When you first set out to learn a language, it’s an act, a game. A game whereby you acquire a habit of writing symbols and making sounds in a certain way, a way that is called [insert name of language].
Unfortunately the word, “game”, carries with it a negative connotation, one implying a lack of seriousness or significance. Games are for children and for your spare time. But then there comes a time to “get real”.
Male. Cow. Excrement. Nothing could be further from the truth. Life itself is nothing other than a set of games of greater or lesser significance. And for us humans, language is one of the most important of those games. Perhaps the most important (? I dunno).
So, I want you to try a game that I played constantly in the intense stages of learning Japanese (i.e. until you get fluent).
The game is called “No Speak English”.
Tell yourself that you don’t speak English or any language other than Japanese.
Act like it.
Act like someone who only speaks Japanese. Look for the Japanese version of anything and everything, because that’s the only language you understand.
Are you on a plane and you need to read the safety pamphlet? (OK, like anyone ever actually reads it, but humour me here). Read the Japanese instructions. Are you travelling somewhere? Buy a Japanese travel guide.
Don’t read the English section or buy English books because “this is serious” or “this is important”, or “this is no time for games”. It is precisely because this is serious and because this is important that you must read it in Japanese.
Whatever it is, just do it in Japanese. Think about it:
How are you ever going to be able to do important. grown-up things in Japanese if you never do important, grown-up things in Japanese?
It isn’t going to happen by itself; you have to create the environment for it to happen. Push the button.
The overarching difference between a native or native-level speaker of Japanese and a typical non-native speaker, is one of pyschology. Specifically, expectation. The native-level speaker of Japanese expects to know Japanese. She believes Japanese is her right; it is who she is; it is where she belongs; she owns it; it is hers.
As someone aspiring to native fluency of Japanese, or indeed any other language, I recommend you start expecting fluency of yourself, that you start believing in your entitlement to this language. Start believing that it is your birthright — at least as a human being — you are merely reclaiming what was always yours.
People don’t own Japanese because they fell out of a uterus on Japanese soil; they own it because they have never thought of not owning it.
As a learner, banish any thoughts of inferiority from your mind. You can be every bit as good as a “native speaker”, and even better, if only because you care about the language in a way that typical native speaker of any language doesn’t. You must care, because you have done something amazing — you have transcended the unchosen, coincidental circumstances of your original birth and nationality to choose a language of your own free will 😀 .