So you’ve decided to learn Japanese? Great! Deciding to learn a new language, or even reactivate a language which you haven’t learned in a while is always a challenge worth doing. Even though it requires a lot of time, dedication and practice, there’s no reason to go at it completely alone. The Nihongo (日本語）Project is a place for me and the readers to begin documenting their progress, collaborate on other projects, and share study tips for a better learning experience. No one ever said learning would be easy, but the trick is to stay positive and have a genuine interest in learning Japanese (or any other language for that matter)
As you begin to go through the process of learning Japanese, this is a question you will start to probably hear more often. Different people will have different reasons as to why they want to learn how to speak Japanese. For some people Anime and Manga was their introduction into Japan, and that’s totally fine. For some it will help in furthering their career, others will want to learn Japanese because they like Japanese culture and learning the language really can help an individual to learn more about the culture, not to mention you begin to see the world differently when you can speak another language. It gives the learner a new cultural lens so to speak.
What inspired you to start learning Japanese?
Ever since I was in middle school, I have been fascinated to no end about Japan, the people, the culture, the language and the society itself. To be completely honest, aside from the mainstream Anime playing on YTV (Canadian television station) such as Dragonball Z or Pokemon, I didn’t really have much Anime exposure, heck I only started reading Manga on and off just over a year ago!
I was far more interested in the history of Japan rather than Anime or Manga. But that’s just me. Everyone will be a little different. Often times people who like Anime and Manga are criticized for learning Japanese, and unfairly so sometimes. If someone decides they want to get to an intermediate level of Japanese proficiency solely for the purpose of being able to watch Anime or read Manga, that’s totally cool!
Being able to speak Japanese fluently with others, watch NHK (Japanese public news broadcaster) or picking up Mainichi Shinbun (Japanese newspaper) and having the ability to feel comfortable with the language would be a great accomplishment. Language is also a great way get in touch with the culture on a deeper level. Some of you may not quite understand what I mean here but that shall be better explained in the next subsection!
So first things first, I am a Canadian, which as many of you know, means that I speak English (yeah, you know the language that you WROTE this entire article in, yeah that language, we noticed). BUT here’s the confusing part. English is not my native language. I was actually born outside of Canada in Kenya. Now yes I know what you guys have googled and yes Google was telling the truth, Kenya has two official languages, Swahili and English. HOWEVER, my ethnic roots come from Somalia, which is right beside Kenya anyway.
Even though I was born in Kenya, I speak fluent Somali (although my parents will beg to differ). I can also communicate in English with native fluency. Due to my ethnic background and culture, I do regard Somali as my native language, or “mother tongue” if you will. To me, native language and native fluency are the same but different (Okay, now he’s gone off the deep end).
Hear me out on this one though. I came to Canada when I was just about to turn 2 years old. This meant that from Kindergarten to University I had been taught in English (and French for 6 years because Canada is also a bilingual country). I’m able to communicate in English at a level that your average English speaker would be able to communicate in as well. This is because I learned English through immersion. By being in an environment where I am completely immersed in the language, and as a 2-year-old I had no grasp of any real language (which means that any languages that kid grows up with, so long as they routinely continue to practice it, they will acquire fluency in that language or languages). That’s basically the sole reason I can speak English. Because I grew up in Canada. I grew up hearing English and that is the language I had spoken all my life.
Going back to the point I made about speaking Somali earlier, I also did learn how to communicate in Somali. Very similarly to English as well. My family can speak the language and at home that is what we would speak most of the time. As a child, you are able to concurrently learn multiple languages. This is why today I can speak English and Somali, switch between the two mid sentence, have thoughts in either languages, and be fluent in both.
I guess the entire message of the last two paragraphs is that even if you speak a language with native fluency, you don’t necessarily have to be associated with the culture of that language and there’s no problem with that either. If I studied french to the advanced level and become completely fluent, it would be another language that I could be fluent in (native fluency) but I don’t culturally associate with as my background (mother tongue/native language).