I didn’t speak ANY Japanese before I came to Japan in 2003 to study Japanese gardening. I had dreams of traveling and meeting new people, but when I finally arrived and couldn’t communicate, I felt so sad and alone.
My sadness quickly became depression as I began learning Japanese. I had failed French in high school, and barely passed Spanish in college, so I had very little confidence in myself. I just thought I was one of those people who couldn’t learn another language.
I tried going to Japanese lessons, but quit after my fourth class. I didn’t understand the teacher and felt too embarrassed to speak because I didn't want to make any mistakes.
I also studied by myself at home. I bought lots of textbooks, listened to basic Japanese conversations on listening practice CDs, and spent WEEKS trying to write vocabulary words on flashcards…
But I only seemed to be getting WORSE!
I couldn’t remember anything I studied, no matter how hard I tried. I also couldn’t understand the pronunciation and accents of native Japanese speakers, or the slang, idioms and expressions they used in conversations.
I was incredibly nervous around native speakers, so I would usually just sit and listen while others talked, pretending to understand their words and wishing I could express myself like they did.
In conversations, I hesitated constantly, often having to think of what to say and translate words in my head before speaking. I regularly used unnatural-sounding, inappropriate words, and pronounced them incorrectly. And people regularly complained that they couldn’t understand me.
I felt angry, stupid and ashamed.
Those first few months were painfully frustrating, but I didn’t quit because I remembered how far I had already come. I was finally living in Japan and I knew I would get fluent if I could just figure out how…