Guest Post: How to Live the Japanese Language While Learning It

For people who strive to learn a second language, it isn’t enough to simply be adept at speaking it. A lot of the time, the decision to learn something as complex as another language isn’t entirely academic in nature (though it may partly be the case). Fortunately this desire to immerse oneself into the culture of the foreign language they’re working hard to master goes hand in hand with the spoken language itself. Japan is the perfect example of a country whose language most people want to learn because they wish to feel closer to its impressive and often fascinating culture.

Of course, such an endeavor is certainly easier said than done. However, there’s a reason why traveling to Japan in order to live the language while learning it is so rewarding. Those looking for a bit of a crash course in everything Japan has to offer with a long-term goal of mastering the language will no doubt learn all its little intricacies all the faster, but that doesn’t make it any less challenging. Here are just a few tips to living the language while simultaneously learning it.

Go for Japanese cuisine (it’s how the country speaks to your stomach)

The first suggestion is also probably the most fun to do – learning to live the language by experiencing Japan’s rich tapestry of cuisine. After all, a very large part of a country’s history is directly tied to their diets. It might seem like a rather far-fetched idea, but you’ll soon understand things about the country you might never have thought possible when you’ve had your fill of their authentic recipes. While being in Japan to enjoy true authentic cuisine would be the most obvious course of action, this is something that can be enjoyed in all parts of the world because of how much other countries and cultures are fascinated by what Japan has to offer.

Try and picture yourself enjoying succulent yakitori from a stand in Japan, while speaking to one of the natives. You ask questions as you observe their body language, from the way they speak to the way the natives enjoy their own stick of yakitori. Even something as simple as enjoying street food in Japan can be an invaluable experience when it comes to not just learning the language, but living it as well.

Attend the multitude of Japanese festivals

Living the Japanese language means to live its culture, and there are few events that match the cultural significance of the Japanese festival. The amount of history they have on display – whether you are attending a festival in Fukuoka or perhaps in Kyoto, is always a sight to see. After all, where else would you be able to get yourself acquainted with all the sights and sounds Japan has to offer all in the span of a single incredible event? It can’t be understated how much you can learn by simply attending one of the country’s many festivals.

Even the natives of Japan understand just how important attending a festival can be. Normally you would see a divide between the younger and older generations of the Japanese people due to events that have shaped the country. However, no matter what the age group is, there are very few people who do not enjoy attending these festivals. This only means that not only do you get to taste and experience the culture of Japan all in one place, but you also get to communicate and interact with natives from all walks of life.

Break the ice by enjoying Japan’s hot springs

While it’s indeed important to have a serious passion when it comes to learning and living the Japanese life, it doesn’t have to be devoid of any rest and relaxation. As a matter of fact one of the best ways to immerse yourself in Japanese culture while being able to soak the stresses away would be by enjoying Japan’s world-famous hot springs, or onsen as they would call it. Located in Hokkaido, these natural hot springs are littered with natives and tourists alike, giving you a wide variety of people to interact and bounce ideas with while you take a rest. Why not? It’s a wonderful way to learn all about Japan, while still treating it like a carefree vacation.

Visit Japan’s historical castles and ancient temples

Japan is a country with a deep and vibrant history. One might think that researching the history of the Japanese people and learning the language are completely different – but they are different sides of the same coin. It only exists when both work in tandem; otherwise neither will survive because they helped shape each other through the decades and centuries. While it’s indeed possible to learn all about the history of the Japanese people through different websites and written works, actually stepping into an ancient temple or historical castle in Japan allows for a completely different perspective – you can even get the help of Japanese translation services if you have troubles during your study.

The castles in particular were a part of the intense and more violent periods of Japan’s history, and the ruins are something that can give you a peak at what Japan was like at that time. By learning all about its rich culture and speaking to the Japanese about how they might feel about their country’s history, you’ll get a great deal of insight – which is one of the most essential things in mastering the language.

There are many who will most likely tell you that learning a language is something that shouldn’t be taken lightly. While they’re completely right, there’s no reason that it can’t be fun – and living the language while learning it is most certainly that. If you’re serious about diving into everything that makes this wonderful country great, don’t hesitate! Pack your bags and get ready for the learning experience of a lifetime that you will not regret at all.

