Am I missing out some important aspects of learning other language?

I enjoy reading and listening to Japanese/world current news in English, but I can’t seem to be interested in everyday life in the US, UK, or any other English speaking countries very much. I am a Japanese who studies English in Japan. I have travelled to a few foreign countries, but have never lived overseas. I hear that learning languages should be also learning their cultures and lives. Do you think that I am missing out on some important aspects of learning other language?

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“I enjoy reading and listening to Japanese/world current news in English, . . .”
Reading novels in English is useful. Living overseas for a while does not necessarily enhance one’s understanding of, so to speak, foreign cultures. Incidentally, do you happen to feel strange while you are watching news in English when they are talking about Japansese current affairs? I sometimes feel a sense of exoticism and wonder how one can visit this strange, foreign country, although I do not find any interest in seeing our prime minister in a tailcoat.

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If you are not interested, there doesn’t seem much point in pushing yourself - it might not help your attitude towards learning (even more) English :slight_smile:

There are times when I am interested in hearing about what’s going on in other countries and then there are times when I concentrate solely on what’s important for me at that particular moment.

I suspect by having learnt English to such a high level, you will already have learnt a lot about how English speakers view the world. Your brain will have been ‘infiltrated’ by knowledge about different approaches, customs and points of view.

So, sticking to what you are doing wonderfully well seems a good approach!



“I can’t seem to be interested in everyday life in the US, UK, or any other English speaking countries very much.”

Hmmm. I find this a very interesting question to think about. What exactly is someone else’s “everyday life”? I think there are different “levels” to it.

If we live in cities, life in many “developed” countries can be very much the same: we go grocery shopping, we do the laundry, cooking, cleaning, we go for a walk, maybe we go to a cafe or restaurant. We participate in sports or activities with our families. We commute to our jobs, which many of us don’t particularly like. Maybe we buy fast-food a lot, in the same global franchises worldwide. Some of this is boring or just very bland everyday life, except if you don’t know the language.

If you don’t know the language, the most ordinary things can be a huge challenge if you are living the country, not a visitor. It’s exhausting at this stage. Even when you do have some vocabulary, you don’t have the right intonations, body language, rhythm to the conversation, sense of what is accepted interaction, etc. You usually miss subtleties such as when you have offended someone somehow, or when someone is insulting you in an oblique way because they feel superior (the British are famous for this), or someone is being blunt because that is their culture’s accepted way, but it insults you (a tendency of Czechs, Israelis), etc, etc.

Things are more interesting if you know the language and are involved in more intellectual and challenging activities. We see a good film or go to the theatre or opera or to a museum or an art gallery. We belong to or participate in a strong political association. We read a wonderful book. We write a story or make a video. Then there is a little more to talk about and learn.

To my mind, the most interesting conversations in any culture, including one’s own, are one-to-one with a person you like and you can talk about how you see, feel, and think about life, where you are going with your life, what it all means. Of course, other people would prefer to go hiking together. :slight_smile:

What do you think?


This is an interesting topic. Because English is the international language, people will learn it without necessarily being interested in the countries where it’s spoken - like you.

I think this is less true of other languages. If you want to learn Italian, for example, it’s generally because you are moving or have moved there or because you love the language and the culture that comes with it. I don’t think you can really learn Italian without being interested in Italy.

But I can completely see how you might not be interested in English-speaking countries, and I think that’s OK. So, I don’t think that you’re missing out in this case, but that’s just my opinion.

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I agree with Sanne T. You seem to be progressing well, so you probably aren’t missing out on much if anything.

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  1. It goes back to the reasons you decided to learn English in the first place. E.g Some people learn it because it is the international language of science and of the Internet. Others see it as an almost universal language when they travel. Some see it as the language of global politics and business. If they are interested in world literature and come from a small country with a difficult language (e.g Czech, Finnish), it is easier to find English translations of many works.

I imagine a few aspire to reading or watching Shakespeare in the original language. That might make someone fall in love with the language itself. Ordinary English is not like Italian where someone can be talking on the phone to the plumber about some repairs, but sound utterly musical and enchanting to a casual uncomprehending eavesdropper. Unfortunately, English has become a utilitarian language which is easy to learn to speak badly and still be understood. Those of us who find its nuances, when wielded by a master, to be utterly enjoyable, find this new state of affairs very sad. No one likes to hear their language slaughtered, but the prospect of 10 billion people slaughtering it is rather overwhelming and even depressing.

