My history with Japanese spans almost 2 decades, yet I still would not say that I am fluent. I took Japanese classes in high school, college, and graduate school. I majored in Japanese Studies. I did a summer homestay in Shizuoka. I took part in Japanese cultural events in my hometown. I’ve lived and worked in Japan for 3 years.
Fluency has eluded me.
No, that’s not correct.
I have eluded fluency.
I recall the questions and doubts about why I am studying Japanese: how would I make a career out of this; why I didn’t choose a degree that is more “stable”; why I didn’t choose a language that is “more global”; why I didn’t choose a country that’s “not so far away”. Those whys surrounded me and became my whys, pulling me back from being all in with studying Japanese. Obligations and the hum of daily life also changed it from a fun language to a city hall paperwork/phone calls with utility companies/new work procedures language. On the one hand, I hesitated to fully immerse myself in Japanese because of the inner pressure to “prove the point” of all of this, while on the other hand I got frustrated with myself for not knowing enough Japanese as a result. It’s a vicious cycle that has stagnated my growth.
This year, I’ve been rekindling my relationship with Japanese, thinking back to: the reckless abandon with which I blurted out phrases I picked up from anime; the Japanese CDs, textbooks, dictionaries, and travel books that were my constant companions; my childhood bedroom filled with an array of items that had some connection to Japan. I partially cringe but also feel fondness for those times when I was unhindered by “what made sense” and was fueled solely by my interest.
I’ve had and continue to have rich and wonderful experiences, all because of a spark from childhood in a country I have no known ancestral connection to. That is the point. This is the purpose. It has been working well for me, so why should I shrink from that? It’s time to fully go for it. No more doubts, no more justifying for others, no more comparing.
My interest was enough and will continue to be enough.