Immersing yourself in the Japanese language

Immersing yourself in the Japanese language

This post is contributed by Matt. He has a blog which has a mixture of Japanese related content, such as; living in Japan for a few months, Japanese events in the UK, and tips on learning Japanese.  Japan and Japanese culture have always been a huge interest to Matt, so the aim of his blog is to share his love of Japan with others, as he is keen to help other people discover how wonderful Japan and its culture are.


One of the best ways to help with learning any new language is to immerse yourself in an environment where you are constantly hearing and seeing it.  In this article I will tell you about how I made the most of my short time in Japan to practice as much Japanese as possible.  And also ways I have found to stay immersed in the language and culture since my return to the UK.

Learning in Japan

Earlier this year I was lucky enough to stay in Japan for a few months while helping out at a English language school in Otsu, Shiga.  Living in Japan for a short while was the perfect opportunity to absorb more of the language and culture.  Of course, I met up with a lot of people and made some friends out there who helped me practice the language, but when I was on my own I still found extra ways to practice.

Initially I felt quite nervous about speaking to people in case I pronounced things incorrectly, or said things that didn’t make sense.  But on my first day out from the house I decided the best thing to do was ignore my nerves, try my best and just go for it!  I started using very basic phrases such as 袋をください (roughly ‘A bag please’) or お水を三つください (3 waters please). Just using basic phrases every day was quite a confidence boost.

Eventually I made a habit of asking things I already knew the answer to, just to get more practise each day.  Often I would ask a stranger at the station ‘この電車は京都に止まりますか‘ (Does this train stop in Kyoto?) even if i already knew that it did.  This allowed me to listen to native speech, and even though I didn’t get every word, I got enough to understand the basic answers to things.

Of course, some things I got wrong and made no sense at all… As was evident by the blank face of whoever I’d just spoken to.  But it was all fun and part of the learning process.  The main thing is that by pushing yourself out of your comfort zone you will gain more!   

A couple of weeks into my stay and I was able to have a very basic conversation with an elderly shopkeeper out in Arashiyama.  Near the end of my time in Japan I found myself staying in Wakayama, where I stumbled across a random dance/music competition in the park.  By that time I was able to understand a fair amount of what the presenter on stage was saying during the intermissions.

It really is a case that by finding things to listen to, whether it’s music, conversations or announcements, you will be able to pick up more of the language and improve your pronunciation as well.  The more effort you put in by going out of your way to ask strangers questions or start conversations, the more your Japanese will improve, and the more rewarding it will be.

 

Immersion outside of Japan

Now although being in Japan is the ideal scenario for learning Japanese, it is not always possible due to a number of reasons, from costs to visas etc.  However, even outside of Japan there many other ways you can still surround yourself in the language and often the culture.  If there are Japanese language meet-ups or classes in your area, those are a good place to start.  Another key thing to keep an eye out for are Japanese events, such as a few major UK ones I’ll mention below, but I’m sure by searching you can find ones in your area as well.

Hyper Japan + Hyper Japan Christmas Market

Hyper Japan is normally at the London Olympia around July, and the Christmas Market is normally around November at Tobacco Dock, London.  Both events last for three days and feature a great way to experience some Japanese culture, as both have live music and performances, seminars, workshops, various merchandise and snack stalls, and, of course, a great ranges of Japanese food.

These events are great for meeting people with an interest in Japan, and also for practising Japanese.  Most of the shop vendors and food stall vendors will speak Japanese and English, so it’s a good chance to try ordering things in Japanese, while knowing that you can switch back to English if you really get in a muddle. (Though please keep in mind they may be quite busy and will mostly likely have a queue of customers waiting.)

The live performances are great to get some listening practise in while experiencing a variety of Japanese music.  Often the host on stage will also speak in Japanese, then again in English, so again a good way to test your listening skills.

Okinawa Day

This is an annual event held at Spitalfields, London, normally in June.  As the name suggests the day is a celebration of Okinawan culture.  Again there are a variety of stalls where you have the chance to practise your Japanese talking skills, and the main stage is a good chance to listen to some traditional Okinawan music.  

Japan Matsuri

This is another annual event, held around the end of September.  For a whole day, Trafalgar Square is transformed into a massive Japanese festival!  While only for one day, it still gives a fantastic opportunity to experience a huge variety of Japanese culture.

This year, for example, there were performances of traditional dances by the Aozasa Shishi-Odori (青笹しし踊り), from the Iwate prefecture; traditional Tezuma magic by Taiju Fujiyama, Radio Taiso! (ラジオ体操), who are very famous in Japan for their work out routines; Enka music by Jiro Yamauchi; and many more including Taiko drummers and Okinawan sanshin players.

Another highlight is the Mikoshi (神輿)procession, where a Mikoshi (portable shrine) is carried around the area – something you don’t get a chance to see much outside of Japan!

As with all the other festivals there is plenty of different Japanese food to try, such as okonomiyaki, udon, soba, yakitori, gyoza, katsu-don, bento boxes, and many more, including my personal favourite, takoyaki!

Kyoto Gardens

This place isn’t really an event, but a nice peaceful Japanese park in Holland Park, London.  It’s a small park, but a nice place to relax with a welcome feeling of being in Japan while still being in London.  On a nice day it can be a good place to sit with a notepad and practise writing some kana or kanji, and a fair amount of Japanese people do come to visit it, so again it can be nice place to start a conversation or two.

Conclusion

The conclusion really is an obvious one: that surrounding yourself in the language you are learning offers massive benefits and goes a long way to helping you improve your knowledge of that language.  Even if you are not able to get to the Japan, there are often events where you can surround yourself in the culture and language, even if only for a short time. Studying at home with apps and textbooks is great, but getting out and interacting with people can really improve your confidence in a language.  

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