Saturday, June 23, 2012

no English, none of the time, never!

Have you heard of "No English, None of the Time, Never!" before? Maybe we can shorten it to NENTN! I think I don't even have to explain what this means. 99% of readers probably understand what it's all about. For that one percent who are totally clueless, here's an explanation:

You're trying to learn a foreign language, right? Presumably, it's not English. All of my readers have already learned English. Most are native English speakers. So what's holding you back from learning, or mastering that foreign language? Let me tell you, it's English! That's right, English is holding you back. Right now you're spending a little bit of your time reading my blog post which is written in English. Then what are you going to do next? You're probably going to read another blog post in English. Or maybe you'll watch a video on YouTube... in English!

The world is full of English. No matter where you go, you can find English. For the non-English speaking parts of the world, the de facto standard foreign language to learn is English. And with our computers and internet connections, we never leave the English-speaking world.

So how are you going to learn a foreign language when you've got all this English around you? You're going to learn it very poorly, that's how!

When I came to Japan, I couldn't get a job in a Japanese-speaking environment. I didn't have the language skills. My only choice was to find work in an English-speaking environment. In Japan, if you don't want to work in English teaching and you don't have any connections, then you either have to be fluent in Japanese speaking and reading/writing, or you need a lot of experience and expertise to get a job in a non-teaching environment. I didn't have the right experience so I looked to teaching English conversation. I was surrounded by other English conversation teachers, English-speaking Japanese staff, and on top of that, it was my job to speak English to the clients.

The longer I was in that environment, the more I knew I had to get out of it. I had to leave in order to to get into the right environment. I did interviews in Japanese. They were not good. I mean, I was not good. But I got better and better at them until finally they were going much smoother. That's when I landed a job in a Japanese speaking environment.

Then I attended meetings in Japanese, communicated with coworkers in Japanese, read documentation in Japanese, email in Japanese, and continued learning a lot of Japanese. About 8 months after starting work in Japanese, I almost passed level 2 of the Japanese Language Proficiency test. So obviously, when I started working, I was not at level 2. By the way, there were 4 levels, with level 4 the lowest and level 1 the highest. Some people think you need level 1 to get a job in a Japanese workplace. Some jobs do require this, however, level 2 really is sufficient for technical jobs. And I didn't even have that when I started.

When I started working in a Japanese office, I had been in Japan for 2 whole years already. Why did I come to Japan? To learn Japanese. But after 2 years I still wasn't very good at Japanese.  If I had landed the job that I interviewed for during my first week in Tokyo, I would have been much much better at Japanese after 2 years.

Basically, as a learner of a non-English language, you have to understand that English is not your friend. English is the enemy! Just say "No" to English.

Now imagine that it's the 1960's and you're living in Japan. What would you be doing? Would you be reading my blog? No. Would you be watching TV in English? No. Would you be reading an English-language newspaper?

You probably have to admit that today, your life is full of English. You need to turn off the English. You need to disconnect from the English world. You need to stop watching Hollywood movies. You need to say good-bye to your native English-speaking friends. They're not helping you learn a foreign language. Don't be afraid to isolate yourself. You're time is valuable and limited. Don't spend all of your time, Don't spend a majority of your time, Don't spend your free time in English! You can't get back your time. And in order to move ahead and advance your foreign language skills, you need to be in the target language.

If you feel you'd be missing out on something by disconnecting from all of your English, think about what you're missing out on by not being fully fluent in your target foreign language. Remember that once you're fluent, you can go back to your English world. The more you stay away from English, the sooner you'll reach your goal and the sooner you'll be back in the English world as a bilingual speaker.

For now, you need to practice NENTN!  No English, None of the Time, Never!


  1. This is a really interesting post and I do agree that you need to "turn off English" to really learn another language. English is so accessible and it makes fully immersing yourself in another language extremely difficult, especially if you live in an English speaking household.

  2. I'm not a native English speaker so I think English is fine with me since it's a foreign language for me . :D

  3. I think this is really great advice for anyone wanting to learn a new language. However, I find it difficult to do in Japan. Unfortunately, I dislike the pop culture, which includes TV, movies (mostly), and music. I also don't drink which seems to eliminate about 95% of the socialization in the country. Makes it tough to find ways to tune out the English.

    But basically, yeah you are completely correct. If I didn't work as an English teacher and instead was 100% completely forced to use Japanese all day, every day, I know I'd be approaching god-like Japanese by now.

  4. I got out of English teaching 7 years ago, and it does indeed help, but how far it takes you depends. You won't be forced to use Japanese all day. If you needed to use Japanese that much, you wouldn't be able to get the job in the first place.

  5. Excellent advice. I´m a spanish native speaker and I´ve been trying to improve my English for 10 years or so, but unfortunately I am not very fluent. I´m brave I´ll continue using the target language in almost everything.


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