Getting started practicing a particular language skill can be a little intimidating at first. I remember the first time I bought a 200+ page junior novelization and made a promise to myself that I would push my way through it. It took a good day and a half to get through a page. It took a good month of on and off effort to get through the first 10 pages or so. But, gradually, over time, I managed to pretty good at reading.
These days I’m reading through regular novels and I still stumble on some vocabulary here and there, but for the most part, I can work my way through one in decent speed. It just takes solid, regular practice to make it happen.
Journaling can be a little more difficult than starting a reading habit because you are producing the language. Language production tends to require a lot more willpower than passively reading through some books. But, production is really the key to being able to truly use the language. It is also a nice clear way to see the holes in grammar knowledge.
So what is holding you back from getting started? There might be a lot of things, but one big one that tends to block people from moving up and developing true fluency is what some people call ‘the threshold’.
The Threshold Theory
There is a theory that you won’t use your 1st language skills in your 2nd language until you have reached an intermediate level in your studies. What this means is that all those skills that your learned in grade school like skimming, scanning, organizing your thoughts logically, general conversation skills, etc… haven’t transfered over yet.
I see in this in my classes a lot. Students will answer another student’s question, with a simple yes or no. But if they were talking in Japanese, they would have added more information. In a natural conversation, you ask questions, give suggestions, or give an opinion to continue the conversation, but students learning a second language will often shut down after answering just one question. They are treating like any other subject, they got the answer right and now they can relax.
But of course language is not like that at all. Language is dynamic and conversations should keep going at least for a few lines just to be polite.
And there are ways to breakthrough that threshold a lot faster. For instance, total immersion can do wonders for your fluency because it forces you to use your 1st language skills as soon as possible. In general producing the language as soon as you can from day one will be a huge help.
No matter what though, breaking through the threshold can be tough. It’s tough because mostly it is mental barrier. You have to start thinking in Japanese in order to really break through. And that can be a pretty big mental barrier for some people. But the more production you do, the more you attempt to use those 1st language skills, the closer you are going to get to breaking through that threshold.
Building a Little Bridge
So before you hit that threshold it might be useful for you to first write a journal in English. Then, translate that into Japanese. Doing this could help you to organize your thoughts more easily so that you can write something more coherent and flowing.
Now I know what your saying, “translation is bad practice and you should always try to be completely immersive.” Yes, that is very true. The best solution here is to think and write in Japanese. And if you can do that from day one, you will definitely make a lot of good progress.
However, if you are having a heck of time getting started in the first place, using this little bridge and getting the job done is a lot better than not doing any practice at all. The important thing is to start doing the habit. Not to do the habit perfectly. Not to do everything perfect. Just start a good habit that you can tweak and improve upon later.
Do keep in mind that this is a crutch. You will have to eventually get rid of writing in English first and start off in pure Japanese. My advice is to start off small and with each bigger step into writing something longer or more ambitious use this method again. It will help you make each new leap to the next level. And keep you from getting frustrated or giving yourself an excuse to give up.
My Personal Experience
I wrote a few journals that I will be sharing with you in a future blog post. It was a little tough at first to start writing about a particular topic, but after you get the ball rolling I found I could write a good healthy amount in a decent amount of time.
It’s been awhile since I have used Lang-8, but I found them to be amazingly fast when I submitted my journals. I usually got corrections back within a few minutes of submitting. This is especially true if you take the time to write your journal in English as well as Japanese, because the people checking your journals can learn a little from you while checking what you wrote.
How the system works, is that you can earn points by correcting other people’s journals. The more points that you earned in the last 3 days the higher your journals will rank in the queue. But, in my experience, even when I didn’t do any corrections and hadn’t earned any points, my journal entries got checked remarkably fast. Of course, checking other people’s journals is just something nice to do. So, don’t be that person, go and check some entries while you are there.
How about you?
Have you tried to do some journaling lately? Were you successful? What helped you the most? Let me know in the comments.