Imagine this. You wake up one sunny morning with a feeling that something is wrong. You take a brief look around and see glass on the floor. Your apartment has been broken into and your favourite childhood toy, Mr. Sniffy, has been kidnapped.
A note on the table, all in Japanese.
You manage to decipher it (with Google Translate obviously) and learn that in 3 weeks Mr. Sniffy will be sold to a North Korean toy collector. You are not to contact the police. You must go to Tokyo and negotiate, in Japanese, the rescue of Mr. Sniffy.
What would you do if you only had 3 weeks to reach proficiency in Japanese?
The story below is perhaps not that bizarre, but it's definitely equally dramatic. Taylor was given an ultimatum: learn Japanese to a high standard in 3 weeks or wait for another chance in 6 months.
Saying that he made it, doesn't really destroy the suspense, because the real mystery is how.
Here is an interview with one of the many successful LinguaLift students. Meet Taylor.
You have been introduced to me as one of LinguaLift's success stories, why do you think it is?
Well, I guess this is because of the speed with which I have learned Japanese using the program. I got into a Japanese language school, a program where you were actually required to have a solid level of Japanese to get into. In order to be accepted, I had to go through a 15-minute phone interview in Japanese and I had 3 weeks to get ready for it. Three weeks to get to JLPT level 5.
And well, I got in. So, it seems that my studies worked!
Wow, that’s really impressive and I’m curious to hear a little more about your methods and study routines to try to reach the core of your success. I understand you used LinguaLift, but how exactly did you approach learning?
Yes, I used LinguaLift. The textbook has numbered chapters and… well, you just go through them. What I mainly did was just reading and remembering, there was no other method. I just read it and the information stuck.
Of course, I have to add that I did have some background knowledge. I came to Japan for a working holiday scheme. I had been there for a year by the time I had to prepare for the interview. I was working part time, but not in a Japanese company. However, the only things I learned during that time, were those necessary to live, for example, phrases to use in a restaurant, or street directions—just introductory level material.
As it came to grammar, I hadn’t studied it at all. I understood only the very basics of the language. If I heard a sentence I would often understand it, but didn’t know the structure and why, grammatically, it worked in a certain way. It’s like I heard grammar in use, but didn’t know the rules.
Why, initially, did you come to Japan with no Japanese?
I got offered a job and going to Japan simply came with that. When I got there I just had to make do in Japanese so I did.
I think, this in itself is very brave and testifies to your courageous spirit! I would be interested to hear a bit more about your language learning experience prior to that Japanese learning marathon. Have you learned any foreign languages before?
In New Zealand, where I come from, we have two official languages: Maori and English. At school we have to learn a bit of Maori, but I don’t remember learning much more than colours or songs. I never learned to read or speak.
I also did a bit of Spanish when I was around 15. But I don’t remember much of it, also, I find it very similar to English, so it was kinda easy. That was in primary school where we all do 6 months of a foreign language, but we don’t choose it, it depends on the class teacher. I don’t remember much of that. My Japanese is better than Spanish.
I forgot both Spanish and Maori because I was very young when I learned them and I never had a reason to use those languages. And if you don’t use a language, you simply forget it.
In contrast to that, I did have a reason to learn and use Japanese.
Do you find it easy to learn languages?
It’s easy to do if you manage to force yourself to study every day. It is especially true with kanji, where you simply have to do a bit every day, otherwise you will quickly get rusty.
Routine is key if you are learning, especially Japanese.
With languages like German or Spanish, I find them easy because they are similar to English and I am often able to guess the meanings of the words. However, with Japanese, often there is no connotation between what I hear and the written text.
What have been or what are still your main struggles as a learner?
There is a big jump between seeing written Japanese and hearing it, because people speak really fast. Japanese people have little sympathy for foreigners struggling with this. When you ask them to repeat they will nod, but then they repeat everything at the same speed. Consequently, when I’m trying to express myself, I end up sounding slow. Especially when I have to stop in the middle of a conversation and try to recall the right word or, worse, when I don’t know the right world.