Sean Hopwood, MBA is founder and President of Day Translations, Inc., an online translation and over the phone interpreter provider, dedicated to the improvement of global communications. By helping both corporations and the individual, Day Translations provides a necessary service at the same time as developing opportunities for greater sympathy and understanding worldwide.

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All photographs courtesy of Unsplash.

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6 Ways to Learn a New Language Without Picking Up a Book

When I was thirteen, I studied a mandatory year of French.

hated it.

My reason was simple and would have done my father proud: it just wasn’t practical enough. As a homegrown Kiwi who hadn’t yet developed an appreciation for travel and culture, I couldn’t fathom why students were forced to learn French of all languages. Logic suggested that Mandarin or Spanish – two of the most widely spoken languages in the world – might actually be worthwhile. Or even Maori, the native tongue of New Zealand. It was fair to say that I didn’t take to my lessons.

Seven years later, and my only regret from school was not properly studying a language. I both admire the cognitive capacity of multilingual people and yearn for the opportunities they earn from such an skill. I dabbled in languages here and there, but I always lacked the motivation to put in the hours. It wasn’t until I decided to travel to Spain in 2017 that I found a reason to commit.

My only previous exposure to Spanish had been from the sassy Hispanic women on Orange is the New Black (I’m cultured, I know). I also hadn’t really heard of anyone who successfully taught themselves a second (or third… or fourth…) language without enrolling in an expensive course. But I was determined that I wouldn’t fail this time around, and that when I arrived in Madrid, I would be able to order a damn paella.

Whilst I’m far from fluent, two months later I can confidently read and write basic Español. My listening and speaking skills still need some brushing up, but I no longer helplessly flail when I try to read a menu or ask someone for directions. The following six activities played significant roles in my self-tuition, and none involve picking up a language book. Most importantly, they are fun. To me, learning Spanish is a game rather than a chore, and as someone who maintains a love-hate relationship with linguistics, that is one of the most important things I could get out of such an exercise.

1. Download a Language App

When I first embarked on my journey to learn Spanish, I opted for Duolingo. I spent a couple of intensive weeks on this platform, but whilst I made considerable progress through the chapters, I struggled to retain words longer term. Around this time, a friend recommended I give Memrise a go… and I’ve never looked back.

Memrise is fantastic because it takes management over making you practice the old content till you nail it before moving on to the new. It also exposes you to new material in a logical and easy way so that even as a beginner, you still have the important areas covered. By introducing personal stats to the mix, you are able to compete against and challenge yourself 💪

2. Change Your Phone Language

Admittedly, this is a bit of a risky one. But, if you can stick it out, you will reap the rewards.

By going into your settings and swapping your native language for your new one, words that you have come to be familiarised with through social media or apps will be replaced with others. This helps you to make connections between the known and the unknown in a habitual context. For example, most everyone is used to seeing that ‘Like’ button when they log into Facebook. When I changed my phone language to Spanish, I soon grasped that the equivalent was ‘Me Gusta’.

Tip: Make sure you know exactly where to change the language back to English (or whatever be your mother tongue) so that in emergencies, you can still operate your device. It’s all fun and games until warnings start flashing on your screen and you have no idea what your phone is trying to tell you.

3. Find a Language Buddy

The thing about learning a foreign language is that simply being able to read and write is a whole different ball game to actually listening, speaking and interacting in general. If you are teaching yourself, then the chances are that there are not many people in your social circles who also speak that language.

Well, it’s time to make friends! My Spanish exponentially improved once I began conversing with native speakers. I made these connections by using Couchsurfing, the social travel website I mentioned in this and this blog post. I stayed with hosts in Madrid who were more than happy to invest time in going through exercises with me and helping me understand and correct my errors. It was a win-win situation; these people were also bushing up on their English, so we were both getting something out of the interaction.

4. Immerse Yourself in the Place

Granted, this is easier said than done. Depending on where you are based, access to a country where your chosen language is widely spoken may require large financial sacrifices. For me, it was no painless manoeuvre to get to Spain all the way from the antipodes of New Zealand, but this only motivated me all the more to commit to my Spanish once I did arrive.

