Time and time again, I’ve asked what I can do to improve my Japanese, and I know many other foreigners wonder the the same thing. Occasionally I will get some great advice about different Japanese programs to watch, like Doraemon, ドラえもん, or Sazae San, さざえさん, because the Japanese is potentially much easier to understand than some of the Japanese comedies, talk shows, news, or TV dramas. Honestly, I think watching shows like Doraemon and Sazae San are not only a great way to get listening practice but to experience popular aspects of Japanese culture. The drawback with practicing this way is that it can be a bit one-sided; yes you’re hearing/learning Japanese, but it’s not exactly easy to have a dialogue with a television. The most common advice I hear from some of my Japanese students and fellow foreign friends is to get a Japanese girlfriend. Of course in some cities, that’s easier said than done, depending on your Japanese level, and how open the woman is to dating a foreigner. Nevertheless, foreigners dating Japanese people is quite common. But is having a Japanese girlfriend the answer to learning Japanese?
I have talked to several foreigners who swear by it. They say the biggest changes in their Japanese came as a result of dating, and in some cases marrying a Japanese woman. I do think having a Japanese girlfriend can stimulate that desire to study harder. Being able to communicate with your girlfriend ultimately would mean a better relationship, right?
However, I truly don’t think having the girlfriend is the be-all end-all answer to having good Japanese. There are countless situations where a foreigner may be dating or in a relationship with a Japanese person for a while, and their Japanese stagnates. Why? Well, I think in the relationships where people aren’t learning any Japanese, they have developed a functional, comfortable method of communicating with their significant other. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the communication is purely in Japanese.
For adults, I don’t think that becoming fluent comes purely by osmosis, it takes work. At the end of the day, I think the only way to acquire good Japanese is to be honest with yourself and work at it. If your environment is conducive to learning Japanese, i.e. having a Japanese girlfriend, working in Japanese office, going to a Japanese university…it’s an added bonus because it can tremendously speed up the learning process.
What’s your take? Is having a Japanese girlfriend (or Japanese boyfriend) the best way to learn Japanese?
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