A friend interviewed me recently for an ethnography she is writing based on changing perceptions and expectations of people who are going to study abroad, people who are studying abroad and people who have studied abroad. I was so ridiculously happy to talk with her about my experience because to be honest I could talk about it all day every day and never be bored.
So we sat down and jumped right into some general questions and answers about who I am, when I went abroad, why I went, etc. etc. And while I knew that my study abroad experience was important because of the people I met, I didn’t realize how vital the people I met were to my experience with the language. And it got me to thinking (because thats what I seem to spend my time doing lately) about how the most vital part about all of my language learning experiences has been people.
Yes, it is important to be in an area/country where the language you are learning is spoken, and yes it is important to have material to study with, and yes you do need to have at least a little portion of pure self motivation to learn whatever language it is that you are learning.
But when it comes down to it, peer pressure is where it is at!
When you want to gain the respect or admiration–or just not make a complete fool of yourself–in front of a person who you respect or admire who is also a native speaker of the language you are learning, something clicks inside of you. Its you unearth your own personal energizer bunny. Suddenly, once you meet this kind of person, its like you desperately need to study more and try harder.
In participating in this interview with my friend, I realized that the thing that helped me prepare the most to go abroad to Japan was not my brother’s prior experience, it wasn’t necessarily my study abroad advisor (though she was amazing), it wasn’t necessarily the program I went through…it was the Japanese friends I met here in Minnesota in the months before I left. Even though we were surrounded by English and often times used English to communicate, I was so much more driven to study Japanese after realizing how different it is speaking a language outside of class as it is from speaking it in class. And while I have had a couple of Japanese teachers that have similarly motivated me to try harder to learn Japanese, the biggest motivation I think comes from peers.
So my advice to everyone attempting to learn a language: GO MAKE SOME FRIENDS. NEW FRIENDS. MORE FRIENDS. RIGHT NOW.
Also make friends that you initiate language exchange with early in your friendship. In my experience if you are friends with someone for too long without speaking in your weaker language it can be very hard or almost impossible to switch to using that other language until you improve your language skills. This is mostly because new language learners start out with (obviously) the basics. You learn to introduce yourself, you learn to talk about the weather and the time, you learn to talk about what you like and dislike. But if you have already established all of those things with your friend, there truly is nothing to talk about in your other language–leading to the absolute opposite of motivation. It can actually be quite disheartening and discouraging, because it seems like you have nothing to contribute and nowhere to start.
BUT if you go out and make new friends, like a whole bunch of them, you can just keep practicing your basic language skills over and over again, gradually learning and becoming motivated from each person that you encounter–and as you get better and your friendship becomes deeper you continuously are able to develop both your language skills and your motivation to know more in your target language.
If you aren’t able to go out and make dozens of new friends, though, don’t worry.
I can say this confidently because even though I am going to South Korea this coming August to study Korean for four months, I hadn’t actually properly sat down and studied Korean in months…maybe a year…omg… (Okay so here and there I would take an hour to read some Harry Potter in Korean or watch a Korean movie without subtitles….but I didn’t really put in the time or effort).
But then. I MET A REAL LIVE KOREAN PERSON.
That makes Korean people sound like rainbow colored unicorns….But sometimes in Minnesota–in my circles of friends and acquaintances–they seem like it.
So anyway, I met a Korean person. And I said my self introduction. And he thought my Korean was brilliant. Which made me so happy and then reality set in…
OH MY GOD NOW I AM EXPECTED TO SPEAK BRILLIANT KOREAN ALL THE TIME?! EVERY TIME I SEE HIM?! WHAA….???!!!
I met him a week ago…and I have already spent at least six hours studying Korean in addition to watching a Korean drama without subtitles and getting new Korean music to listen to. I mean, it is total and complete peer pressure, but of the very best sort.
Because my underlying desire truly is to learn Korean–to learn languages–but I (like most other people) need some kind of external motivation factor to help push me to my learning potential.
I hope this post made sense and it wasn’t too rambling and strange….I guess the main point is that you don’t need to travel to find motivation or inspiration to learn or do or be more. And in the end while books and tv shows and music may help with the actual learning of the language, people are where the motivation comes from.
So go find yourself some new friends!
Thanks as always for reading, and stop back soon for more adventures in and out of the kitchen! ^_^