My CIP, klexon, is a club to help Japanese people practice their English with native speakers. At the risk of sounding a bit self-satisfied, I have to admit, my English is quite good. Given this pronounced excellence, I felt up to the task of klexon. The first time I went, I was thrown in without a lot instruction, and ended up just chatting with the random people assigned to me. It was quite fun; there were many levels of English ranging from something resembling English to giving me a run for my money English. The former level was my favorite. While they would try and regurgitate their memorized introductions or phrases you could see the anxiety and frustration color their faces, the same anxiety and frustration which I’ve grown quite familiar and close with. Their English wasn’t at a level which really allowed them to have a personality, their Japanese, however, did. When they tossed off the burden of English, they went from shy, boring OL girls to sarcastic, sharp examples of modern women. While she would answer in Japanese, I would answer in English. I felt bad for listening to her Japanese instead of forcing her to speak in English, but I wonder if engaging her, entertaining her and leaving her with a sense of fun as well as practicing her listening comprehension was more valuable than forcing her to do something which just frustrated her, i.e. speaking. Is it not a better to enjoy something but move more slowly than to find something frustrating and plow through it anyway? Would the cost of forcing her speak be her interest in the subject? I find the idea of learning a language a lot like exercise. If you force someone to exercise to the point of exhaustion, then they’ll always have that pavlovian response of pain and exhaustion whenever they start the task again. Should this girl who I was talking to stain her experience with learning English with the anxiety and frustration which had been so evident before? Should she not instead gain some satisfaction that her listening comprehension is good enough to have half a conversation with a native speaker? At the end of our conversation, my partner probably felt a lot more confident and comfortable with herself and her English than before.
Something to notice, I think, is that this really isn’t specific to Japan or Japanese people. I imagine that a lot of the people in America who learned English organically, e.g. my ancestors or the immigrants of today, are living proof of this idea. While many may not have learned English in school, they picked it up on their own terms while living out their lives, while experiencing their lives. Anyway, it’s always interesting to see how people learn and how the way they learn affects them.