Brett and I know that if, in a few years, we are going to be living in Japan for three months each year we need to start studying Japanese now. Brett doesn’t speak any Japanese other than a few words, and my Japanese has moved far beyond the rusty stage. I can read the kana ‘alphabets,’ tell time, introduce myself, count money, read some signs and a few characters, say “please,” “thank you,” and “excuse me,” and do some basic ordering in a restaurant but that’s about it. I can understand some of what’s being said to me by picking out different words, but I cannot carry on a conversation or even reply to most questions other than nodding my head and saying thank you. Most of the time in Japan I feel like everyone but me is able to read and converse in a secret code.
During our stays Brett and I will need to be able to shop for food, buy tickets and other items, and get ourselves around town and such on our own. On my last two trips to Japan my son or my daughter-in-law took care of most of the Japanese, but we don’t want to have to depend on them so much in the future. Japanese is also not a language we are going to “pick up” while we are living there. It is one of four of the most difficult languages for English speakers to learn (the others are Chinese, Korean, and Arabic) and even an intermediate level can take years of study.
I have been busy the last few weeks investigating what would be the best ways for each us to learn on our own. There are no classes here on the island other than through the community college, and neither of us wants to do that. We are also at completely different ability levels: Brett is a true beginner, but I studied Japanese for three years in college, so feel I could start in again closer to an intermediate level (after a review of the basics at the beginning level).
The current big question is whether we should go with books or do it online with something like Rosetta Stone. My instincts as a language teacher tell me that Brett might benefit from Rosetta Stone, at least initially, and that I would do well with a text and work books, with Rosetta Stone as a back-up. Rosetta Stone also offers the opportunity to practice with a native speaker. The big downside is the cost – RS is not cheap. For both of us though, motivation will be key – Japanese is intensely difficult and I worry about getting discouraged or giving up before we have a chance to use what we learn. Finding a good fit between resources and our learning styles will be key in either of us having any chance of success.
We will probably take Japanese classes while we are living there to help us along, but for now will start slowly on our own beginning this fall. So, in the next few weeks we’ll have to make a decision, with a goal of getting started when the girls go back to school in August. Books or online? I still don’t know.
But . . . 頑張って(gambatte) to us! (Gambatte roughly translates as ‘good luck’ but is closer to ‘I know you can do this’).
*(I was a bit surprised that I could actually still read the Japanese writing without help. My son provided it for me though – I wasn’t sure enough to do it on my own).