I've lived in Japan for some time now, but I'm not very good at the language. When I encounter anything beyond the simple, and I don't understand what's going on, I feel frustrated, then angry, then ashamed, which undermines any confidence I have to speak the language, which makes it less likely that I'll do better the next time. What can I do to break this cycle?
posted by MShades to Writing & Language (15 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
In slightly more detail: I used to work in a place where English was predominantly spoken, so I never needed to learn all of the "workplace Japanese" that I need now in my current job. Also, I'm not a very social person, and like to spend my free time on my own, so I don't give myself chances to go out and learn the "social Japanese" that I should.
Now I've been here nine years, my language skill is atrocious, and every time someone tries to ask/tell/explain something and I don't get it - which is often - I first feel frustrated. Partly because not only do I not understand, but I can't even clearly express what it is that I don't understand (other than, "everything"). Then I feel angry - first at the other person, and then I realize that's unreasonable and stupid, so it turns inward pretty quickly. Then shame that I have been here so long and still can't get myself beyond "いい天気ですね?"  without my brain seizing up.
This has an entertaining cascade effect - my perceptions of how my co-workers perceive me tend to suffer (perceptions which, yes, are entirely in my head, but then so is everything else), which makes me less willing to try and talk to them because - in my head, mind you - I feel like they see me as a barely-functioning idiot. My anxiety over my inability to speak at a level appropriate to how long I've been here makes me actively avoid chances to interact and speak, and therefore improve, which reduces the chances of successfully interacting with people in the future, etc etc.
It may also make me appear standoffish and unfriendly, but I'm a factory-model introvert, so that doesn't really bother me so much.
I've entertained the idea of taking lessons, but having the time and energy to do it is one problem (12 hours a day at work, including the commute), to say nothing of finding a teacher who's willing to deal with the neurotic mess I have made myself into. I can study at home, but again, without someone to practice on, it's not going to stick.  Studying on my own eventually devolves to the classic, "Oh, what's the point?" level, leaving me with dusty textbooks and hundreds of little vocabulary cards scattered about the house.
So what do you think? Is there any way to break this cycle, to re-frame language learning in such a way that it won't make me feel like a lobotomized gorilla, or should I start brushing up on my Charades?
 "Nice weather, isn't it?"
 I do have a Japanese boyfriend, but his English is much, much better than my Japanese, and honestly - I don't feel comfortable speaking Japanese around him, mainly because if I start this cycle up around him, then I'll have absolutely no one to talk to at all....