We all know time flies when you’re having fun, but wow that went by quickly. It’s now day thirty in Kanazawa and sadly time for me to head back to Osaka before leaving Japan completely on the 27th. It certainly is a real shame to be leaving, given the great atmosphere at the hostel, and the amazing people, visitors and locals, that I’ve has the pleasure of meeting along the way. My time here has also been beneficial to my Japanese, not only with regards to proficiency but also through several important lessons that I feel I’ve learnt about studying foreign languages and making the most of your time abroad, which I would like to share below.
As I’m sure many of you have already noticed, I am not an attentive listener. All to often I let the voices of the outside world slip into mute as my head blasts off into space and starts concerning itself with more pressing matters, like what’s for dinner. Obviously this is harpers conversation and whole it’s easy to bluff your way back into conversation speaking your native langue (not that I’m advocating it) as a learner you are not afforded that luxury. It can be off-putting to have a lengthly barrage of words come your way, and admittedly sometimes you’re not able to understand it all, but being attentive and looking for the gist of things can at least give you the edge to remain part of the conversation and not drift into a low Earth orbit.
2. Admit it when you don’t understand
This is one that I found partiularly difficult working for Shaq. For the majority of the past month I have been a human representation of Family Guy’s Consuela (YouTube clip below). Nodding earnestly at every request and then doing the exact opposite because I had been afraid to admit that I didn’t completely understand what he just said. There are tens of thousands of words in every language and you, nor the native you’re speaking to can expect you to know them all. You are bound to ask questions because you’re LEARNING the language. For me, this is probably the most important lesson my time in Kanazawa has taught me. In future it’s less Consuela and more Question Time.
3. Be a clown
Guirri, gaijin, must languages have a name for the hapless outsider who blunders through life, sticking out like a sore thumb, and making more faux pas than would seem humanly possible. Hone that and be the peoples clown; ask a confused passerby which is the friendliest train to Tokyo; inform complete strangers you’re desperate for the loo when all you want to know is the location of the nearest Post Office. Even if you’re just mumbling incomprehensible gobbledegook, mistakes are gold when it comes to improving at your target language. All to often people are way to preoccupied with getting every phrase pitch-perfect before a single urtterence for fear of looking like an idiot infront of a horde of bloodthirsty native speakers. This is simply paranoia and probably the biggest obstacle to you improving. So don’t be embarrassed, and blunder your way to fluency like a true gaijin.
4. Be respectful
Sounds like a contradiction to what I just said right? Hear me out. Whilst it’s true you shouldn’t be afraid to make mistakes, don’t use your being an outsider as an excuse to do whatever you want. Many cultures make allowances for foreigners and admittedly it is tempting at times to use this to your advantage but please don’t. People not seem to mind when you try to play the “doesn’t know any better” card to get out of a train fare, but in actual fact all you’re succeeding in doing is making a bad name for yourself. Furthermore, a little appreciation and understanding of local understanding of local etiquette can go miles in helping you integrate into the community, find more oportunities to practise your target language, and discover those Easter eggs that only the locals know about. Admittedly we all make mistakes and sticking your foot in it everyonce in a while is not the end of the world, so long as you’re making an effort to follow local customs, this will likely be overlooked.
5. Be a Methodist, but not a robot
Keep the main purpose of your being there in focus, but don’t let it stop you from having fun. Don’t feel like you’ve let yourself down if you go for drinks with someone who does not speak your target language, but equally make an effort to use your target language as often as you can without it feeling unnatural and forced. Unless you’re cramming for and exam, you don’t need that pressure. The important thing is to maintain a comfortable balance between furthering yourself towards the finish and enjoying the your time at your destination.