Let me just preface this by saying that this a bit more of a personal post. And also it’ll have no spoilers for Steins;Gate, so if you haven’t played it yet, don’t worry!
“Hey, you, on the other side of the screen. Can you see us?”
Ok, so, learning Japanese is basically this grand, personal journey of mine.
…Alright, not really, I’m actually super casual about it, lol
But seriously, though.
I first started seriously trying to learn it sometime in 2011, but I quit shortly after finishing Remembering the Kanji. I started up again in 2013. I was basically stumbling in the darkness, trying to find a method that works, a way to make my brain understand this mess of a language.
For the longest time it felt like I was getting nowhere.
Incidentally, an anime called Steins;Gate aired in 2011, the year I (kind of) began learning Japanese and it quickly become one of my favorite series of all time. At that time I didn’t even know it was based on a visual novel. After I began learning Japanese I did try to watch the anime once or twice without subtitles, and it went about as well as you’d expect.
Mayuri: “Wow, amazing! I don’t really get it, though.”
See, Steins;Gate is kinda notorious for being chock-full of both quite detailed scientific explanations of time travel and other related phenomena (I can’t vouch for how accurate they are, though) as well as Japanese internet slang. Though the game is nice enough to explain the scientific and slang terms, the explanations themselves aren’t always easy to understand either.
This isn’t even one of the more complicated ones! And yes, this is the description of a microwave.
Anyway, going back to me not really getting anywhere in learning Japanese – I eventually did begin to get somewhere. I actually started being able to read stuff with something resembling fluency. Of course I’m still not fantastic, but something like Pokemon or Final Fantasy wasn’t really difficult anymore.
I kept thinking of Steins;Gate as this thing I’m still not good enough to tackle, though.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s probably not on the level of reading classical literature or poetry, but I’d say it’s on the difficult side for a video game. It’s not really babby’s first visual novel territory. An official English translation does exist, which is quite rare in the world of VNs, but I wanted to read it in Japanese, god dammit!
So, a few months ago I started thinking: “maybe I’ll give it a try… nah, it’s probably still gonna be too difficult.” But eventually I just said “fuck it” to myself and got the game. And it took a while (60+ hours over 2 months) but by god, I read it all.
Now, sure, it wasn’t as smooth as it would’ve been had I been reading it in English. Some of the science stuff flew right over my head (though sometimes I couldn’t tell if it was because it was in Japanese or because I know nothing about quantum physics.) I probably missed a lot of the net slang.
But I did it. I read Steins;Gate in Japanese.And I understood most of it. Something I wouldn’t have even imagined possible ~5 years ago.
What’s my point here?
I think that a lot of people who try to learn a language, especially self-learners, struggle with these feelings of “this is going nowhere”, “why am I even doing this” a lot. Very often it feels like you’re doing a lot of work for almost no return. You learn all these words, all this grammar and yet you still feel like you’ll be stuck learning textbook examples forever. Oh, sure, maybe you’ll struggle through a children’s story with a dictionary, but you’ll never be able to actually enjoy a video game or a book the same way you can in English.
I’ve definitely felt all of the above. Hell, I still do. I still have moments of “what the hell, I suck at this.” And as I’ve said, I’m nowhere near fluent; I still have a long way to go.
But I’ve certainly proven to myself that just simply sticking with it and not giving up really is the most important thing.
Well, this sounds corny as hell.
Keep in mind, that I’m not super hardcore about learning Japanese, I’m not one of these folks who keep up a routine of studying for a few hours a day, total Japanese immersion, etc. And maybe I won’t learn as quickly because of that, but that’s okay. At first I was worried about not giving it my all, but I know now that you can take a more casual approach and still reach a pretty respectable level in a manageable amount of time (+/- 3 years)
What I mean is: you can do it. Even if you feel like you’re not getting anywhere, even if it feels like you’re forever going to suck, that’s not true. As long as you don’t quit. As cheesy as this might sound, that’s what I’ve learned.