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Why did you choose to learn Japanese
I am half-Japanese and I wanted to connect with my roots. At least, that is what got me started with learning Japanese. However, as time passed at around the 2 year marker, I started to seriously consider living in Japan long-term. It was probably my home-stay and a good working environment that made me want to make the investment. Around the 3rd year, I made a commitment to achieving N1 because I wanted to try something other than teaching, but no clear image of what exactly. After 4.5 years, I passed the N1 exam in 2008 and have not really studied much since then.
I could have improved my Japanese even more, but I kind of burned myself out learning so quickly in the previous 2.5 years. Since then I have been focused on my general work and business skills. I may consider making a commitment in the future to learning Japanese pronunciation and Zen Buddhism Japanese.
My first hurdle for learning Japanese was non-supportive high school teachers
I really struggled with the grammar and had a hard time remembering it. My teachers were also strict on displaying Japanese behaviors like bowing and etiquette and that does not match my personality. I think culture is interesting to study, but is not something I will make an effort to learn. Needless to say, my lack of desire made me an easy target for teachers. One teacher yelled at me for slouching and another teacher told me that I would not be able to learn Japanese. I ended up getting Cs and Ds for my two semesters.
I had a bad taste in my mouth, but luckily I met one Japanese dude in university who was really cool and thanks to him I became interested in Japan again and decided to come to Japan. I was sent to the countryside when I first arrived and felt extremely lonely. I wanted to make friends, so in a way, I pushed myself to learn as fast as possible to learn, so I could talk to as many people as possible.
The second hurdle I faced was moving from N2 to N1. Among my foreigner friends and the volunteer classrooms where I learned, I had the highest level of Japanese among the foreigners - the only exception were the Chinese students who had terrible pronunciation and speaking, but could still pass N1. My Japanese improved, but not at the pace that had taken me to N2. I again changed my environment and put myself in a Japanese school full of Koreans. As anyone who has studied mainly with Koreans knows, I was humbled and pummeled from day 1 with their mad Japanese skills.
Long story short, changing my environment and those around me has led to my success in learning Japanese. Putting myself in a situation where I needed Japanese or where I was the worst student, but my competitive nature pushed me to work harder has led to my success. I have had no innate advantages, but just hard work and the right environment. One way to learn Japanese is finding the right environment.
I continue to learn Japanese because I feel I have a competitive advantage in the business world. There are people who are good at business and people who are good at languages. Finding someone who is good at both is somewhat of a unicorn in Japan and that puts me in a good position. I have discovered that even though I am half-Japanese, I do not identify as Japanese nor American, so my reasons for learning Japanese now are more for business.
However, learning Japanese did make me the person I am today and I learned many philosophical concepts thanks to knowing the Japanese language. I also realized how most people are generic in their thinking when they only view it through one cultural lens similar to someone with glasses but only has one lens that works!
How has learning Japanese changed you?
I realized how binary my thinking was and how generic myself and most people are when it comes to our identity. There were many things I believed was “right” or the way we needed to organize society, but it was simply the American lens I was born with. One example of this is the hiring and firing of employees. With my American lens, firing an under performer was the obvious thing to do. I had the law on my side and no one could logically argue on behalf of that employee.
However, the Japanese lens would tell me that it is not about that individual who is under performing and letting us down, but how firing that person could create an environment where everyone feels expendable. In the end, the employee left on their own and everyone was happy and we have thrived since that moment, and it was achieved without the “this is business bro, so anything goes” mindset. Everyone this seems black and white and narrow when you only have one lens on.
What foreign speaker do you admire?
I personally admire the YouTuber Dogen. Many foreigners with advanced Japanese like myself have bad Japanese accents. People can understand 85 - 90% of my pronunciation, but I always give off that “he is definitely a foreigner” vibe. I personally will not work on my pronunciation because I want to focus on growing my business, but it is one of my two Japanese weaknesses that impacts me weekly. Dogen is a white dude and is one of the exceptionally rare people who has learned to adopt a Japanese accent and pronunciation.
I personally thought getting N1 was not that challenging and that anyone can do it with dedication and tenacity, but learning native pronunciation takes even more tenacity. For this reason, any foreigner who has solid pronunciation is someone I respect highly. Even the winners of national speech competitions in Japanese cannot even learn solid pronunciation. Based on my experiences with Japanese a foreigner with N3 level Japanese and near pitch perfect Japanese will impress Japanese more than someone with N1. Logically they think N1 is more impressive, but their hearts will be enchanted with your pronunciation.
Tips for Learning Japanese
My first tip for beginner students is to make sure your closet is cleaned. I noticed that many beginner students end up quitting prematurely because they get busy with life. They start studying for one week and then procrastinate for a week. Maybe they meet a friend and feel guilty and start studying again. This approach can work for an easy language like Spanish, but you need to be in a mindset where you can be more consistent in learning Japanese.
If you need to complete your taxes, find a new apartment or job, or something else that takes time, you should focus on cleaning out your closet of things to do. Once you get your house in order, you will be in the right mindset to take on something challenging like exercising or learning Japanese. Similar to exercising, learning Japanese is not something you can pick up doing half-arsed.
My second tip for beginner students is check out our BFF Tokyo articles. Seriously our stuff is the good stuff. If you want to learn how to learn Japanese, we got articles on almost everything except the JLPT.
My third tip for beginners and intermediates is similar to my experience above, but change your environment or attitude if it is not working. If you have been here for 3 years and have not learned Japanese. You may need to change your environment or friends if you truly want to learn Japanese.
My first tip is to always be humble and avoid becoming overconfident. People who are overconfident are dull and boring in my personal opinion. You are overconfident either because you surround yourself with people who do not challenge yourself or overrate your abilities and are therefore delusional. Either way you lose and you stunt your potential growth, because you stop fine tuning your weak points and avoid making the jump from the top 10% or 20% to the top .1%.
My second tip is learn pronunciation. I won’t make excuses but I have failed on this point. Going back to what I said earlier, you can impress Japanese people more with good pronunciation than advanced skills. You might get opportunities at a faster point if you focus on pronunciation. Also, people will be more impressed with you even foreigners with N1 respect people at lower levels with good pronunciation because it really is that hard to fine tune.
My third tip is to read the advice of the other authors. They will probably give you more details of how to learn Japanese than me. My focus is more on mindset. All the information is already on the internet, so the reason you are not learning is not a lack of knowledge, but the right mindset.
Non-generic links to learn Japanese
You should learn using Anki and Duolingo just kidding. I would recommend learning by watching a YouTube series with a pretty man or woman. By having content you look forward to learning each week and someone you are attracted to, you can remain motivated as opposed to watching random different people.
I personally think the girl from Japanpod101.com is really cute! The second link I would recommend you check is Rikai kun reader, which shows you the meaning and reading when you put your mouse over a kanji in the browser.
Tyson is currently the co-founder and director of Japan Switch and popular One Coin English. In addition to creating a whole new market in the English language industry in Japan, he co-founded the media site BFF Tokyo as a hobby, which provides free in-depth guides on visas, jobs, learning Japanese, and anything related to thriving in Japan.
He created BFF Tokyo because he was tired of seeing the endless amount of crappy articles on google search and seeing foreigners find themselves in bad situations because they were unable to find good information. He was also tired of seeing average Joe and Sally in Japan write articles and wanted to bring his N1 Japanese skills and 8 years of HR experience to help foreigners start thriving.
You can find him on LinkedIN and he would love to hear how his content has benefited you. He may not respond, but he does read all messages sent to him. You can also check his media appearances and profile on BFF Tokyo here.
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