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September 20, 2007



Just reading the excerpt you provided, I was already consciously aware of the existence of external motivation and its power over my own path to language acquisition, which is why I absolutely must take a class to jump-start my way into a language.

I don't think classes are necessarily the best way to learn a language in terms of the content they provide, but because of the pure motivation factor behind them; of having to "perform" in front of your peers and teacher, and not wanting to fail miserably.


from my own experiences, i believe in immersion learning, not textbooks. after years of my mother attempting my brother and i to learn her native language by attending saturday japanese school with 0 results, she finally got fed up and we moved to her homeland and we couldn't move back to the states until we had learned japanese. this provided 0 motivation as we lived where there were americans (tv & radio) and we went to an american school. almost all the students in our school were mixed and most could speak japanese (regardless of ethnic heritage). when a classmate told me my japanese was funny in front of others, that it sounded like her white father's, it was humiliating. other language blunders pointed out by relatives etc. were just as bad. but that classmate shame probably was the first motivation to really learn.


It's kind of ironic that it's the people with no manners and laugh at you that give you that feedback that you need...most Japanese adults are too civilized to laugh at you to your face.

"If you are learning Japanese in a manner in which your pride is never in danger you probably should be."

Agreed you shouldn't completely ignore embarrassment, but I think it's a double-edged sword. I know quite a few people (English teachers in Japan, like myself) who haven't really progressed in their Japanese despite living in Japan because they are so terrified of embarrassing themselves when speaking. They feel this shame all too acutely, and it leads to linguistic paralysis. It is a powerful motivator, but also a powerful de-motivator.

Learners are embarrassing themselves on a regular basis. As a shy person, I had to consciously develop thick skin to this kind of embarrassment before I could really feel comfortable speaking with people, especially strangers (by the way, I enjoyed your video at Tokyo orientation). You've got to swallow your pride (to a degree) to be able to go up and strike up conversation with a stranger in a foreign language you knowingly speak far from perfectly.

So, I wouldn't say my pride is never in danger, but I would say that I have to ignore it a lot of the time.



Thanks for the comments. I take your point about some people NOT speaking because of pride, but I think that if those people are able to get by without speaking Japanese then they are not really putting their pride on the line. What I was getting at was this - you should put yourself in a situation where you HAVE TO use Japanese - there should be no discretion. One example is a speech before an audience. If you have a thick skin you will be happy with doing enough preparation to get the job done, and if you make some errors, well, that's part of the learning experience. If you are terrified of embarassing yourself there is one solution - prepare so well that you DON'T embarrass yourself - rehearse until you are perfect.

When it comes to talking to complete strangers it is impossible to predict exactly how the conversation will go, so it is impossible to prepare for every contingency, but if you work hard on your Japanese privately you should experience success when you take it public. This is something akin to the boxing adage that "fights are won in the gym". However if you don't mind looking foolish you can learn a lot through the interaction itself, and to master concepts like wit, timing, repartee and other elements which make conversational banter possible, "gym training" is insufficient IMHO - you have to get in the ring sometimes.

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I agree, that is why in countries like Japan and Korea, they use to train their small kids ages 3 and above foreign language like English. At a very young age, an individual can learn more effectively because he craves to learn and be knowledgeable like the adults around him.

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