Juggling Language and Life

With working on a fairly large project and team (at least for me), moving to a new place, and taking online classes, these last few months have been quite hectic indeed. I’ve moved all my stuff over to the new place (though there’s still unopened boxes everywhere), the project is slowing down, and my online class ends in December, so hopefully in a month or so I’ll finally have some time to devote to Japanese, Chinese, and maybe even relax a little.

If any of you played Sims 2, the accuracy of the game in simulating real life is amazing (and maybe depressing depending on which way you look at it). Depending on your personality and interests, you have a bunch of needs shown in bars that have to be balanced and maintained given a finite amount of time. You also have to maintain your relationships with the people in your life and meet their needs. In these last few months, due to the increasing demand of some of my other bars, my language study, personal projects, diet, and exercise bars have been sorely neglected.

My beer belly, which I just reduced to reasonable levels has come back with a vengeance. In regards to my Chinese and Japanese, while there was certainly no improvement in the least bit, I managed to at least maintain my skills without forgetting too much. Japanese comes back with a little bit of practice and it’s hard to know even less Chinese than what little I started with.

I can appreciate why learning a new language is so difficult for working adults. The basic problem isn’t that the language is hard, it’s just the volume of everything you have to learn (basically, how to express everything you know and understand everybody else). I can conclude from personal experience that the biggest single difficulty of learning a new language for adults with a career, bills, relationships, and responsibilities is the lack of time. I can’t even imagine how difficult it would be if I had kids and a family to care for.

I didn’t know how good I had it in college. I didn’t have to go grocery shopping, run errands, and spend 40 hours a week sitting in a cubicle. I also had easy access to native speakers and teachers on campus without having to drive around and several months a year with absolutely nothing to do. Nothing motivates studying like being bored out of your mind.

So don’t tell me I can master a language by working on it 24×7 and surrounding myself with the language all day because some of us have a life that demands our attention. Also just as impractical is the suggestion to pick up, leave everything I have built up here, and move to that country. Finding a job in a foreign country to learn the native language is one huge Catch-22. You can’t get a good job if you can’t speak the language and you can’t move there to learn the language if you can’t find a good job. And I’m not keen on taking a 2/3 pay cut to switch from my current job to teaching English.

All of those suggestions are great when you’re a student or just starting out as a fresh graduate and I did exactly that with Japanese. However, as I approach 27(!!!), that window of opportunity is closing and I don’t have a similar route for learning Chinese. And once I have kids to take care of, that window can be considered officially closed, locked, and bolted on both sides.

By the way, this is my way of saying to those of you still young to not squander your chance. Learn a foreign language and live abroad while you still can! It’s really going to change your life and mostly all in a good way!

So what’s the solution for learning a language while juggling all the other stuff going on? I don’t know but I’m just going to take it a little-by-little. I know how much work is involved from learning Japanese so I don’t get easily discouraged and take pride in every little improvement. And even though my Chinese is still unusable in a regular conversation, it’s still vastly improved from a year or two ago and I’m happy with that. I think that’s the most important ingredient. Be persistent and don’t worry about when you’re going to “master” everything. That’s a relatively loose term anyway since nobody ever completely “masters” a language. So don’t stress about why it’s taking so long and feel discouraged by what seems like a lack of progress. Just enjoy the journey and the people you’ll meet along the way, however long the road may be. And if you persevere and keep on the lookout, you’ll eventually find some new opportunities opening for you. At least I’m hoping that’s the case for me.

16 thoughts on “Juggling Language and Life

  1. Amen. I am in the same situation as you, near the same age. I decided to take one class this semester (on Japanese lit) thinking that 3 hours a week wouldn’t kill me. It’s amazing how quickly my free time disintegrated once I started factoring in homework, commute time, etc. Now I have maybe 30 minutes twice a week that I can devote to extraneous activities (ie actually learning Japanese). Meanwhile my class is full of college students and it kills me to see them wasting their time and opportunities which I’m so jealous of.

  2. 30 minutes twice a week is pretty good. Lately, I’ll be lucky to have 30 minutes every two weeks. I’ll hopefully have more time once things settle down.

