The hardest part of learning Japanese? Having Love.

My last post was about applying lessons from Rocky to language learning, and whilst there is much more the Italian Stallion has to teach about learning Japanese, today I want to share a language learning principle from the Bible that has been impressed on me these last few weeks.

It’s fair to say this is the most difficult aspect of learning Japanese (or any language), and it also happens to be the most important:

Having love

For folk like me, fighting away in the hope of becoming fluent in a foreign language (or at least close enough to blag it), there is a verse in the bible that hits like a brutal sucker punch to the gut,

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”

Or to paraphrase:

A Japanese gong, is still a gong.

A Japanese bell

Photo by Suguru Yamamoto on Creative Commons (original)

Which means that all of my endeavours to master Japanese –– all the hours I pour into memorising vocab, all the ink I spill practising kanji, all the Rocky movies I watch dubbed into Japanese (hey, it counts as study!) –– it will be totally useless if I don’t also work on having love.

Actually that’s not true. It won’t be useless. It’ll be really useful for doing stuff like offending people and screwing up friendships.

Because if I’m honest, I’m pretty much a master of using words to negative effect. Sarcastic snipes? Expert level. Jokes that get a cheap laugh at someone’s expense? Nailed it. Twisting words so that I don’t have to listen to a genuine grievance against me? Piece. Of. Cake.

And none of that is caused by a lack in my English abilities. It’s not like I mean to speak kind, affirming, encouraging words and get mixed up. No, I say what I mean, and I mean what I say. And often what I mean to say is mean.

And at those moments I am a nothing more than a resounding gong.

I can trick myself into thinking that the main thing hindering me from making a positive difference in Japan is my lack of language skills. When in fact the main hinderance is the same thing that hindered me back in the UK:

Not having love

The gong quote comes just before the famous ‘Love is…’ passage, where Paul explains what having love looks like. It makes for quite an unexpected set of criteria for assessing language ability.

Love is patient

Love is kind

Love does not envy

Love does not boast

Love is not proud

Love does not dishonour others

Love is not self-seeking

Love is not easily angered

Love keeps not record of wrongs

Love does not delight in evil

Love rejoices with the truth

Love always protects

Love always trusts

Love always hopes

Love always perseveres

Now listening to a recording of myself speaking Japanese, and having my teacher dissect all my faults was pretty painful. But reading through that list of the attributes of love, and reflecting on how I use my words . . .

Seems like I need another training montage!

And like Rocky I also need a good team to encourage me in my training (seriously, you could write a book on lessons in Japanese learning from the Rocky films). And not just me, but anyone who is trying to master a foreign language. Especially if we’re doing it in order to tell people about the love of God.

So if you’re studying Japanese, etc then don’t forget this key principle. And if you’re encouraging folk in their studies make sure you remind us of the foundational lesson we need to be mastered by.

Don’t be a gong: have love.


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