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kaitie
12-11-2009, 07:44 PM
I'd put this in the dejection section, but it's not writing related so I figured it doesn't really count. Here's the thing: apparently my Japanese sucks. :(

I've been studying for seven years, been living in Japan for three and a half, and when I say studying I'm not talking about the occasionally pick up a book kind of studying. I'm talking about until the last couple of months (when I prioritized my novel editing over studying), I studied for a minimum of an hour or two a day. I studied vocab lists, worked through grammar books, made flashcards. I read novels, have taken courses when available, etc. Heck, I've even got kanji games on my DS! All because I got it in my head a few years back that I'd like to translate novels.

So this handy-dandy course comes around this year, a translation and interpretation course. Now, I should mention that while I think I can read pretty well, my speaking and listening is really weak by comparison. I am an incredibly visual person, and I have an incredibly difficult time focusing and learning when it comes to speaking and listening. While I can have conversations, my speaking is very casual and based on conversations I have and how people talk to me--not what I learn in books. I decided to take the course hoping that I'd learn about translation and maybe even get some kind of qualification that could help me get into the business (no idea how that even works, btw).

Well, the books proved to be really useless early on. The practice they offer is accomplished just as easily by reading a newspaper, the grammar points made are all very basic compared to the level we're supposed to be at, and there is no practice of the grammar points, etc. that they make. It's just not a very well constructed book, and the texts I was using to study independently were a lot better.

So that's the background, I suppose. Anyway, this week I had to travel (and miss going on my school trip for the first and only time) to a big week-long seminar out of town. I thought okay, maybe this seminar will have the things I want to learn about.

Boy was I wrong. First off, there was not a single thing about translation whatsoever. The entire seminar was interpretation. All of it. So that's a bit frustrating, but the soul crushing part is this: have I mentioned how much I suck at speaking and listening?

And apparently I suck a lot more than I thought I did. I was by far the worst in the class. The teacher even got to me and would say things like, "Oh, let's give you an easy one." There were entire segments I just didn't understand at all despite putting every ounce of effort I could into it. It was all business and super polite Japanese that I don't speak at all. Even the non-native English speakers were outdoing me! And the guy who'd been studying for a whole two years.

It was depressing. :( No, more than depressing. Embarrassing, discouraging as hell, and I spent every evening wanting to go back to my room and just cry because I hate sucking that much. I'm used to being the best in the class, not the worst. And do you know how it feels to have something staring me in the face saying, "All that work you've done over the past seven years was completely worthless." I dreaded going to the classes. I hated having to say in front of everyone, "I don't know because I didn't understand anything you just said." I hated being the only person who couldn't do it. :(

I've always depended on my reading skills to pull me up, and even my listening isn't that bad. I understood almost everything the teacher said, but it was the tapes we had to actually translate I couldn't do at all. My brain just doesn't work that way. :( I can't just switch back and forth in my head. I have a really hard time understanding words that I would know perfectly well if I saw it written and could see the kanji.

Ugh, it just was awful. The whole week was awful. And now I feel like I'm just not good enough, and I never, ever, ever want to do anything like that again. I'm not even sure if even my reading is good enough anymore. I thought I was good. I really did. I thought being able to pick up a novel and actually understood it meant something. But after seeing everyone else there this week, and seeing how amazingly better than me every single one of them is, what chance would I ever have? I wouldn't give me work, either.

I really, really hate sucking. :cry:

backslashbaby
12-11-2009, 08:18 PM
OMG, I can so relate! I love languages, so I've studied many but had a hard time finding any way for immersion. Cue an internship and living with my uncle's family in Costa Rica. I'd studied Spanish since I was a child, studied seriously for 7 years I'm sure.

I won't say how long it took me to flip that switch that happens in real life. It's embarassing. It just takes a while! Later, I was actually hired for a bilingual job here in the US and did well :D

My Ex had a much better time at the IRL part of things in French, while I could read and understand works that he'd have to study more years for.

There is just something about the IRL part that is a different skill, but it's a complementary skill. So you are learning more than you know you are learning, and one day it'll just click.

