So you want to learn Japanese fast? Great—you can!—in just seven easy steps. Just like the pros.
Now don’t deny it, you want to believe those guys on the internet claiming to have “learned Japanese” in like a year or two. For some reason it’s always guys too—why is that? Aren’t women supposed to be better at languages? Nah, that can’t be right. Anyway, since they apparently learned Japanese so quickly, you (presumably) can too. But how’d they do it, and more importantly—do you have what it takes? Let’s find out.
#1 Be a Huge Geek
Now, I have a friend, let’s just call him “Ken,” and when he was was 12, his parents sat him down in a wooden chair and said:
“We know you’re using drugs.”
“I’m not,” he protested, “and why can’t we just all sit on the sofa like usual?”
“Don’t change the subject,” his father said. “Where’d the money from your savings account go?”
“Probably just an accounting error. I’m sure it’ll turn back up soon.”
It was a fair enough question, given that young Ken had gone to the bank a month before and liquidated all the cash Santa’d ever given him to buy . . . programming software. Why? Probably because he hadn’t yet discovered his brother’s stash of Playboys. Anyway, the next few years were like all programming, all the time. It didn’t feel like work, just fun. A few years later, this led to a job as a programmer, like some freaking Horatio Alger story. And all without ever studying or taking classes. Not a bad way to learn something like, say, Japanese. So much for going to college.
So there you go. All you need to do is love studying and do it all the time. It probably wouldn’t hurt to be a 12 year-old kid with no life, either. Unfortunately, “love it” isn’t really much of a method, and most people have more important things to do, like women, beer, and occasionally working. I assume that’s not just me. Whatever. Just because you don’t have the single-minded focus of child doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn something.
#2 Be Young
Age doesn’t affect your learning ability. Yeah, for some reason, the people who say that are all pretty young. Old folks spend more time talking about how scary it is to walk down stairs. Ever seen an old dude in a dance class? Nobody wants to see that. God invented the DVD player so you can do that stuff in your living room, granddad.
Look, I’m no happier about this than you are, but having taught thousands of people of all ages, it seems that the human capacity for awesomeness decreases in a predictable curve. A class of 20 year-olds will do better than a class of 40 year-olds, assuming all persons are neither hungover nor asleep. Okay, so it’s kind of hypothetical. But where people expend the same effort and use the same methods, nature favors the young. Sorry, old people.
#3 Be Bilingual
A lot of people who learned Japanese quickly were already bilingual, or polylingual. That’s a huge advantage when it comes to learning other languages. Can you already speak another language? Great, then your brain is conditioned to working in multiple languages and creating connections between words. If not, you’re going to have to develop those abilities, and that takes time. Probably a long time. Sorry, Americans.
#4 Be Talented
Not everybody’s good at everything. That’s the way it is. Some things you can do well; some you can’t. People who talk about how fast they mastered a language are quite likely good at it, otherwise, uh . . . it would’ve taken them longer. “Anyone can do it,” is nice to believe. But like I took a Japanese class in college with a guy who could look at a kanji once and then write it perfectly, every time. There was no reason behind it; he just could. Maybe he was a witch. I don’t know, I’m just saying he wore a lot of black. Witch.
So You’re Employed, Old, American, and not Particularly Talented
Okay, that’s not good. But don’t give up hope if the first 4 steps don’t work in your favor. You can still try these tried and true methods of the internet language learning gurus . . .
#5 Change When You Started
By minimizing your own start point, you can make it look like you learned Japanese way faster than you actually did. Did you do a Japanese home-stay when you were younger? Don’t include that in the time it took you to learn the language. Did you take college classes before you “started”? Don’t count those.
I’m not saying that people who claim to have learned Japanese incredibly fast are being deceptive, just—how to put this delicately—obfuscating the truth. A lot of their stories describe formal or informal learning before they “started.” Athletic performance tip: you can run marathons a lot faster if you don’t start your stopwatch until Mile 10.
#6 Make Yourself Look Good
It’s easy to think you’re better than you actually are. That’s known as self-deception. It’s when you convince others of the fact, that’s it’s called . . . uh, salesmanship, apparently.
Good things to note are that you’ve given speeches, gone through a Japanese interview, or appeared on some TV show or other. Never mind that Japanese people find it incessantly amusing when people of other races attempt to speak “their” language. The key here is to avoid taking any tests or showing videos where folks are asking you random questions. Instead, promote your own clips where you do most of the speaking and control the topic. That looks impressive.
#7 Live in the Past
Many internet language gurus “learned Japanese” years ago, and given their sizable talents, you’d think they’d sound like natives by now. So apparently you want to post a video early on, showing how much you can speak, and then leave it on YouTube for years. Definitely avoid any videos that indicate ongoing progress. That would only raise questions about how good you were before. Never doubt your own infallibility.
Success is Yours
So just follow these 7 steps and Shazam! —you’re guaranteed to learn Japanese fast. Or become disillusioned at how long it actually takes, and switch to Spanish. Nah, that never happens, just kidding. That’s like saying you need to study, take classes, or work hard. That’s crazy talk. Just make sure to tell people you did it in a few months, and then sell them stuff. Remember the first rule of the internet: tell people what they want to hear. Man, I gotta write that down.