  3. Hey Tae Kim! You don’t know me but I’ve been using your Japanese website on occasion to help me with Japanese homework and stuff. I think your site is amazing and thank you for having it!! It’s really great so far. =)

    Btw…I was just wondering though. I was looking for information on how to connect na-adjectives to each other. That’s possible, right? I didn’t check your whole site yet, but I’ll keep looking around. I think you use “de” between but it was something I learned a while back and I can’t remember!! ><

    Well,thanks a lot,


  4. Is this a jab at alljapaneseallthetime.com? Although I don’t agree with his entire method (Heisig), I do agree with most of it.

    I think what Khatz is getting at is that this time spent here (like me commenting) could have been used to study a language. If you devote yourself to any one thing it’s possible, you’ve just got to sort out your priorities. Obviously you have other more important priorities at the moment.

    Personally, I have my time (unevenly) divided between Korean, Japanese, and (two textbooks about) sociology. Korean gets the largest percentage, and the rest is split evenly between Japanese and sociology. Ideally, I would be studying sociology in one of those languages, too, but I’m trying to power through an undergraduate degree’s worth of knowledge in about a year.

    By the way, I’m 26 like you, and I have a wife who goes to university that I’ve got to pay for, and a 2-year-old daughter who goes to nursery school that I’ve got to pay for. I’m the sole bread-winner, but nearly all of my free time is invested in one study or another.

  5. The only thing I ask is, are you happy with how this is? I know a lot of people later in life take the tack that “fun and games ended in college, now it’s time to be serious”, but if that’s the case, what do you have to live for? Life should be about more than just surviving. Work should be about more than just getting money to buy food so you can work more. Of course, maybe you are perfectly happy with how things are, it’s not really clear from your post. Just don’t let the rest of your life become some blur making other people rich and happy. Whatever the case, we’re all behind you 100%! 🙂

  6. @Alex

    Wow, that’s amazing! There’s no way I could do what you’re doing. How many hours of sleep do you get?

    @Glowing Face Man

    Thanks, I’m very happy with my job and it is 10x better than my old job in Japan. I don’t think it’s about having fun vs not having fun per se, I’m not having any less or more fun. In my late teens to early twenties, I was free to do whatever I wanted but I also lived in a dump and lived off Top Ramen. (One summer, I stayed at a campus house actually called “Crack House” – http://www.carlwiki.org/Crack_House) I was also -$30,000 in student loans.

    For me, it’s about building my life like family, career, skills, and assets for the long-term so that I can enjoy my life instead of surviving, as you said.

    Basically, what I’m trying to say is that it’s OK to only spend maybe 30 minutes a week for studying. It all depends on what your priorities are. I think the most important thing is to understand your priorities and have proper expectations about your rate of progress. Maybe it’ll take me 10 or more years to become fluent in Chinese but because that’s a conscious decision of my priorities, I won’t get frustrated or disappointed on my slow rate of progress. The most important thing for me is knowing that I am making (slow) progress and will eventually reach my goal.

    Too many times, I’ve seen people try to learn a language and quitting because they think it’s too hard or they don’t have enough time. To those people, I say “take it easy, figure out your goals, and DON’T QUIT!”.

  7. I can relate a bit to that. I’m in my last year for my B.A. and this is the first semester since starting college that I’m not taking a Japanese language course (not by choice, sadly my university has no more courses offered D:)

    I never realized just how hard it is to manage my time to fit Japanese since I’ve always had the class structure to keep me focused or a ton of free time (over the summer). The last time I got to study was September and I’ll be lucky if I get much time to study over winter break since I really need to direct my focus towards finding a job after I graduate. Which is something I should be doing now, but between a full-time load of classes and a part-time job, I can’t find the time.

    It’s just not fair. D:

  8. I hate to even think of real life. Knowing that going to Japan pretty much requires a bachelors degree really gets to me. Why should I take 6 years out of my life, 2 years of college then 4 of university doing something I have no interest in? (no Japanese in any college/uni in my country). I can’t even afford it anyway.

    I’ll take my chances and spend that time studying Japanese. I’m sure I’ll figure out some way to get to live there. It can be done and I’ll do it!

