[I]tadakimasu – learning a new language

Learning a new language, the second most popular answer after ‘I want to travel!’, and probably the more difficult of the two. After gurgling our first words as babies there doesn’t to be any stopping us, yet years later our developed minds don’t seem as eager, or are they?

You never know till you try

Yesterday I picked up a package from the post office, there’s a picture of it further down, but let’s start at an earlier beginning –

At age 18 I was told my short-term memory and linguistic skills were not worth mentioning on a first date. Not one to argue back then, I didn’t dwell on it overly much and simply avoided learning any new languages, easy. As fate would have it though, 9 years later I was given a chance to reassess this long-held belief about myself, in the form of a year-long placement in Shanghai, China.

The international move came with introductory language classes included, on which I pounced immediately… about 3 months after arrival. It was my first time learning a new language as an adult and I didn’t have big expectations. Days passed however, and slowly a few words stuck, then a phrase, until finally I could stumble my way through my order at a restaurant. That day was the breaking point of my long-held view, planted in me so many years ago.


Since then I’ve completed the first three levels of Mandarin proficiency and the first level of Japanese proficiency. I’m not amazing, words are forgotten as time passes, but I’m able and eager – And above all, I’m loving it!

Any tips?

My learning method has been vastly different between the two languages, Mandarin was with a tutor in a native speaking city, while Japanese was at my desk and computer back in South Africa. But, a few principles have come to light for me regardless of the setup:

  1. The less you care the better, about what other people think that is.
    • Speaking & Listening require practice with real people – don’t shy away from it, rather find others who can share in your joy.
  2. Having a tutor/teacher is fantastic, but you can get going without one.
    • For most adults extra languages are a hobby, so don’t let additional expenses and logistics get in your way of starting the journey.
  3. Set milestones and put times to them.
    • Any performance improvement book will tell you that setting goals with deadlines becomes a big help for longer term ambitions. A great example is signing up for a proficiency test [Mandarin, HSK] [Japanese, JLPT].
  4. Enjoy and celebrate yourself along the way.
    • Learn the word for cheers? Use it this weekend at the bar! How about a friendly greeting? Great for that grumpy neighbour you see in the morning! Learning a language takes a long time, reward yourself and your brain along the way for the victories, even the small ones.
  5. Tests look good on CV’s and that’s about the extent of their worth.
    • Languages are for use after all, so even if you never wrote an exam, your real ability to communicate in a language, every single time, is the test that counts.

Learning another language has tons of benefits, but for the travelers out there I want to make a last mention, my favourite benefit: When you understand a little of a new language, you understand a lot of a new culture. 

Would you have any recent experience learning another language? I’d quite enjoy hearing what principle in these 5 you would replace, and what with.


This is part of my A to Z Challenge 2016, click the button at the bottom of the site for more information if you like.

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