I was reading Lily Monk’s blog today, and yesterday she wrote an interesting article about a subject I was just exploring the other day in my guest post in Jake’s blog: the struggles of learning to speak a new language versus the separate but related skills of writing, listening, and reading. Lily is English but is teaching herself to speak Japanese in preparation for a medical internship she’ll be undertaking in Nagasaki later this year. She, like me, is an introvert who usually finds learning to read easier than learning to speak (she has quite accomplished reading skills in both Spanish and Turkish), but with Japanese she’s finding the challenge to be the other way around.
I grew up in an area that was mostly hispanic, and I used to roll my eyes at people who said, “I can understand Spanish, I just can’t speak it.” Sure, I thought. Certainly this is what people say when they’re embarrassed to admit they don’t know anything about Spanish. But now I get it, because I’m in exactly the same position with Turkish. I can read and understand conversations, but struggle to write or speak. However, I wonder how different that would be if Turkish were still written with an Arabic script and if I’d had that hurdle to overcome as well? Would my reading skills have progressed so well?
Coincidentally I, too, have learned some Japanese as a hobby, but unlike Lily I’ve found that my Japanese has progressed in much the same way as my Turkish— I can recognise the meanings of about 1000 kanji, and I know all my kana and some simple grammar, which means I can read some basic stuff on Japanese web sites… but have no clue what any of this stuff sounds like when it’s spoken, or how one would pronounce it in Japanese. I just know that the grid-looking one with the two lines means car, the pointy one means person, and so forth. So Lily’s post has given me some more stuff to think about, not only in terms of how English speakers learn other writing systems, but also about how I can convert what I know about my learning style into an effective tool for learning to speak instead of just reading all the time. Link to Lily Goes To Japan / Link to my interview on A Foreign Perspective