Don't frustrate yourself out of listening! You'll get there. Those other folks either practised the IRL skills more or have a great ear that way. You don't suck; I promise :)

kaitie
12-11-2009, 08:23 PM
Part of what's so frustrating is that in every day life I do okay. I can carry on conversations without problems for the most part, and have even been told I speak really naturally, and have had quite a few people who knew me when I first came who tell me in amazement how much my Japanese has improved and what not. I've got pretty decent pronunciation as well. But it seems like none of that mattered at this seminar. Sure, I had no problem talking to the Chinese guy outside of class and we understood each other fine, or asking questions to the office people, or getting advice on my broken toenail while I was there. In normal life I'm fine. And even novels and what not I'm fine and rarely have to really stop and pull out a dictionary. But despite that, I still bombed royally. That's kind of what makes it so upsetting, I think. I thought I was doing well, and then to do something like this and be the absolute worst person there and not be able to do it at all? After all the hard work? Very not easy.

Thump
12-11-2009, 08:27 PM
I think the problem comes from the fact that most of your learning is in the form of written words: vocabs, books, novels etc. You're just not as used to hearing japanese as you are to seeing/reading it. By now you probably have the vocabulary and grammar in you but just need to connect that with the sounds as well.

I would suggest you download some Japanese TV shows, preferably with subtitles to help you along in a pleasant and relaxed way. Eventually, you won't need the subtitles but at first they might help you link word and sound.

I really enjoy some Japanese TV series like Hana Yori Dango, Hanazakari no kimitachi e, Summer Snow, My Boss my Hero... You can download them in torrent from serveral sub sites like SARS Fansubs.

EDIT after your post :D : There's a difference of context as well. When you're talking to a person face to face, they naturally change the way they speak verbally and physically as they perceive how they might best communicate with you. I think listening and translating something not directed at you might be helpful. Sure can't hurt either :)

dclary
12-11-2009, 08:47 PM
If it makes you feel better, Steven Seagal had the same problem. The other martial arts masters used to call him "girly man" because his wife taught him Japanese, which meant he only spoke the effeminate, common form of Japanese, not the masculine business form.

Silent Rob
12-11-2009, 08:48 PM
It sounds to me as if you're already very good at exactly the kind of thing you'd need to be good at anyway - reading and understanding the more colloquial form of the language. Won't that be way more useful for the kind of translation of novels you want to do?

I know it's really dispiriting to find yourself behind everybody in something but once that's passed I'm sure you'll realise that it was more a case of the course not being suited to your interests and needs, rather than you being rubbish.

Keep doing what you enjoy and I'm sure everything will work out fine.

Parametric
12-11-2009, 08:58 PM
I really sympathise - I had this exact experience in German class a couple of months back. Totally killed my confidence and my enthusiasm. I bailed out of the unit after a week and I figure this is the end of German for me.

:Hug2:

kaitie
12-12-2009, 05:40 AM
I think the problem comes from the fact that most of your learning is in the form of written words: vocabs, books, novels etc. You're just not as used to hearing japanese as you are to seeing/reading it. By now you probably have the vocabulary and grammar in you but just need to connect that with the sounds as well.

I would suggest you download some Japanese TV shows, preferably with subtitles to help you along in a pleasant and relaxed way. Eventually, you won't need the subtitles but at first they might help you link word and sound.

I really enjoy some Japanese TV series like Hana Yori Dango, Hanazakari no kimitachi e, Summer Snow, My Boss my Hero... You can download them in torrent from serveral sub sites like SARS Fansubs.

EDIT after your post :D : There's a difference of context as well. When you're talking to a person face to face, they naturally change the way they speak verbally and physically as they perceive how they might best communicate with you. I think listening and translating something not directed at you might be helpful. Sure can't hurt either :)

Yeah, I live here so I'm exposed to it all the time. I watch the news in Japanese, I watch some anime in Japanese if someone recommends it (I'm more a fan of "boy" shows btw lol), but yeah, the context and everything is the big problem. I don't speak super polite Japanese at all. I can generally understand it...sorta...in very limited doses. No one around me uses it except at school, and that's generally just basic stuff in the meetings. Certainly no one talks to me that way. I also have no confidence in how to do it. I seriously can't even tell you how to construct the verbs, much less use all of the really hard vocab you have to use. And I've never done it precisely because if you screw it up you screw up bad. The whole thing is based on humble and honorific verb forms...the ones referring to you or anything related to you have to be humble, the other person is honored. If you mess that up or get it backwards you're talking about being insanely rude. Hence, as I don't get it and don't know when to use it with confidence, I just don't. And the business stuff...well, I certainly never use that.