  1. Another way to think about your question is to flip it around: If you did not speak Japanese, what aspects of everyday life in Japan do you think you would be missing out on? Is there some analogous aspect in the U.S., U.K., South Africa, New Zealand, or Australia which you wouldn’t want to miss?

Hello Yukiko!

I am Brazilian, but I live in Japan since 2011.

I have much difficult in talk Japanese. I have interest at cultura and language Japanese, but even so is difficult (むすかしですね?!?)

I think that is more a matter of necessity. For example: when I am alone ( without my husband that speak very well Japanese) I turn around (lol)

I believe that for learn one language is necessary imagine, form mental phrase.

I have study for here (LING) English and Japanese one week only. I have noticed that when I will go say one word, I first imagine the word in English and Japanese. Sometimes show up gaps, but I am happy because before I did not do it…

I do not know who is you, but I think that you are on right track. がんばておねがいします!

“Unfortunately, English has become a utilitarian language which is easy to learn to speak badly and still be understood. Those of us who find its nuances, when wielded by a master, to be utterly enjoyable, find this new state of affairs very sad. No one likes to hear their language slaughtered, but the prospect of 10 billion people slaughtering it is rather overwhelming and even depressing.”
I think this is true. Every medal has its reverse, although every cloud has a silver lining.


“Every medal has its reverse, although every cloud has a silver lining.”

Very true. That is because every medal is made by the human species and a cloud is not.


I am rather interested in how other countries report Japanese news and perceive Japanese cultures. I am certainly not interested in our prime minister wearing a tailcoat either though. :slight_smile:

I am glad to know that you feel the same way!

I think that I wanted to hear exactly what you wrote. Thank you!!

Your comment means a lot to me. Thank you!!

I started studying English when I was thirteen years old at school as everyone else did at the time. I’ve been studying it after finishing my college too because being able to understand English to some extent brings me a joy and fulfillment.

However, I have never “caught the bug”, meaning, I haven’t really fallen love with any cities or culture aspects of the U.S., U.K., South Africa, etc. Although we share a lot of similar lifestyles across the nations, I feel distant from what is happening in those countries at times. I thought that would be a reason why I haven’t been able to go to the next level with my English.

I don’t have a plan to move outside of Japan. It is hard to see what I wouldn’t want to miss in other countries. I guess I am at loss what I want to do with my English studies, but I want to thank you so much for your interesting questions and insights on this topic.:slight_smile:

Thank you for your encouragement and sharing your experience. Good luck with your Japanese and life in Japan. :slight_smile:

I was wondering whether you read any contemporary American fiction or non-fiction books. If so, what do you read, and do you enjoy it?

When at age 17 I moved from Hawaii, where I grew up, to the mainland United States, I found the culture there a shock. It seemed quite “cold” compared with Hawaii. It also seemed a competitive culture with an enormous emphasis on money and class, and I found this quite unpleasant, even repellent. When I later visited England, I found many of the native English, especially certain groups within the educated middle class, to be quite “cold” also. The Scots had much more warmth. Italy and Latin America have cultures which I find “warm,” relaxed, and feelingful. I don’t know how much these dimensions play a part in falling in love with a place. Do you think this is what you are sensing?

Of course, in the U.S. there are many sub-cultures which are quite different than the dominant “Anglo” culture. California, where I lived for many years, is quite diverse. I particularly valued black Americans, Hispanic immigrants, and Jews for bringing warmth and feeling to the culture.

Native Americans (a.k.a. American Indians) of many tribes are rather romanticized these days, but if you study their real history and culture, it is quite interesting. This being a language forum, do you know that Cherokee and Choctaw Indians were recruited as “code talkers” in World War I, and Navajos were recruited for the same thing in World War II? The languages are extraordinarily complex and have few non-native speakers. A machine-encrypted message took too long to transmit and decode, but a native Navajo speaker on either end could handle the same message in minutes and the “code” could not be broken.

If you want to find things which interest you in English-speaking countries, perhaps you can seek out these kinds of stories.

I am reading Murakami’s 1Q84 at the moment (in translation) and wondering how much of Japanese culture and everyday life is reflected in it. What would you say?

I hear that people who speak other languages well, often love some aspects of the culture. I see some people who love Jazz music and the New York city, went to America, and have learned English well. Others may love art and Paris, went to France, and have become a fluent French speaker. I don’t have any particular interests in English speaking countries. I thought that was lacking for me in learning English.

