Friday, October 18, 2013

Unforseen Challenges

I have to say that when I started learning Korean and Japanese consecutively earlier this year, I was startled by just how difficult it was to switch between languages on a daily basis. These days, things have gotten easier. My brain has definitely adjusted to the constant change and usage, but there are still times where I walk into my Korean class and blurt out a Japanese greeting. These kinds of things will work out (or not) over time. Which brings me to my topic for today: time.

It's not hard to agree with. Practicing something over time, and continuing to practice, will surely help you get better at something. However, some of us may forget that when things start to get easy, it may be time to turn things up a notch. After all, the aim of practice is to get better! I don't expect a concert pianist to think, "I've got to maintain this level of mediocrity!"

Well, sometimes common sense fails to make itself present in my mind. I am not escaping blame. It's my fault I feel like the last month or so of Japanese practice has been a waste. On the bright side, going to the Conversation Club meetings has allowed me to become an incredible listener. I can follow conversations in, honestly, the most general sense of understanding. Imagine my ears are a car and the group conversation is a road. Some days, I run into more potholes (unknown words) than I care to.

This has been happening more often these days. When I'm feeling irresponsible, I blame it on not being enrolled in a Japanese class. I think, I don't know these words... and still don't know these words... because I haven't been quizzed and tested on them. Sure, that's true. So, I look around at the other conversation partners. One of them is writing down every new word that comes up during the session. Hmm, that looks like a great idea. I get the urge to reach for my pen.

Writing down unfamiliar words DOES help. Even if you've written it down once, you're more likely to remember it. It has a greater chance of surviving the shallows of short-term memory and swimming into deeper waters. You didn't just hear a word in passing. You took the time to focus on a word long enough to write it down. Write down words you don't know. Write them down several times.

Then comes the practicing. Whereas my goals earlier this year involved picking up what I had forgotten, increasing my listening ability, and being able to juggle two foreign languages in my head at once, I have failed to adjust to the new goals. Some goals, like the ones I've listed, still require "post-goals" after completion. Think of it as the kind of goal that builds upon those before it. You can't jump from beginning to end. You must take things one step at a time.

So, I was so happy to be listening and nodding in agreement and laughing when it was appropriate that I forgot about my own input. PRACTICE those words I wrote down. PRACTICE the new grammar I've finally come to recognize. When I realized these things, I not only felt ashamed for getting settled in the comfort of finally knowing just enough, but I felt a tinge of fear at needing to pursue more.

You know, learning a langauge is a neverending process. Even our native tongues are constantly evolving. It's simply easier to keep up with those changes, so we take the hard work for granted. As a native English speaker, I wonder about the non-native speakers who studied English in school, then went to practice it in the real world, only to be assaulted by the immense amounts of slang are so commonplace in our daily speech.

Though it took time, it will take even more time. Language learning is no joke.


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