Learning a language can be a massive feat to undertake, and a whole other matter to master it. As one who has studied other languages over several years I can attest to that.

For me it has been 9 years.
9 years since I out-of-the-blue decided to learn Japanese (yes, of all languages, Japanese).
8 of those years spent obsessing over a country I’d never stepped foot on… and then another year wishing to go back once I’d FINALLY got there.

And so, after 9 years (almost half my lifetime) of studying Japanese, communicating with pen-pals, writing my blog (www.mygenerationjapan.wordpress.com) and listening to Japanese music (some a little crazy), the language – limited though my skill may be – has become very much a part of who I am.

I often get asked ‘why Japanese?’ – once initial surprise has worn off – but still don’t really have a satisfactory answer. You’d think after 9 years I’d at least be able to make one up.

What I can say is that pursuing the learning of a language, despite the seemingly impossible challenge of it, is well worth it. Language learning isn’t something that is hugely promoted in the UK – with English well established as a global language – but I’d say it’s still greatly important.

I’ve experienced many positives to studying even a language as unusual as Japanese. From the time that I began studying by myself over the internet, to luckily getting to learn in school thanks to a kind headmaster, to successfully completing GCSE and A Level Japanese (and just finishing a module in Intermediate Japanese at University – with the same brilliant teacher I had in high school!), the language has played a significant part in my life. I’ve come a long way from my 7 year old self that thought Egypt was just across the English Channel.

Learning a language helps with employment, improves memory, and gives you another perspective on life. I’ve not had a single job interview where I haven’t been asked about my Japanese. And although my family initially opposed me learning it, thinking my other grades would suffer (and that I was mad), I did better.

Also more recently, for my Japanese knowledge I was given an internship at the Uni’s International Centre, where I get to use the language, gain useful experience and get paid for it!

There are however some down sides or difficulties with learning a language. There are the obvious things like the immense cost in time. Then there are the less obvious ones…

Some say that when you learn a language, that language becomes a part of your identity. That to speak another language is to know another world; which world inevitably becomes part of you. I found this to be true for me, and became torn between two identities and two places. Imagine you could only ever be half of yourself, and if you were to try to be the other part of yourself, few would really understand or appreciate it. That is what I have found it to be like.

Even so, it’s something to be valued. A language can give you so much more than whatever sacrifice you put into learning it.

Last summer, I took the long-awaited opportunity to go to Japan. I spent 3 weeks doing volunteer work in Kyoto City, in a nursery, kindergarten and primary school… and it was possibly the best experience I’ve had. People say that a lot about things, but after all those years working towards it, just those 3 weeks in Japan meant a great deal to me. It was a dream come true (excuse me as I choke on my own cliché, but it was). It didn’t meet my expectations, it beat them. And despite rain, incredible humidity and heat, and some noisy room-mates, I loved the whole experience… I saw monkeys and hundreds of deer, visited ancient temples and castles and gardens, ate soy bean donuts (and all sorts of strange things) and sang bizarre songs in Japanese with 5 year-olds.

My advice to anyone wanting to learn a language would be that it isn’t just a scholarly pursuit or even just a hobby. It is something that puts you on the path to an adventure. You will make friends, see the world differently, and find new interests… It will be a part of who you are and you’ll love it. To those who are studying another language, be proud of it, whatever your level and, most importantly, enjoy it!

written by The Students’ Union

(Andrew Amison)