It’s amazing the lessons you learn just by taking a step outside your rut. This is yet another realization I stumbled upon about Japanese acquisition while visiting some geographically distant family.
My grandparents live in the outskirts of nowhere. They’re California country folk. On three sides of their house are perfectly aligned rows of walnut trees and endless fields of… crop… across the street.
On my first full day of vacation in the California ‘hood, to little surprise, my grandpa (step) asks me to come to town to wash his gigantic camper (that we’re taking up the mountains a few days later to inevitably reunite with its dirt). One finds it is quite hard to decline a presenter’s sudsy request when receiving room and board for three-ish weeks free of charge. —So, off I go to the unknown destination in town in a motorized box on wheels with only landmark directions. Directions like, go North and take a left at the first stop sign. Head for about 2 miles ‘til you hit a stoplight, then turn right— Those kind of fun directions. An extra fun-fact, in central California it can get really, really foggy in the winter, seemingly creating the makings of a new adventure for ざっちー.
Out of the gates, I find the first stop sign with no trouble and hang a left. Only two miles until my next checkpoint… This had to have been the longest two miles to a stoplight in the history of Bob. After passing through a for-realz farmville and still no light twinkled, the thought popped into my greys, ‘Hmm… Gosh-golly, may haps this aren’t be the way,’ deciding it best to turn around, head back to the house, and regroup. Thanks to the presents of my friend Thickly McFog, I drove past that first stop sign indicating my turn home— An even longer two miles.
As those four miles set new averages for the car’s mileage, I was finally able to find my way back to the starting line. 大成功！SUCCESS! Upon some telecommutic conferral with my gramps, we ingeniously determined that North was indeed not South. Thanks again to Mr. McFog, by blocking the sun I was unable to orient in the new setting, thus, resulting in heading the exact opposite direction just backing out the driveway. Things made a little more sense from then after.
Over the next few weeks, I became increasingly familiar with the roads. Even by riding as a passenger, I passively learned them. The more I traversed the routes, the less I had to think about the turns. I began to recall which landmarks and buildings would be coming next. I even started recognizing the names of the streets.
I think this idea is similar to learning Japanese. You have to get familiar with the language. Learn its roads. The more you listen and read, the easier it will be to recognize the Japanese. The more you trek in the language, the easier time you’ll have predicting what lies ahead. Even when you’re too young to drive, ride along. It’ll come in handy in the future. With time, you’ll know your way around Japanese like you know your childhood neighborhood. Eventually you’ll be able to reproduce a sentence entirely from memory. It is important to get your hands on the wheel. Speak once in awhile. Make the mistakes. (Get corrected.) Sure, studying grammar has its place. You can try memorizing a set of directions for as long as you want, but it’s not until you actually put yourself in the living environment that you truly learn how to apply them to get where you want to be.
Roads change. Landmarks are knocked down and new ones set up. Soon your maps reflect ghost routes. However, there is one thing you can bet on, if I need to go to town again, I’ll know which direction is up!