Recently, I am thinking a lot about what it means to immerse oneself in a “target language environment”. As every language learner, I try to immerse myself in Japanese, listening to Japanese news, reading as much as much as possible in Japanese, and even playing games in Japanese, and so on. Sometimes, I think of how easy it would be to learn Japanese if only I was living in Japan and I come to envy those who can study or work there…
But of course, the environment is not everything. I would even go as far as to say, that in the couple “environment-commitment”, environment count for almost nothing, what counts is your attitude. And then I asked myself: am I really immersed in a Japanese environment or am I only surrounded by it?
Environment vs Commitment
We are all aware that living in a country is not enough to speak fluently the language. We all know, or have heard about, people who spent years in a foreign country without actually mastering (or even speaking) the language. On the contrary, I have met several language learners who could speak or write an excellent French without having set foot in a French spoken country or who had just arrived in France.
Being surrounded by the target language or living in a country where this language is spoken is not enough to bring you to fluency. What counts is how you use this environment, what you make of it and how you make it yours. You have to be active.
We can even say that a poor environment concerning the target language but a firm, and absolute commitment is a thousand times better than a rich environment without any active involvement.
This may seem obvious, but it is also very easy to forget because relying on the environment is so much easier. I think that a good way to remember to stay active is to create personal strategies concerning concrete examples.
For example, I read books in Japanese. This alone will help me improve my Japanese, but if I am willing to put more energy and consciousness in the process, it will help me more. In the novel I am currently reading, I try to seek every grammar point that I am learning for JLPT N2. When I see one, I write the phrase down in a notebook if I can, or at least read the phrase out loud. Doing this will help me get familiar with the grammar, and I know that I am not reading lazily, but stay alert and consciously pay attention to what I am reading.
Another example is setting your computer in Japanese. If you tell your browser that your favourite language is Japanese, every time you want to install a new plugin, for example, the explanations will come in Japanese. Of course, you don’t really need to read all these explanations, you know what this plugin is used for, and you can select “download” without even bother to read anything in Japanese. But then, why have set your browser to Japanese? If you do read the contents that are proposed to you, it will make the difference between a useless Japanese environment and a useful one. It is like the WordPress dashboard I am using to write this article. I know exactly where are the functions I want to use and I could make my way through it without knowing a single word in Japanese. But I always try to read mentally every function before selecting it: 投稿・とうこう、アイキャッチ画像・がぞう、購読ブログ・こうどく…
To start creating your personal strategies, list everything that you are doing in Japanese. These are your environment. For each of these things, try to find something you can do to actively use this environment and be completely involved in it. Don’t stay passive.
Even if you don’t live in Japan, if you don’t attend Japanese course, if you don’t have Japanese friends, you still can reach a good level of Japanese if you really want to. A bad environment is only a pretext we find ourselves to justify our lack of progress when the only thing to blame should be our lack of commitment. Being active and having the attitude of an enthusiast learner is the best way to travel through your Japanese journey and reach your goals.