Thing is, I kind of figured the same would be true of everyone. I couldn't believe how much everyone uses it, and they spoke like perfect textbook Japanese. Mine is so the complete antithesis of that. Ugh. At least it's over. I'm so unmotivated to even finish the rest of the tests for the course. I've been told for the most part they'll pass anyone (though I do think you have to score above a certain level for the tests and turn them in on time), so I'll probably still be okay since my test scores have been tolerable, but I'm at this point where I kind of want to say clearly I'm not good enough for this and throw them aside. I probably won't, but it's tempting.

Silver King
12-12-2009, 07:26 AM
...Sure, I had no problem talking to the Chinese guy outside of class and we understood each other fine...
You did mean to say "Japanese," right?

I'm thinking the course you took was simply beyond your means at this point. You're obviously familiar enough with the language to get by on most occasions, only not enough when it's broken down to its most rudimentary elements. But guess what? A great number of English speaking folks couldn't tell the difference between a noun and a verb in their own chosen tongue; so you're way ahead of the game, and I hope you continue your studies to the "bitter" end, which is closer than you think. :)

Fenika
12-12-2009, 07:32 AM
Forgive me for not reading the whole post, but your problem may just be context. I can understand conversational Polish just fine, without any formal instruction ever. Put the news channel on and I catch 1-2 words every few sentences. ??? And it's not just the material- the whole rhythm and structure is so wild they might as well be speaking a Russian-Ukrainian hybrid gibberish.

I'm sure you'll click soon and surprise yourself.

Sweetleaf
12-12-2009, 07:32 AM
:Hug2: kaitie!

Listen to backslashbaby, she's seems to know what you're talking about. I haven't done other languages since high school, and I think I'd be like you; written stuff is way easier than interpreting spoken words.

But I can offer you one piece of comfort: One of my best friends in high school was Indonesian, came to NZ when she was 13, spoke indonesian every day at home, and when she took Indonesian as an easy pass for her diploma, she failed her speaking test! WTF?!? All because she spoke colloquial language not text book. So don't be discouraged. I'm sure you're better than you think. :Hug2:

C.bronco
12-12-2009, 07:37 AM
I've heard that if you don't learn a 2nd language by age 12, language learning synapses fold.

That said, my little bro has learned several languages, starting at age 12, including Spanish and Russian, and has been living in Japan for 4 years. He has an awesome girlfriend from the area too.
:)

backslashbaby
12-13-2009, 12:16 AM
Ah! I see you're talking about a breakdown I didn't catch. If the parts that are getting you are the parts you don't have much immersion in, that makes total sense, too. Buy tapes, join a club that practices the polite form, etc. Yep, you just need to hear it more done that way somehow, I bet. Good Luck :)

kaitie
12-14-2009, 06:41 PM
You did mean to say "Japanese," right?

I'm thinking the course you took was simply beyond your means at this point. You're obviously familiar enough with the language to get by on most occasions, only not enough when it's broken down to its most rudimentary elements. But guess what? A great number of English speaking folks couldn't tell the difference between a noun and a verb in their own chosen tongue; so you're way ahead of the game, and I hope you continue your studies to the "bitter" end, which is closer than you think. :)

Actually I meant Chinese lol. I forgot to mention we had a lot of Chinese and Korean guys there as well who didn't speak any English, so we talked in Japanese.

The stupid thing is the textbooks are too easy and the tests are pretty easy as well, even the listening and translating parts, mostly because I can pause and think, or listen again if I have to. The seminar part was DEFINITELY beyond my level, though.

kaitie
12-14-2009, 06:47 PM
Ah! I see you're talking about a breakdown I didn't catch. If the parts that are getting you are the parts you don't have much immersion in, that makes total sense, too. Buy tapes, join a club that practices the polite form, etc. Yep, you just need to hear it more done that way somehow, I bet. Good Luck :)

Honestly...I just don't care. I've never cared about interpretation. I've always known that it's something very difficult for me and that it would be nearly impossible to do. My interest is in the written language and beyond being able to converse with people in everyday life, I have no intention of doing anything with interpretation in the future. Maybe one day I'll look back on that and regret it, but just...yeah.