How do you try to overcome these challenges?
Well, to anyone who asks, I’d say: you just have to do it... but it’s a tough one. When I was in Japan it was much easier because I was simply forced to hear the language. I’m also lucky because I have a lot of friends in Japan—I could just try and test my speaking with them. If I wanted to say hello, I could try to say or write it in Japanese, and have them correct me.
Now, that I’m back in New Zealand I try to watch anime or wrestling and try to pick up vocabulary. The language there is rather different—very informal and often quite rude. The point here being, I think one can also learn or review the language by watching or listening to the media.
LinguaLift actually also helped me a lot with my listening skills.
The classes have a recorded voiceover to enable you to listen to whole sentences. I tended not to rely solely on this, but the fact you can listen to native pronunciation is a great way to start understanding speech.
I see we’re coming back to LinguaLift. How did you come across the platform then?
For that whole year when I was in Japan, a friend of mine was trying to convince me to use LinguaLift. But I never listened, as I seemed to have been getting by without proper studying. Looking back at it now, I think I never took up the offer, because I didn’t have a real reason to study and it’s hard to force yourself to learn on your own without a real-life reason. When I the preparation for the interview became my goal, I decided to try LinguaLift.
Did you follow a specific study routine when you were preparing for the interview?
There was no study routine—it was nuts! I was cramming every day, whenever I could find a spare minute. Really, in any spare time I had, I was staring at the screen and at vocabulary. LinguaLift was very good to help me learn grammar.
If you only learn vocabulary or kanji, you’ll learn no grammar.
My method was to learn a grammar point and then try to type an example sentence into Google Translate and see if it was right.
In terms of studying in general, evenings are best for me. It’s quieter and you can seclude yourself a little bit. After finishing all my daily important tasks, I just like to sit down with all my learning tools and go through it. I don’t find it taxing to study. It’s simply important to stick to your routine every day.
So you also had the support of native speaking friends. But other than that, your main source of knowledge was LinguaLift. This leads me to explore the way in which you have used the platform. Which features of LinguaLift did you find most helpful?
What is really cool is that every sentence comes with a dotted line over it which gives you access to a dictionary translation. It wouldn’t translate the whole sentence, but only the word or character that you need.
I discovered the vocabulary practice feature really late in my studying. Had I known of it earlier, I would have definitely used it much more.
I liked the textbook a lot. It’s not too formal, but it feels as if it was someone explaining the language to you.
Also, it’s not a “cold”, grammar-centric textbook, it includes a lot of cultural knowledge, such as when to use specific phrases or words. You can only verify the credibility of these cultural notes, when you go to Japan and hear people speak. There are certain aspects you learn easily if you have lived there, but for people who haven’t been to Japan it’s a great feature.
Another nice feature is the messenger on the side. It connects you to your tutor, allows you to interact with them. I took the opportunity to exchange messages with my tutor, Chikako-sensei. She helped to encourage me to learn and when I had questions provided me with extra resources, helpful links to more reading.
Good resources and a study plan are definitely a must when learning a new language, but what do you think were the reasons you managed to stick to your intense learning schedule?
There were two things - having a goal and a clear deadline. I knew exactly how much time I had to prepare myself and I knew I really wanted it. If I hadn’t made it then I would have to wait for another six months to go to Japan. To me, studying was the only thing to do at that time.
Based on your experience so far, how would you describe LinguaLift?
Despite the fact that LinguaLift is based around a textbook, learning on the site doesn’t feel like you’re going to school.
Rather, it feels almost like a friend explaining the language to you. It has a tone that reads as if someone was actually talking to you specifically and personally. Rather than just describing grammar, LinguaLift talks to you directly, sending a specific message you want to learn.
I guess the other part of the test will come once I get to Japan. Talking to that guy on the phone was probably the first time I heard anyone speaking Japanese in a year. I understood it. So I guess, once you’ve got it right, you’ve got it.
Do you have a success story involving LinguaLift?
Give us a shout on Twitter it would be great to chat!