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Learning Japanese Like a Child

About a decade ago, one type of English self studying materials became very popular in Japan.  What most attractive about it is, “You only have to listen to the audio materials and you can learn English, just like how children learn languages.” which I don’t really believe, especially for adults.
 
I have a Slovak husband and I live in Poprad for 4 years in total already.  I hear Slovak every day.  Now I can communicate with parents in law in Slovak, I can go alone to the shops, hospital, or speak with kindergarten teacher.. but my 5 years old daughter can speak much better Slovak than I do.  She speaks fluent Slovak, fluent Japanese of course, and interesting thing is that she understands English too because my husband and I speak in English. Did we teach her English?  Never.  I am not proud of saying this but I have never studied Slovak either, I rarely even look into dictionary for vocabularies, I only learned from my family and in my daily life, like my daughter does.  Although I know a lot of words already, I can also communicate in Slovak, I always make same grammatical mistakes and my level has remained the same for years already.  I never be able to learn better than this while my daughter can.  Unfortunately, children and us, adults are different.  Children can really learn the language only by surrounded by those languages, by listening to it again and again but adults can learn only with studying.  We have to struggle.
 
But “to learn language like a child” is not completely wrong.  For example my daughter, she doesn’t pay attention to something she is not interested in.  IT HAS TO BE INTERESTING.  This applies also to adults.  Us, as adults, it doesn’t have to be interesting, we will do when we have to, but better if it’s something we can enjoy and also motivate us, isn’t it?  Sometimes, small change can make it very interesting.
 
I have a friend who is a very experienced Japanese teacher.  Once she told me, sometimes she advices her students to learn from Katakana.  In Japanese, we have 3 kinds of alphabets, Hiragana(ひらがな), Katakana(カタカナ) and Kanji(漢字).  We learn in this order in school and so as foreigners.  First thing you learn is always Hiragana.  However, she tells the students that have an opportunity to go to Japan to learn Katakana first, because the things that you can find on street in Japan is actually written more in Katakana than in Hiragana. She says those students will have much more fun in Japan and of course no need to say, this experience will be a good motivation.
 
 
How many letters can you recognize?
(Photo:  http://shafir.info/plain/japan~tokyo~shinjuku~kabukicho_1.htm)
 
Chihiro Schmidt

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