There were better ways to phrase this, and that makes it all the more embarrassing.

I was recently asked by a new CIR how longs it takes to see an improvement in your Japanese. Usually when people compliment my Japanese I bring up one of my first big slip-ups on the job as a humorous counter example, but while I was trying to reassure this new CIR, I was forced to reflect on how many embarrassing mistakes I still repeatedly make.

I’m certainly a lot more confident at interpreting and answering the phone now that I was two years ago, but all it takes is a TV camera in my face to bring out the weirdest in my grammatical mistakes and bumbling conjugation or too serious attempts at saying something clever that come out like I’m an airhead or just exposing my airheadedness altogether and making it look like I don’t understand Japanese at all. Actually, that doesn’t even require a TV camera, it usual just requires me opening my mouth.

The keyword in all of these experiences is 悔しい–kuyashii, so vexing, so regrettable!

But there has been improvement since I started life out here, despite thinking I was pretty good at Japanese beforehand. There’s been an increase in knowledge, but perhaps an even bigger increase in comfort. I don’t completely agree that you have to live in an environment seeped in whatever language you’re trying to learn in order to learn it–serious self-study can and does go a long way–but it certainly makes a big difference in naturalness and eloquence.

While I’m not going to go into my usual set of language-learning advice here, I have just a few tidbits of wisdom to share:

1. You can’t become more comfortable speaking a language if you’re uncomfortable with making mistakes.

2. If your foreign language use is frequently exposed through the media, try to avoid consuming that media. I have yet to watch any of my television appearances because for as much as I notice awkward phrasing as I’m saying things or after I’ve said them, I’d notice them even more once they’re aired and that would make me more nervous about making mistakes–and therefore, more likely to slip up–in future television appearances.

3. Tongue-twisters in foreign language are fun and handy and help redeem yourself if you’ve lost face for some simple slip-ups. They’re even more fun when you can best your native-speaker radio co-hosts with them.

4. 通訳の方 (tsuuyaku-no-kata) or 通訳の人 (tsuuyaku-no-hito) works a lot better than 通訳者さん (tsuuyakusha-san).

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