There’s an adage that says “a busy mind is a happy mind”. We should therefore all strive to keep busy at all times, as it would prevent us from worry and sadness. During WWII, Winston Churchill famously said that he never worried about the outcome of the war. “I am too busy. I have not time for worry.” Well, that’s a convincing argument. No time for worry. So, how do we keep busy? Even with a full-time job, you may sometimes find that you still have way too much leisure time for your mind to be (pre)occupied with less pleasant thoughts. If you’ll kindly allow me to continue exploiting old proverbs, there is a reason for the old saying: “An idle mind is the Devil’s workshop”. With little or nothing to do, it’s far too easy to entertain useless thoughts of sadness, regret, fear, anger or despair.
With a few months yet before I’m back at my job in Seoul, I’ve had way too much time on my hands recently. Even with my tutoring, my yoga classes, my devouring of literature (so happy I have a subscription for limitless e- and audiobooks), I’ve had too much time to worry and feel awful. You might think that the arrival of spring has helped, but honestly, sometimes the stark contrast between your innermost darkness and the light that suddenly surrounds you can be much more painful than the joyless trance of winter. Not that I can’t enjoy spring – I most definitely can – but on my dark days, it’s still hard.
So, how to stay busy? To those who may ask this question, I’d like to quote writer Elizabeth Gilbert, “follow your curiosity”. According to her, it doesn’t have to be a strong passion, but if you discover that you have even the slightest curiosity about something – follow it cautiously and see where it leads you. In my case this curiosity has been the Japanese language. I’ve been studying Japanese on and off for a long time, and I can safely say that unlike Korean, which feels like a second mother tongue to me, I will never be passionate about Japanese. But that’s okay. I don’t have to be passionate about it to enjoy it. I’m moderately curious and interested and that’s enough to keep me going.
These days I’m mildly excited at the progress I feel. It may sound strange, but at long last I feel I have finally “hacked” Japanese. I’ve found the loopholes between Korean and Japanese, which expands my latent vocabulary by hundreds of words, and I feel I have a confident grasp of fundamental Japanese grammar. I’m fairly fluent when speaking about familiar topics and I enjoy my weekly speaking sessions with a local Japanese professor, who seems marvelled at my progress. My secret (if you can even call it that) is that I don’t worry too much about saying anything wrong. I just chitchat and have fun with it. My language learning philosophy has always been to learn like a child – repeat the sounds you hear and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. The main point is to be understood.
If you’re interested in how I’m learning Japanese on my own, I’m using the Genki textbooks as my learning foundation. I’m currently halfway through the second volume. I’m using the app Memrise to learn and review the vocabulary presented in the books. For more in-depth grammar lessons, I study with the best Japanese teacher on YouTube, Japanese Ammo with Misa. She’s the cutest Japanese girl, who teaches grammar and everyday Japanese expressions, and she speaks English in a sophisticated British accent. Great for beginners and intermediate learners. Also, recommended by the ever awesome Chris Broad (who also speaks in a British accent, haha) from Abroad in Japan, I recently purchased a book called “Remembering the Kanji”, which is a brilliant tool for quickly learning the 2000+ Chinese characters used in written Japanese. I’ve currently mastered somewhere between 600-700 and absolutely love this book. Finally, I study with this free news site, which is news articles written in simple Japanese for foreign learners. I currently read a few articles a week and use this to expand my vocabulary beyond what the Genki books are teaching.
So, it may not be a big passion for me, and I may never need to be able to speak Japanese, but I’m mildly curious, I’m having fun with it, I’m learning a new skill – thereby improving myself, and it keeps me busy. At the moment, that’s all I can ask for.
Any other Korean speakers studying Japanese? I’d love to hear about your experiences. Do share! ^_^