A few years ago, we got a new teacher at our school and one of his first questions of many was “If I got a Japanese girlfriend, she could teach me Japanese right?” He was half-joking, half-serious about it of course. But, it is a bit of a common myth all the same.
The general idea is that all you have to do is find an attractive Japanese member of the opposite sex go on a few dates, and you’ll be an amazing speaker of Japanese *poof* just like that, like in the fairy tales. You’ll both even fall madly in love and build a house with a white picket fence (with your bare hands no less) and have millions of super model children that will go on to solve all political, social, and medical problems in the world. It’s that easy right?
Well, it is true that having a significant other that speaks the language is beneficial, but it’s not a cure-all. It doesn’t even really mean you’ll be fluent. Fluency generally comes from at least some hard work or some late nights of studying. Language does not and can not be automagically absorbed from your significant other no matter how hard you try (and I should know because I’ve tried).
Fluency in Context
It is really difficult to be truly and completely bilingual. One reason for this is that inevitably you have only been in and practiced for a certain number of situations in another language. It is almost impossible for you to be very fluent in every situation even if you are pretty comfortable with the language.
For example, if you are living in Japan and speak Japanese on a regular basis at work, you are probably able to get around a office. You are most likely also able to order at a restaurant and make hotel reservations and other daily life things. But, you will probably at least struggle a bit with say, making an impromptu speech at a wedding or discussing the current politics and your opinions on them.
Now, you could probably get through those situations by making a few points here and there and stumbling through them, but nobody would think your fluent (if they had to judge you purely from that situation). If you did make a lot of speeches at weddings, over time you would become probably quite good at them and reach a fluent level, but just because you are comfortable and good at Japanese doesn’t mean you can handle the situation perfectly.
So if you have a significant other that speaks Japanese, more than likely they are not going to want to be your teacher. They want to spend time with you and draw hearts in the snow with you not teach you what to say at work. Don’t get me wrong, any special someone in your life wants to help you, but you can’t abuse that to learn a second language.
What this comes down to is dating a Japanese speaker will really help your ability to have daily conversations in Japanese, and maybe some heart-to-heart conversations or even maybe philosophical discussions, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be fluent. I know plenty of people that can have a smooth conversation with their girlfriends, but have a difficult time with N3, even N4.
Your Comfort Level with Japanese
Having a Japanese-speaking sweetheart in your life will help your Japanese though. It’ll help your general comfort level with the language for one thing, which can go a long way. Just getting used to the sounds and the patterns of the language will help your comprehension a lot.
It is also a great opportunity to chat with someone that you feel comfortable making mistakes with as well. I know some learners can be a little intimidated by speaking Japanese to a native that is not a teacher. There is nothing to fear of course, but everyone has that natural desire to be in control of what they are saying and doing, and when you are first learning a language, you don’t have that control.
Also, it’ll provide plenty of motivation for you to learn the language and be good at it. After all, it is hard enough to understand the opposite sex if you are speaking the same language much less speaking two different languages. So, the deeper the relationship gets, the more having a good command of the Japanese language will help you out.
One, obvious thing to keep in mind though, is don’t get involved with someone just to learn the language. There are plenty of happy friendly people out there that would love to chat away with you in exchange for doing the same in your native tongue if you need general language practice. You don’t need to go playing with someone’s heart to learn.
Am I Crazy?
What do you think? Can you learn a language from your beloved? Let me know in the comments.
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