When I first came to Japan, I felt overwhelmed by this new language all around me. I remember jealously watching my Japanese-speaking friends talk to each other and make new friends, while thinking to myself: “I’ll NEVER get the hang of this language!” I was feeling quite hopeless.
However, after a few nights out with friends without understanding anything, I turned a corner. I decided that I was going to try my best to communicate with people. My learning was slow, I’ll admit. I learned how to ask someone’s name first, then how to say hello properly and read hiragana. I know these seem like nothing, but to someone who came here with no prior knowledge of the language, these were all successes to me. And I celebrated them, just like I would have any other success. I told my friends about it, I shared my new sentences with my Japanese friends, and I did a little happy dance once I got home.
Today, I managed to help a new employee buy a bicycle and get signed up for pocket Wifi. I could ask simple questions and understand short responses. After everything was said and done, I took a moment to think back on when I first arrived here. I remembered that feeling of hopelessness and, in that moment, I realized just how far I had come. It felt so good that I did a literal dance in my car, while grinning ear to ear.
That’s not to say that my language skills are perfect. I know that I have a long way to go. But I’ve found, through my experiences here, that the best way to not get discouraged is to continue trying and take the time to really celebrate those small successes!
So pat yourself on the back when you are able to successfully order a meal at a restaurant. Do a happy dance when you manage to ask someone their name or their age. Pump your fist in the air and yell “HURRAY!” when you find yourself able to understand what that man behind the counter is telling you… Realize that learning a new language is hard, and even though there are a few stumbling blocks along the way, you’re already miles ahead of where you started. 🙂