I lived in a city called West Palm Beach, Florida near Lake Okeechobee, until I was 12 years old. I was exposed to people from around the world that could speak a handful of different languages. The most dominant language besides English at the time was Spanish and I had picked up a bit just by being surrounded by it. If I drove about 30 minutes South, Spanish speaking skills were a must. I also took martial arts lessons, specifically Taekwondo, at a nearby dojang where the owners were half Korean and often taught the Korean terms for any moves, counting, being sure to keep a continuous blend of Korean and American culture. In middle school I moved to an area of NH where most people only spoke English and as such Spanish, French, and Latin were offered in the school systems starting in high school. I decided to go with Spanish, but had no real interest and did not challenge myself to learn the language as there was not anyone to speak with that was a native speaker or at least fluent in Spanish besides the instructor. There are many factors that play into how I have been learning the Japanese Language. The more prevalent aspects that affect me in my daily life in correlation to Japanese as a second language are known in linguistic anthropology terms as gender, expert, competence, gesture, community, humor, identity and evolution, yet the most important in my mind is motivation.
I have found motivation an elusive and difficult thing to find again and again. As far as a second language is concerned the process of learning often stems from some sort of driving force, to get you through the days where things are not working out, you feel like you are miles away from your goal and the only thing keeping you from quitting is some form of motivation. That can be an internal force or external. An excerpt from a journal article on motivational factors in consideration to Japanese specifically as a foreign or second language stated:
“…some motivational categories are quite exclusive to Second Language Acquisition; for example…‘communication’ as a driving force in learning a second language. MacNamara, and Lambert and Gardner’s integrative motivation refer to the fundamental nature of learning a foreign language as communicating with native speakers of the language, and as succeeding in becoming part of the community where the target language is spoken” (MATSUMOTO 60)
In this journal the focus is more on the continuation of learning and the motivation that keeps that interest in the subject for every step of the way, even after the academic, in-class level, of learning has passed. This strikes a key with me as I have never been naturally skilled or talented in the acquisition of languages. I often received poor scores on tests, quizzes and exams, yet I was always giving it my all. I could study for 5 hours straight, and get the same result or worse than someone else that studied for just one hour. An interesting thing about this article is that it is going against achievement theories; such as “you are successful so you gain the want to continue”, by saying:
“the learning of a foreign/second language involves far more than simply learning skills, or a system of rules, or a grammar; it involves an alteration in self-image, the adoption of new social and cultural behaviours and ways of being, and therefore has a significant impact on the social nature of the learner.” (MATSUMOTO 61)
This reasons that success in a second language goes beyond immediate grammatical, testable success, and melds the understanding of these rules with the changing of oneself at the same time. This is where my journey takes a turn for the hardest thing I have ever tried to do, and am still doing, learning Japanese.
When I was a freshman in high school I met an exchange student from Japan. He was in the same calculus course as me and he could speak basic English. He seemed like a nice person and I tried talk to him every day, yet he could not understand much of what I said and I had no knowledge of Japanese outside of “Konnichiha” and “Arigatou” which mean “good afternoon” and “thanks”. After about three weeks of failed attempts to communicate I decided that I would learn Japanese in order to help bridge the gap between us. I wandered haphazardly in my studies, picking up random words and a rough memorization of two of the Japanese writing scripts. Yet this did not help in my ability to speak in Japanese, yet he was improving rapidly with his English ability every day. This was my first motivation for learning Japanese.
Throughout high school I tried to get a Japanese language course integrated into the public school in order to study it in a formal setting with hopes of getting at least a few years worth of study. This went on for 3 years and then finally I had the chance from a grant offer by the state for new classes in public schools in New Hampshire. I was in charge of finding a Japanese instructor, students that shared a similar desire to learn Japanese, a time that worked for everyone to meet, and then to help decide how the class was to be graded. The class was hard and not structured very well, as the kind hearted instructor was used to teaching young children that had already spoken some Japanese and I was the only student to follow through with the class to the end. I had ended up learning mainly about the culture and a collection of interesting facts and the proper pronunciation of the Japanese syllabaries, but that was enough to get me started.
MATSUMOTO, MASANORI, and YASUKO OBANA. “MOTIVATIONAL FACTORS AND PERSISTENCE IN LEARNING JAPANESE AS A FOREIGN LANGUAGE.” New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies (2001): n. pag. New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies. June 2001. Web. 12 Apr. 2013. <http://www.nzasia.org.nz/downloads/NZJAS-June01/LearningJapanese.pdf>.