By physically being somewhere where the locals speak what you are trying to learn, the level of absorption compared to that from a book is incomparable. You soak in so much raw linguistic information; it feels like all the synapses in your brain are dancing frenetically. From the road signs to the shop windows to the supermarkets – everything just makes so much more sense. Context is key to this process, and language apps inevitably fall short in this area. Put it this way: are you more likely to remember that watermelon is sandia in Spanish through looking at a picture of the fruit on your screen, or by ordering watermelon soup in a Spanish café? (Yes, that is a thing. And yes, it is the best thing I have ever eaten).

5. Embrace Subtitles

Most – if not every – paid streaming service provides access to subtitles. I like to think of subtitles as the lazy person’s approach to learning a language; although it’s not an altogether passive activity, you can still afford to kick back, relax and enjoy the show.

Subtitles are especially effective if you are watching something you are already familiar with. I enjoy searching for clips of my favourite stand up comedy acts on YouTube and locating the Spanish versions. I know the jokes off by heart, so instead of trying to both process the original content and then link it to the words scribbled below, I can focus my energy on simply the latter. It’s fun. Try it.

6. Collect Children’s Picture Books

Okay, I lied. The title of this blog post promised that I would offer six ways to learn a language without picking up a book, and yet my final method includes just that. But bear with me.

When I was staying in Madrid, I went to the most amazing bookstore in the world: La Centrale. There, I purchased a beautifully illustrated children’s picture book depicting the life of Frida Kahlo. The catch? It was written in Español.

I find resources like this are really indispensable tools to practicing a new language, especially if you are already familiar with the content in the book. The visuals make it a really attractive way to study, and they’re always entertaining to read to someone who is well versed in that language so you can laugh and try again when you f*ck up. Similarly, if you are at more of an advanced level, you can find translations of your favourite novels online. I myself downloaded Harry Potter y la Piedra Filosofal – you can find a link to the PDF here.

Photos taken at Plaza de España in Seville, Spain.

I’d love to hear your tips and tricks for learning a new language without chasing a traditional path. Moreover, if you’re like me and fascinated by language and culture, you might find yourself poring over these blog posts from the archives: the Pocket Guide to Kiwi Slang and 8 Untranslatable Words to Bring You Joy.

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The Pocket Guide to Kiwi Slang

“She’ll be right!”

It’ll all work out.

“Nah mate, don’t you worry… she’ll be right.”

Chur

An alternative to saying ‘thanks’ or ‘cheers’.

“Chur bro!”

“Yeah… nah.”

Another expression for ‘no’. Because us Kiwi’s like to be unnecessarily confusing sometimes.

“Oh, um, yeah… nah.”

Chocka

When something is full. Can refer to objects or your stomach.

“Blimey, I’m feeling chocka!”

Bro

Short for ‘brother’ but used (excessively) as a relatively gender-neutral term of endearment for close friends.

“Hey bro, good to see you!”

Stoked

A word that describes feeling really, really chuffed about something.

“I’m super stoked with this weather.”

Cuppa

Referring to a cup of tea of coffee.

“It’s been a long day. Time for a cuppa.”

Munted

When something is essentially f*cked.

“The car? Yeah, it’s pretty munted.”

Tiki Tour

Taking the long route to get somewhere; often used to pretend one is not lost.

“Where are we?!”

“… we’re going on a tiki tour.”

Congratulations! You just navigated the wild and treacherous landscape of Kiwi slang… now you’ve just got to understand that damn accent.

All photos courtesy of Unsplash.

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8 Untranslatable Words To Bring You Joy

One of the highlights of traveling is exposure to different languages. As someone who is fascinated by communication and culture, I am drawn to countries where I can stand in the middle of the street and not understand a single word of the people bustling around me.

I can only speak English, which has catalysed a rather obsessive fixation with words from other languages that are untranslatable. To all the multilinguals out there — especially those that can understand languages that are not in Latin script — I tip my hat to you.

And so I present to you 8 stunning words from a variety of different languages that cannot translate to English. Enjoy!

Definitions courtesy of Buzzfeed and images courtesy of Unsplash.

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