- How To Speak Like A Native
- Mastery is Mastering the Basics
- Where Not To Learn Japanese From
- How To Get A Specific Accent
- How to Pronounce Japanese
- Speaking: You Don’t Have A Linguistic Problem, You Have A Humanity Problem — Why You Still Suck At Speaking and How to Fix it Fast
- Language Is Acting
- Luxurious Worries, Or: So Effing What If You Sound Like An Anime?!
- Success Story: Emotional Context Learning — Using Phrases Correctly Without Actively Learning Them Or Knowing What They Actually Mean
- You Are What You Eat, You Write What You Read, You Speak What You Hear
- Why You Should Keep Listening Even If You Don’t Understand
- If Anime Is Bad For Your Japanese, Then Nursery Rhymes Are Bad For Your English
- No Humans Necessary: Why You Don’t Need People to Learn a Language
At university, I was in a comedy troupe. No, the comedy troupe. The best comedy troupe at my school. The greatest comedy troupe since the previous greatest comedy troupe. And I was in it. And I loved it.
By the time I’d gotten into the troupe, my Japanese project was also underway — I listened exclusively to Japanese music, ate Japanese food, et cetera. Anyway, one day, during one of our bi-weekly “rehearsals”/shouting matches, I was sitting at a desk enjoying my dinner, when one of my buddies in the troupe goes: “there’s Khatzumoto with his chopsticks; he thinks he’s Japanese”, or something to that effect.
And then it hit me.
So after only one semester, I left the best comedy troupe on campus, explaining that it was in order to prepare for grad school, which was true at the time — I had wanted to go to grad school in Japan.
Language is acting. All language is acting. When you’re a kid, you copy your parents and schoolmates. Do you think it’s an accident that you speak like them? Do you think it’s a coincidence that you use the same phrases? What are the odds that, of all the accents in all the languages in the world, you would have yours? And what makes it yours? What gives you the right to it? Why is it “normal” for you to eat with a knife and fork and not your hands or chopsticks?
You’re a fraud. You’re nothing but a degraded copy of your earliest and/or strongest linguistic influences. There’s nothing “normal” about the way you speak. There’s nothing “normal” about the writing system you use. The only reason you don’t realize that this is all an act, is because you’ve been acting at it for so long; you’ve forgotten that it was just an imitation, an impression.
Kind of like the stereotypical undercover cop movie; you know “I no longer knew whether I was a cop pretending to be a thug, or a thug pretending to be a cop”. But unlike the police officer, you have barely any memory of your previous identity and the little linguistic ruse you pulled. But think. Think hard. Think for a moment, and you’ll remember. If only faintly, you ‘ll remember at some point or other, consciously copying a phrase you heard an adult use, consciously pronouncing things like the people around you.
You who had no language now have at least one language, your “native” language. What makes it so much yours? Let me tell you something, there’s nothing “native” about it. If we are to take the word “native” back to its roots [from Latin nātīvus, from nātus, past participle of nāscī, to be born], then, in a way, there is no such thing as a “native” language; if there were, you’d have been born knowing it. But you weren’t. You stole it as you went along. You copycat ;).
All that make a language “native” to you are your beliefs about it. Your almost unshakable belief in your right to it; your unquestioned conviction that it belongs to you, and that you have both the competency and the right to use it. Your years-long habit of using it, day in, day out. If nothing else, it may be the only language you own right now. And that’s another factor: the “what else do I have?” factor. That “native” language may well be all the language you know right now. So for you to speak, read and write in it is no luxury; it’s a necessity for life; you almost have no choice. That’s a pretty realistic belief.
Use that belief. Paint yourself into the same corner with Japanese. Make it a sink or swim situation. Cut off all the other exits. Don’t visit non-Japanese-language web sites, don’t watch non-Japanese programs; don’t read non-Japanese documents. Japanese is the only language for you; you have no choice BUT to understand, read, write and otherwise use it. You can’t slink away by the English side door. There is no English side door. You don’t know any other languages. だからこの言語しか無い. This is it. This is your only language.
Believe that, and I think it will make your Japanese better. It will give you that insatiable drive to understand and to be understood, and prevent you from falling back into a different language, even if and when someone makes fun of you, you won’t quit because you can’t quit; because for you, to quit Japanese is to quit the enterprise of language altogether, and we all know that wouldn’t work out too well.
Believe in your right to use this language and in your (growing) competency in it. Really, it’s no more a Japanese-born person’s than it is yours (and your language is no more yours than a Japanese person’s). Or, more accurately, all that makes it more a Japanese person’s than yours is:
- our hypothetical Japanese person’s belief in their ownership,
- the fact that he may not know any other languages well,
- the fact that he has lots of experience in Japanese to back up his belief, and maybe
- his incompetency in other languages’ making Japanese the only method for him to communicate with other people.
When you think about it, anyone can make that connection to any language! All you need to do is:
- believe in your ownership of Japanese,
- pretend to not know any other languages, and
- practice; that’s all.
- Skip # 4.
All you have to do is take it and hold on to it, and it will be yours, too. Genetics? Passports? Please.