The mark of a pro is not whether or not you can do it well, but whether or not you can do it well consistently.
It’s difficult, sometimes, speaking Japanese in the workplace. In normal, who-cares-what-you-say dialogue, who cares what you say? If you don’t understand, it was trivial banter about Japanese television drama anyways. But when you’re discussing the next lesson you need to team-teach in Japanese with your coworker and you’re trying to explain a new activity to them and they’re looking back in confusion, it can be pretty frustrating. Frustrating because you just explained it as best as you could and they have no idea what you’re getting at. Now you gotta figure out up to what point they understood and start from there. Sometimes it’s even more frustrating, because they’ll go to another coworker and ask for help before giving you another two minutes to get your point across.
Maybe it’s difficult because it matters. I’m sure it’s why babies cry all the time. They want to survive, but they don’t know exactly how to say what they want to say, so they cry because it’s difficult, and parents around the world try to figure out what exactly it is that’s wrong. Except it’s not a simple food, bathroom, or get-rid-of-that-loud-noise request. It’s “here’s where you have to be and what you and I have to do to make this all work out (and if either of us have difficultly, it’ll affect the whole class)”. It’s not just your personal situation at stake—it’s a whole classroom of kids and their trust of the English language. And it’s their teachers and their belief that this can even be taught.
So I keep trying to build my Japanese, one block at a time, hoping to build both my ability to explain and my ability to persuade. The former is mostly gestures and the latter is a lot of body language, but improving my Japanese could make it better.
Because it’s not about trying to convince everyone once. It’s not about giving one grand explanation or speech. It’s about trying to survive on the daily basis. Every day requires Japanese to make my day easier and really, more fulfilling.
Taking a test is nice, especially in a school environment that lets you know what the test will be about. How many students have asked “will this be on the test?” I remember asking that question in high school Spanish class all the time. Yeah, language was cumulative, but surely this test wouldn’t be testing everything we’ve learned up until this point?
Imagine if tests in school happened every day. Then imagine that those tests were on anything within the subject. Maybe they’ll include words you’ve never seen nor heard before. You might not have to define them, but they’re there. I have a feeling one of two things would happen:
-people would give up
-people would actually learn the language
Unfortunately, what I see now is what I lovingly call “data-dumping”, a term I’m sure I’ve heard from a lot of other teachers. Students cram for tests. On the day of the test, they’re perfect. The next day, they don’t even remember a word from the day before.
I’m not kidding. I’ve seen this first hand.
My teacher employs a teaching style which is focused on “mastering everything”. That is, you repeat the same thing hundreds of times hoping that it will become permanently locked in the brain. And during that lesson, it is permanently locked. There’s no variation on it. It’s mind-numbing. Your mind is holding out until it can drop it.
Once the next lesson comes, that “mastered” material is thrown to the side for the next thing to be “mastered”.
I like tests. I like tests that don’t matter. I search online for things to measure my Japanese knowledge, for instance. As a self-motivated learner, they help me determine the areas that I need work with and expose me to information I haven’t formally encountered before.
And they’re random. While sometimes questions are ranked according to some arbitrary system (like JLPT levels, for instance), I never know what information will come up. That means that I need to be prepared for anything. Perhaps a grammar point will appear that I learned four years ago. Maybe I’ll see a word I understood in some previous context but that is now lost on me.
In the end, I have to be consistently good. This randomness means that I can’t data dump.
Tangent: Brute Force
Or, actually, I data dump all the time. There’s so much data that I can’t keep everything. But I let my brain sort out what’s necessary and what isn’t (instead of arbitrarily prioritizing certain data). What I’ve noticed, and what seems to be the consensus amongst language learners is that your brain does a pretty good job of determining what you need. So you keep making the random data appear so that it can work out a true needs-based system based on what words actually appear.
Like a fireman, I have to be able to go into any building in spite of the fact that I haven’t studied every house layout. There are certain underlying principles that are more important than memorizing every layout. My teacher’s approach to English is to study one house layout in depth. I propose instead studying fifty different layouts in the same time period. If there are any underlying principles that the students need, you go over them at the end, and only after you’ve asked for the students to tell you their observations.
Let’s say we’re reading a passage in the textbook about guide dogs for the blind. Does it make sense to read it over twenty different times? Wouldn’t it be better to read six or seven different passages about guide dogs? After all, different students are going to prioritize information differently. One student will pick up on how the dogs are trained. One student will learn about the blind people the dogs help.
Shotgun it. Every student might come away with very different things, but in the end, each will have found something to latch on to. When your personal tests come, give them an option of 10 questions to choose out of 15.
I’m just dreaming here. Not only is this a lot of work using a skillset Japanese teachers haven’t been trained to use or teach, it’s also a very American style.
In addition, someone might say that it’s not good preparation for the Japanese tests. At first glance, that looks true.
“The Japanese tests want x and y, and you’re giving them tuvwxyz, with an option to not even study one or two of those if they don’t want to. What if they don’t study x and y!?”
But actually, familiarity with a greater variety of words allows them to approach bigger documents, cementing a greater number of words.
It’s like my Japanese studying style: even though I’m playing some really odd games and learning asinine vocabulary, I’m managing to pick up the normal words too.
Back On Topic: Writing
If I were a good blogger, I’d have a consistent update schedule. I’d have a buffer of two or three articles minimum to use whenever I needed a break.
Instead, I aim to post something a week, at some point. If nothing else, there’s that. That consistency. It’s not as good as it could be, but it’s something. I have a huge list of topic ideas, so there’s no shortage of that. It’s just a matter of time writing them.
I’m hoping that the following happens:
- I write weekly, and post randomly (what’s happening at present)
- This writing improves my writing skills
- Improved writing skills let me write with more consistency, both in quality and quantity
I’m confident 1→2 will happen. I’m not so sure about 2→3. In the end, I will probably have to impose that habit on myself and then grow into it.
It’s also fun to be able to post right after writing. But if I were more professional, I’d have people look over it like I do with my fiction.