Confession #1 - I was a Functional Illiterate in Japan

by Ryan Meinzer


Confession #1 - I was a Functional Illiterate in Japan

If dropped in Spain, would you rather be able to speak and comprehend Spanish or be able to read and write it? I preemptively chose the former during my 2+ year tenure in Tokyo, Japan...and no one even knew!

Our best product yet will focus on advancing your speaking and comprehension ability in a foreign language. My first-hand experience asserts that this is more important than learning how to read and write in a foreign language.

Particularly for survival in a foreign country, speaking and comprehending the language is imperative. In my 2+ years in Tokyo, Japan, I can genuinely say that the only time I needed to read and write was for emails in business. With guidance software, however, it was a piece of cake. I could essentially type in the English alphabet what I wanted to write in Japanese, and it would turn it into the respective Japanese characters. For example, if I wanted to write, "house" in Japanese, which is pronounced "uchi", I'd write out "uchi" and the Japanese character would come up for me, "家". 

Confession #1 - I was a Functional Illiterate in Japan

Above is a letter I wrote to my neighbors in Japanese on my 25th birthday. There are quite a few characters that if presented to me without context, I'd have no ability to read them. Typing them out on a computer, however, wasn't nearly as challenging. I could type the word phonetically and be presented with a finite set of character options to appropriately match/select to replace such phonetic writing with its respective character(s). 

Confession #1 - I was a Functional Illiterate in Japan

Above is a better representation of my writing ability (few characters). In Japanese, there are three writing systems - Hiragana (phonetic), Katakana (phonetic) and Kanji (characters from Chinese).

Aside from emails, the only time that not being able to read and write was an issue was when I was at the restaurant with a menu full of Japanese characters. Ordering was trivial, however. If I had a preference of the type of food I wanted, I'd ask for their recommendations for such. If I didn't have a preference of what I wanted, I'd simply ask for their recommendations or for their most popular item. Discovering new foods was great and the most popular items were always awesome.

Instead of spending countless hours learning characters, I'd converse in Japanese with others to build my own character. My friends that were in full-time Japanese school were quick to show off their Japanese writing and reading skills. They weren't quick to start or become involved in conversation, however. They were passing their classes but failing in conversations. I, on the other hand, was a functional illiterate and nothing could stop me. 

Why don't current language learning solutions offer comprehensive speaking and comprehension training?

It's extremely difficult to accomplish through technology. At best, current solution's integration of speaking and comprehension training is for merely discrete vocabulary. No one speaks in or listens to discrete vocabulary in real life. In this post I mention Verbling's and Colingo's solutions for advanced learners to practice speaking and comprehension via face-to-face video chat online. In that post I outline the shortcoming of such solutions (particularly for beginner learners) that we will not have in our next product.

Our next product will be the first product ever to provide comprehensive speaking and comprehension training to beginner learners, who are the majority of the market (vs. advanced learners). 

No one can argue that the best method to learn a foreign language is to be immersed in the foreign language in the foreign country (what I was blessed to have in Japanese/Tokyo). Accomplishing such is merely a dream for most. The next-best method is conversing in-person in the foreign language with a native of the language. It's a shame that finding and meeting tutors is difficult, inconvenient and expensive. We're confident that you'll be surprised how our next product craftily breaks the barriers of these two methods whilst giving you the best of both worlds. Pun intended.

 

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