Use it or Lose it: a Linguist’s Downfall

I recently had a job interview for a certain program that would allow me to teach English in Japan. For the most part, I think it went okay — it’s hard to evaluate with no basis for comparison — but the part that stuck out the most to me was the Random Japanese Quiz my interviewers put me through.

This quiz consisted of several parts: reading a short paragraph, first silently and then aloud; then answering a couple questions by quoting the passage; then answering a couple questions about myself. The weird thing was that after this, the next question was referencing the paragraph again.

It was this that killed me.

“Kimi no shumi wa nan desu ka?” (What are your hobbies?)

“Shousetsu wo kaku koto ya yosakoi wo odoru koto desu.” (Writing novels and dancing yosakoi.)

No problem. They seemed impressed with both hobbies, and even asked what kind of novels I write.

“Ah… Fantashii…”

“Omoshiroi desu ne! Saa, mata bun wo mite kudasai.” (That’s so interesting! Now, please look at the reading again.) “Qhnoufb hovbo oxo snofuieh jvnodu, ncoufn sofo fni nidos snofno ouplcoos dobnooawei?”

I want to say that they intentionally asked questions that were above my self-proclaimed competency level, but honestly I don’t know. The point is, I caught particles and nothing else — the question was as gibberish to me as Martian.

Now, up until that point, everything had been perfectly comprehensible. It was actually hard to believe that all of a sudden, my language skills had failed me. Even harder was having to admit that I couldn’t understand the question at all, even after the interviewer repeated it.

Unfortunately, though, it makes sense. While I did spend all of 2011 tutoring Japanese at my university, it was mainly the lower level students who came in. Hence, my own skills were preserved up to a certain point. But it’s been two and a half years (almost to the day) since I’ve been to use anything more complicated. Even on my trip back to Kansai this past winter, I only had to stretch my skills a little to have effective conversations. My old textbooks sit on the bookcase, longing to be used. I know better than to try picking them up again while I’m still struggling through grad school, teaching, Japan Club activities, and trying to finish a novel.

At the same time, I love the Japanese language; I don’t want to lose any more of it.

Proposition time!

My greatest weakness right now seems to be vocabulary. Well, it just so happens that I have a program called Anki, a free flash-card-like study program, on my laptop. Ages ago I downloaded a set for it that contains all the recommended vocabulary for the JLPT level 2.

Vocabulary Solution: Leave Anki open 24/7 and use it at least 10 minutes a day.

After vocab, my next biggest weakness is kanji. Fortunately, Anki can help me solve that problem, too.

Kanji Solution: Choose ten words from each Anki review and write three columns’ worth of each of their kanji at least once a week. (Saturday mornings, most likely.)

Actually, my weakest point is speaking, but unless I can A) kidnap a sensei and convert her into an iPhone app or B) take the bus to a conversation group every Sunday, there’s really not much I can do about that. For now, the above steps are the ones I’m going to start taking until graduation, and hopefully they’ll help.

By the way, if any of my readers have had the same problem and know some quick and easy tips to regain proficiency, I’d love to hear them! Also, if you guys know of any way to mark my progress, that would also help a lot. 🙂

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Barb the French Bean
    Mar 06, 2012 @ 01:11:58

    After reading this, I should probably pick up my copy of Madame Bovary as prevention for me losing any French skillz (yes, with a Z). 😛

    Reply

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