Adopting a Child’s Attitude to Learn Japanese?

By Donnie | Articles

Found this old passport photo and couldn't resist. This is when I was elementary school age...6 years old.

Earlier this week we were talking about learning via osmosis. My take on the whole “learning a language via osmosis” was that for adults it’s not as effective. However for children (the younger the better) I think osmosis works extremely well. Sadly, I’m not a kid anymore, so I think my learn by osmosis days may just be a fantasy now.

However, there is one thing I can pick up from the children I teach on a regular basis…their attitudes. It is very very rare indeed that I walk into a classroom and see I child with their face all contorted, lips poking out…sulking because they don’t want to study English today. It’s quite the opposite usually. The kids are out of their seats, peeking into the hallway to calling out my name as I walk down the hall (1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders). They always seem so excited when it’s time for English class. It’s either that, or it’s because they have another opportunity to try to give Ash Sensei another finger enema for the day.

There’s a certain purity that younger children have when they’re learning and it’s quite refreshing to see. By and large, young kids still haven’t formed an opinion about a lot of subjects they’re studying. Many of the younger kids haven’t come to the conclusion that math is too hard, that history is boring, that science is too much work, or that English is too hard to understand. They aren’t thinking about sentence structure, participles, phrasal verbs, present perfect, and the like. Right now, their moms and dads drive them to school, and they follow their daily school routine. However, depending on the child, and their rapport with the teacher, some students will do more than just follow…they’ll give 150% (an estimate by the way) effort in each and every class.

For a large group of my elementary school students, I am their first exposure to English. Because their minds are so impressionable, so delicate, at this point…I have a big responsibility as a teacher. I have to make classes exciting enough to make the kids want to learn English. At the same time, classes have to be as informative as they are fun (even if the information is in disguise).

I’ve definitely had days when my 元気-ness (genkiness) level wasn’t what it could be, so rising to the challenge can be tough some days. There are times when I’ve trudged to class, slid open the classroom door, only to walk into a classroom full of smiling faces…students prepped to learn. In these cases have no choice but to shift into energetic mode because that’s the energy the kids are giving me. Even if it’s an activity that I’m not necessarily thrilled about, or something that I think is silly, as long as my instructions are clear, the kids run with it. I can do an activity with the kids, and if they like it, they’ll shout “ONE MO-A TIME!” (or one more time) over and over again.

My question is, “Why the hell can’t I muster this kind of energy when I’m studying Japanese?” I’ve been here for just over three-and-a-half years and I’ve come to a sobering realization: my peak Japanese learning period happened during the six-month to the year-and-a-half (maybe two-year) mark.

Why? Well I’d liken it to being kind of like a child when I first arrived. Everything was so new. I didn’t know any Japanese, but my excitement levels were through the roof! I wasn’t jaded by work, hadn’t formed any opinions about the way things work in Japan. I was creating and maintaining a good system of habits, I was eating right, exercising, and feeling pretty darn energetic everyday.

Lately, I’ve been sluggish, a little bit jaded by my “go to work-get exhausted-go home-sleep-and-do it all over again tomorrow” routine. I haven’t been studying some of the very same materials that I was so enamored with just two short years ago. I have been on a convenience store diet since I started my new job. I haven’t been exercising (which probably explains the lack of energy) I feel like a fifty-year-old man in a thirty-year-old’s body, just working.

Summer time is nearly here and I say it’s a great time to reset…it’s time the teacher learned a little lesson from his kids. Don’t over-think this…if you want to improve your Japanese, Donald…just do it and have fun doing it.

It’s time to get excited again and rekindle that “crazy about Japan” spark brought me here,

Donald Ash

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  • Nanami

    *hugs* You can do it! I’m having the same problem since I have no one to practice with what I’m learning.. if I start babbling in Japanese my family gets a glazed look on their face. Though Mom has finally learned that Hai means yes and Nani means what/huh? I still have my handmade flash cards somewhere..

    I really am excited at the prospect of getting to take dedicated classes this fall! .. If I get in. But still! They said they may actually let me take enough classes to get a bachelor’s degree in Japanese while doing my graduate work. That’s got me really pumped!

    You totally can do it ^_^! Language is really neat, well etymology is especially to me. The way that we write and speak and the customs and history that go along with those mannerisms.. I get all rosy cheeked just thinking about it.

    I will totally cheer you on from across the sea Donald-san! ^ ^

  • I am using the Kumon Japanese correspondence course to study. It is divided into packet of 10 A5 worksheets. So it is easy to do one pack a day which takes 30-60 minutes to do. No trying to remember stuff, because the worksheets are constantly testing your memory as they go. I find it quite addicting.

    • Donald Ash

      Okay, you’re the first person I’ve come across who’s using Kumon. There was an advertisement for them that I saw on my way to the immigration office once and I pulled them up on the internet. I’m glad to hear that you like it. I may have to do something to add a little extra juice to my Japanese studies.

  • Rebecca Quinn

    “Don’t over-think this…if you want to improve your Japanese, Donald…just do it and have fun doing it.”

    I like this line. Check out this website, go to the table of contents, (yes,a website that thinks it’s a book) read it from that start, he’ll inspire you to learn Japanese in an easy, carefree way, you wont even realise you’ve learned what you have by the time your done. You’ll have fun learning again and be as excited as your students once more. Unleash the inner child!!! – this link will take you to the Table of Contents, seriously read from the start. His writing is very entertaining so you wont get bored. You’ll want to keep reading!



    • Donald Ash

      Just visited. Yeah, that’s pretty awesome. I’ll be going back again. I heard of this site during my first year in Japan, but never really checked it out. Thanks, Rebecca!

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