Date: March 30, 2023 12:52PM
Just a few random experiences that happened in college. I lived in Japan for 10 years before going back to finish college. I was fluent in Japanese when I started, and cruised through the classes.
My classmates were mostly guys who had lived in Japan as missionaries. Most were nice guys, just a bit delusional. They were told that they were given special powers because they were missionaries. Anecdotally, I think that made some of them a little lazy. There were a few guys that spoke ok Japanese, but many of them were embarrassingly bad.
Here's an example. There was a big, burly guy who spoke like a high school girl. Our professor used to just cringe when this guy talked. Why? He spent most of his time in Japan flirting with high school girls. He was good-looking, and I'm sure they enjoyed flirting with him.
But Japanese, to the chagrin of many Westerners, is a very different language. Men and women have completely different ways of speaking. Women and men use completely different verb endings, and there are different words for men and women. Just the word "I" has multiple words. It depends on your status compared to the person you're speaking with, and men and women have different ways to say "I". So imagine what happens when a big American boy sounds like a high school girl. It made all the Japanese exchange students on campus giggle. They thought he was trolling because he spoke with such confidence because, after all, he had magical powers.
The odd thing was that after living in Japan for 10 years, I was able to pass myself off as Japanese on the phone. I could make a hotel reservation and they didn't know I was not Japanese until they asked for my name. When I gave them my real name, they'd sometimes say, "What's your real name? We don't take pseudonyms. It has to be the same name as your ID for when you check in." Then I'd disclose that I'm not Japanese and they'd get surprised.
But often when somebody needed a Japanese document translated, they'd ask an RM. I had worked as a translator, and specialized in IT. But often this work went to an RM because Mormons trusted them over somebody who had experience and who had lived in Japan for 10 years.
Here's another cruel trick that happens when you study Japanese. Every Japanese person you meet will tell you that you're the best Japanese-speaking foreigner they've ever met. If you let that go to your head, you stop making effort. It happened to me. I eventually started progressing again, but it takes a lot of effort to get off your butt when you're already "the best".
So a lot of these guys ended up falling prey to the phenomenon known as "fossilization". This is a problem with language learners who learn a little (or a lot) and then just stop progressing. Most of the RMs in my language program had fossilized, or they learned workarounds. If they didn't know the word for something, they'd describe it. "18 wheeler" became "really big truck", for example. On top of that, most Japanese are too timid to tell you that you speak like a 5 year old. They just smile and let you talk.
And when you've been told that you're blessed with magical gifts, why work harder?
But probably the biggest problem with being a missionary in Japan is that they're told NOT to study the written language. But that's the key to understanding the culture. If you don't understand the written language, you miss so much.
But I get it. Japanese is a notoriously difficult language to learn, with its 2 alphabets and thousands of characters. The characters have no consistency when it comes to pronunciation. The same character can have different readings based on the time period it was imported into Japan from China and whether it's used on its own, as a compound, in a place name, or as a person's name.
原 for example, can be pronounced gen, hara, or wara, just to name a few pronunciations. I probably missed a few.
The problem is, when these guys who were told they are the best for 2 years start to actually study the written language, they are completely lost.
I almost forgot, the RMs learned a really quirky way to conjugate verbs at the MTC. It kinda worked, but no Japanese professor taught that way. Our professors, who were not Mormons, made them start over again. It really threw them for a loop when they found out the magical way they had learned to conjugate verbs didn't work in the real world.
So I argue that to really learn a language like Japanese, the best way is to live in Japan, get a Japanese girlfriend (or boyfriend) and get a job where you HAVE to speak Japanese every day. And don't live in Tokyo. There are too many people who see you as their free English teacher. Live in the country where nobody speaks English.
Last part of my rant. Anime is the worst way to learn Japanese. Period.