  9. This is a refreshing post to read. I am a 40 year old with career, wife, son, mortgage, aging parents, etc.,etc. Everything I read about learning Japanese seems to focus on doing it all the time and living in Japan. Not exactly a realistic plan for me!

    I had to spend a lot of up front time to get down the basics so I can start to do the things I want to do with the language. After that rather intense first year, I don’t really “study” as much as just look up stuff and ask questions. It will probably take me a decade of reading and watching TV to finally put together an intelligent conversation in Japanese. But I have to be patient, and understand my objectives.

    I think the best advice you gave in this post is to prioritize and make the best use of your time when you have it. Even with all I’ve got going on, I try to squeeze in some Japanese everyday. It’s like filling the proverbial bucket with water one drop at a time. Don’t give up, just understand how to prioritize what you want and when you want it by.

  10. Wow….for some reason i didn’t think u had it that rough. Well, i hope you don’t loose any of your Japanese. I guess all of what you said made me realize that i’m taking my study time for granted, because when i’m out of the house and working…..studying japanese will be tough.

    Also I have a couple of questions, while looking through your guide as a supplement with my self study (i use the textbook GENKI, great book!), i read what you wrote about word order. Of course as you know, textbook try to keep the word order simple (Subject, object, verb..). What are ways I can improve my reading and listening ability to understand the various word orders? Since right now, im not in Japan I cant really talk to anyone (even though people thats the best way to learn).
    Also, where is your section in your guide explaining ~んです。? I like to ocme to your guide to help me understand things the textbook doesnt explain fully.

  11. @David M

    I don’t know what country you’re in, but it’s quite likely that it’s one of the ones where you can get a Monbukagakushou scholarship. It’s a bit risky (the Japanese school system is on such a different schedule that by the time you know you didn’t get in it’ll be too late to go to another school that year) and I hear it’s highly competitive, but you might want to check with the internet and your local Japanese embassy about that. If you get it, you can go to a Japanese university for five years free of charge (one year of “intensive language study” [presumably so you can understand your classes], and four years in whatever major you happen to choose).

    Seriously, from the sound of your post, I’d recommend considering it.

  12. Oh, man, you’re only 27? Enjoy your youth while you can. Travel’s not going to get any cheaper or easier over the next few years of your life, I can tell you that for free.

    > Be persistent and don’t worry about
    > when you’re going to “master” everything.

    You’re not going to master everything, that’s something else I can tell you for free. I’ve been studying English (as a native speaker yet) for over three decades and still find new things to learn about it all the time. For instance, it was only in the last year or so that I finally figured out *why* ‘me’ and ‘I’ get consistently switched around in certain kinds of situations in informal modern English compared to how your high school English teacher told you to use them. (Executive summary: the English language no longer uses traditional nominative and accusative cases like Latin and German. The distinction is already totally gone in the second person. The third-person pronouns will hold out longest because they are used more often in formal writing, but even there something like “it was they” sounds totally, utterly, winceworthily wrong, even to native speakers who are educated enough to know perfectly well why this is traditionally considered correct, because word order has totally taken over modern English grammar, and so the objective form doesn’t belong in the predicate, even if the verb doesn’t express an action.)

  13. I’m trying to build up my assets now (the stock market certainly isn’t helping) but I hope to do some traveling before having any kids.

  14. I agree– the older you get, the harder it becomes to find time for anything because so much is going on. As someone else here mentioned, though it’s all a matter of priorities and obviously as learning a language gets pushed further down your list in comparison to work/family/etc, the less time you’ll have for it.

    With the time you DO have though, it helps to study things that keep your interest… we all tend to remember and use things more if they apply directly to our lives and hold our interest.

    My Japanese blog

  15. Perhaps it’s best not to take on a too difficult language during periods in your life when you are busy and cannot devote much time to learning a foreign language. If as an English speaker you are learning French or German for only a couple hours a week you will still be able to make some decent progress over the course of a year whereas with an unrelated language like Chinese or Japanese you will have a really hard time reaching any goals if you only study it a couple hours a week. That’s my excuse for not studying Chinese right now anyway 😉

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