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.