I'm feeling better about it now, mostly because I've had a few other things happen that turned out well, and that made me feel a bit better. I even got up this morning and took my latest test for the class, even though I hadn't been wanting to (and of course realized as soon as I sent it that I left off a word on one of the translation bits lol). I actually think when I get my round of edits done (which is why I've been studying less) I'm going to go back to studying on my own the way I was before. I also got a book that was highly recommended as a good vocabulary builder, so I'm going to start working through that as well. Then I'm going to just say screw this course and do only what's required, and focus again on taking the Level 1 JLPT test this summer. I probably won't pass (it's RIDICULOUSLY hard), but if I can improve say 10 points from the last time I took it, that'd be good enough for me. :)

semilargeintestine
12-14-2009, 08:09 PM
It's a lot more common than you think. I know many people who studied languages for years--including a major at uni--and could barely converse when they got to the immersion part. I know a person who moved to Germany for a job, and when he got there, he couldn't understand anyone because it was a different dialect, and they all spoke like natives (duh) while he only understood formal, classroom German.

My girlfriend doesn't know a ton of Spanish anymore, but she used to be able to speak it pretty well. She went to volunteer in Peru for a month, and she had to use English pretty much the whole time.

Sort of the opposite problem, but same issues. It happens to a lot of people.

JoNightshade
12-14-2009, 10:15 PM
Okay, I do not know a second language well enough to converse at all, but as a former EFL teacher: THIS IS NOT THE TIME TO GIVE UP.

Have you heard of the concept of plateauing? I've seen student after student go through it. Basically, language is learned in long upward surges followed by periods of "nothing," like a plateau. So many people get really frustrated in those plateau periods, where it seems like they just can't "get" it, and are often tempted to give up. They can't understand the new concept/context/whatever, no matter how hard they study they just keep screwing up, everyone else seems to be bypassing them. But invariably, if they stick with it, there comes a point where the light snaps on and they rush upwards again.

Listening to you describe your language learning experience, it sounds to me like you have a natural aptitude for certain areas. That's great and if you've never experienced a serious "plateau" before, this may be why. However, it also means you're relying on your areas of strength to compensate for those areas where you're weaker. You just came face to face with an area where you're really weak.

DON'T GIVE UP. It's frustrating and it's horrible and embarrassing and awful, but just keep running at that wall until you break through. YOU WILL.

kaitie
12-15-2009, 06:31 AM
I studied second language acquisition in grad school, and I kind of know about that, but I also know how my brain works and I'm just not meant to be a listener, I think. It's not even so much the concept of learning to speak it perfectly. That I could probably do, it's the having to listen and understand and hold that in my brain, then translate it (I generally just think in Japanese, I don't translate in my head) and say something all without writing it down. I lose so much of it before I get that far. I also don't code switch well, which is a huge problem for this sort of thing. I even have a hard time speaking in English if I'm talking to people in Japanese first.

I'm not really giving up in general, I just don't want to do anything with interpretation. I still intend to study, I still intend to improve my speaking on an every day level, I just have even less desire now (okay more of an outright dread) of having to ever do any kind of formal interpretation. What I've always wanted to do is be good enough to translate novels, and I don't really need to be able to interpret to do that. Most of the interpretation jobs out there are through businesses and such, and I really don't want that kind of job in general. I might regret it because the chances of finding translation work are so slim, but I'd need years more to even come close enough to find work in interpreting.

So yeah, I'm not really giving up in general just on this awful course. I was learning more from my independent study, and if I go back to that and just worry about the tests for this thing to get my certificate I'll be more prepared for the exam I have ot take anyway. At least I don't think of that as giving up.

Writer2011
12-15-2009, 06:37 AM
I'm sorry you're having a difficult time. I took three years of Spanish in high school and two in college- Well, part of me wishes that I had of stuck with it. We have so many hispanics here in North Carolina. I could have taught English as a second language in schools. But this was 10 years ago, and didn't have the influx we do now.

What I'm saying is that I am very, very sorry and just pride yourself that you've come this far :)