2013-11-08

I've met numerous international classmates since coming back to school. For many of them, particularly from East and South East Asia, adapting to the English language and American Culture remains a large hurdle. The culture problem is a monumental challenge. I still don't have an answer for it.

But I can tell you my conviction about learning and improving a language.

Every moment you're not using English, you're becoming worse at it. Every moment you're using your native language, your English is becoming worse. If improving your English is a priority for you, you must maximize your use of English and minimize your use of your first language. It's a brutally simple and brutally painful truth.

I am a dual-native speaker of English and Japanese (meaning that both languages are independent in my mind), yet even then the more I use Japanese, the worse I become at English, and vice versa. When I didn't speak English all summer during my Elementary School years, I got back to school and had trouble pronouncing words.

Over the last 12 months, I've made the conscious choice to minimize the amount of Japanese I use. I never speak Japanese to the Japanese classmates here. I have cut down Japanese media consumption dramatically. I update my Japanese blog sparingly. I've committed to staying in the States professionally, and am pouring resources into improving my command of English.

I know first hand how painful it can be to be in a foreign culture and have to use a foreign language. Everything is going by you at 3x speed, you don't understand the cultural pretext, and your brain is on over-drive trying to stay afloat through all this. The last thing you want to do when you get home is to expose yourself to even more English. I went through all of this when I worked in Japan as a foreigner.

Yet this is exactly what you have to do if you need to improve your English. You can't let your guard down, because your skills are decaying faster than you grew them every single time you relax and take a break from English.

If you're not growing, you're contracting. If you're not moving forward, you're moving backward.

-- Reid Hoffman

If you're reading this post, you know that you don't need to be convinced. You know deep down that this is what you need to do. Lean into the pain