I have read some English children books, but haven’t tried any contemporary American fiction or non-fiction books. Maybe reading those books helps me bring my English level up and open a new door for me!
I haven’t read any of Murakami’s novels other than “Norway forest” that I read years ago. I can’t recall how much of Japanese culture and everyday life is reflected in that book. If you ask that question on the Japanese forum below, someone might answer it for you. :slight_smile:

What aspects of the Czech Republic interests you?

There are some places in the U.S. and in the world that I absolutely could not bear to live. The environment and people would kill my spirit and I would feel my life was being wasted. I am very thankful I have never had to live in such places. A friend and I used to compare our thoughts on such places, e.g. certain small towns in the American South or Texas, tiny crossroads settlements in the Nevada or California deserts, some areas of Alaska, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Dubai, etc.

Prague and the Czech Republic are very “sympatico” to me. First, I love the architecture and environment of historical Prague (as contrasted with the communist era sections). It is human-sized, not imperial-sized like Vienna, and it is beautiful. I like the relaxed “cafe culture,” where people sit and talk over coffee or beer after work or on weekends. I love the big public parks where everyone of all ages goes to walk, skate, cycle, read a book, or sit and talk. In spring and summer, it’s like having a gigantic garden which someone else takes care of.

A good deal of the countryside is quite beautiful in a gentle sort of way. (Not dramatic, as in the American West with its numerous and varied deserts, mountains, and canyons.) I like the little villages. Many have fewer than 400 residents. The contrast with small American settlements of a few families (such as those in American deserts like Nevada) is stark and fascinating. I like the fact there is precipitation year round, unlike in California where vegetation turns brown from March until November. It is the Czech habit to escape “to nature” on the weekends and for their holidays. This suits me, too.

I like the fact that there is “socialized medicine” here, as the Americans call it. You get good care and are not bankrupted in the process, as in the U.S.

I wish there were a wider variety of fresh vegetables. I think I was spoiled by living in California, an agricultural state. The situation here is improving as Czechs learn about the benefits of fresh vegatbles and also begin to make higher salaries, and thus can afford them. Most of the imported vegatables seem to come from Spain, Italy, or Latin America. There is an increasingly strong “bio” movement here and in the E.U.

The Czechs in general are quiet and well-mannered. I would say they value introversion, completely the opposite of American extroversion. (Teenagers these days are not as quiet and well-behaved as in the past, which seems the result of TV and films from Britain and the U.S.) If you are familiar with the Myers-Briggs test, Czechs seem to value the INFP type rather than the ESTP type which is over-valued in the U.S., in my opinion.

In general, I find 90% of Czechs friendly and helpful, though Engish-language guidebooks insist on writing otherwise. Except for the nouveau riche, Czechs seem very egalitarian. Thus shop assistants and waiters do not react well to being treated as servants rather than respected as hard-working individual people.  Americans and Brits often don't realize that it is their own attitude which triggers a negative reaction. I have found the same to be true of the French in Paris.

I enjoy reading Czech history and literature (mostly in translation, so far). What I like most about Czech culture is the Czech sense of humor. It’s encoded in many sayings in the language, and it comes out in numerous ways in daily life. While the Czech nation was oppressed for centuries (Hapsburgs, Nazis, Communists and Soviets), the people developed a certain attitude toward life, characterized by a keen sense of the absurd. I find that many situations in modern life fit this world view precisely!

RE Murakami: some reviews say he reflects contemporary Japanese life. Hmm. The New York Times reviewer has two pithy things to say about that:

Quote: "You, sucker, will wade through nearly 1,000 uneventful pages while discovering a Tokyo that has two moons and is controlled by creatures that emerge from the mouth of a dead goat. These creatures are called Little People. They are supposed to be very wise, even though the smartest thing they ever say is “Ho ho.”

And quote: “… Mr. Murakami’s determination to describe, inventory and echo just about everything that he chooses to mention. Characters repeat one another frequently, in a manner that can be seen as either incantatory or numbing, depending on your patience level.”

I read the review after finishing the book and found it hilarious. I liked the book much more than she, the reviewer, did, but I can see what she means. There are endless details about the main characters showering, dressing, cooking, eating, etc. If these were medieval characters, these activities might be interesting. If this is contemporary everyday Japanese life…boring! And of course, I hesitate to generalize from the depictions of the main characters to Japanese people or culture as a whole. :slight_smile: It’s a very weird story.

It sounds like Czech Republic is the place you are meant to be. :slight_smile: