We’ve all been there. We find ourselves standing in the language section of Barnes and Noble staring lustfully at the colorful rows of shiny new books, thinking naïvely to ourselves, “This is the missing resource. If I just buy this book, I can finally make some real progress!” It’s a perfectly naturally instinct and I admit that I have succumbed to it an embarrassing number of times. I’ve excitedly purchased language learning books that ended up sitting on my shelf unopened. I’ve joined online membership sites, bought apps, or made in-app purchases, only to rarely if ever open the sites or apps. It saddens me to think of how many trips I could now take using the money I have wasted on language learning tools and resources I never ended up using. You would think I would have learned my lesson by now, but the frustrating truth is that I will likely do the same thing again. Why do so many of us fall into this trap again and again?
Is it ideal to learn Japanese in Japan and Mandarin in China or Taiwan? Yes. Is it a mandatory condition? Absolutely not. Let me be clear: living in Japan and Taiwan for a number of years was one of the most amazing experiences of my life, and I go back to visit as often as possible. But while living in a Japanese or Mandarin speaking country can certainly provide learners of these languages many advantages, it’s critical to understand that it’s not a requirement for success. In today’s world, “I can’t learn Japanese or Mandarin because I live in rural Kansas” is an excuse, not a reality. With Internet access, a little creativity, and a lot of hard work, you really can learn any language, anywhere.
One of the most common questions I receive is, “What do you mean by ‘mastery’?” First of all, “mastery” does not mean “perfection”. Such a thing doesn’t exist in languages. And even if it did, it would not be a “S.M.A.R.T. goal” (covered in detail in my Master Japanese and Master Mandarin guides) and is therefore irrelevant to our purposes as language learners. So if “mastery” does not equal “perfection”, what does it mean? Read on to find out.
Most of you are probably familiar with Stephen R. Covey’s best-selling book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change”. I’ve listened to the audiobook a number of times and return to it whenever I am feeling overwhelmed, adrift, or caught up in “the thick of thin things”. Many of the 7 habits actually apply quite well to language learning (especially when it comes to prioritizing and making time for study), but I’d like to tweak them a bit to make them more specific to what it takes to become a highly successful language learner.
Have you been studying a language for a few months, years, or even decades, but aren’t seeing any noticeable progress? If so, read on to see five likely reasons you’re not improving as quickly as you’d like…
33 years. 13 countries. 19 addresses. Here are 33 life lessons I’ve gleaned over the past 33 years living on the planet earth, especially the last decade living as a “stranger in a strange land” in Japan, Bangladesh, and Taiwan. I hope they offer you some vicarious expat wisdom, and more importantly, impetus to move abroad yourself.