon as I can.

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