Recently, I found a funny blog post on Twitter (thanks to Khatz from AJATT) about the two ways to learn a foreign language, using Lord of the Rings as the example.
For those not familiar, if you look on the link above, the pictures on the left are the council of Elrond from the Lord of the Rings. To
learn a language destroy the One Ring, they chose the method I have been using to learn Japanese. I purchased some books (some actually pretty helpful), and I also took Japanese courses in college, which were not very helpful. I learned some things, but the format was outdated, and it was a lecture course. I wasn’t really learning much. Worse, I developed some bad habits and misunderstandings I have to still overcome 15 years later. 😦
I like how the character Elrond complains about not having “Ring-Destroying Genes”. That’s a joke of course. People believe that if they’re not born a native speaker, they can never really be fluent at it. During the time I was learning Japanese in college, and first dating my wife, I often felt like that: I wasn’t Japanese and wasn’t living there, so I couldn’t really ever speak it.
But with some advice from my wife years ago (who learned English here in the US and speaks quite fluently), I started reading Japanese more and trying to get more exposure through online news, podcasts, etc.
It helped a lot more than 2 years of college study of Japanese language. Like Frodo Baggins, it’s a long, long road, but you just have to walk, walk, walk. It’s fine to supplement your exposure to a language with study (I recommend it), but the study has to supplement the exposure, not the other way around.
P.S. I was a pretty bad student in school. I had a lot of C’s and D’s in classes and never finished a book I was assigned. My poor grades continued all the way until I was 16 years old. That year, I remember my teacher giving us the reading assignment of Tolkein’s Fellowship of the Ring. Not only did I finish the book (which I never did before), I finished early and got an A on my book report. After that, I loved reading books. Thanks Tolkien!