Jack of all trades, master of none

This is something that’s been on my mind a lot recently, as I come to think of everything in terms of “Japanese study is my top priority.” Go out? Nah, it costs money and I need the time to study. Watch a movie on my computer? Need the time to study. Think about brushing up my French? No, all my language study efforts/energy/time must go to Japanese!

I even withdrew my name from a local Japanese speech competition because it was going to take time away from… studying Japanese, and I was mistaken in thinking I could win a prize that would make it all worth it (it doesn’t go to my division).

Back to my point. As it stands I’ve studied a handful of languages, and reached advanced proficiency in a couple of those. When people find this out, it inevitably impresses them (and/or I get a request to “Say something in ___!” which I no longer oblige–I’m not a monkey doing tricks!). But to me, it’s not all that impressive because I’m not actually FLUENT in any of those languages. I’m very advanced but I’m not all the way there yet. I’m not good enough to get a job using them, so what’s the point of just knowing them? Sure it sounds good on paper, but it doesn’t translate (ha) to anything concrete and useful. “Jack of all trades, master of none”–I need to master at least one of them to make everything worth it. Thus, the intensive Japanese self-study.

This is something I’ve realized gradually over time. In the beginning, when I first noticed that foreign languages came easier to me than to other people and I decided to study as many of them as I could fit into my school schedules, all that mattered was adding more languages. I guess pride played into that; I enjoyed the attention I got from being distinctive. But more than that, I just wasn’t thinking enough about how I was going to parlay this knack for languages into a career. I was just single-mindedly pursuing what I loved with no thought of the future–you know, like every college student is told to do and what we’re all realizing was kind of a giant mistake.

If I’d thought more about the future then I would have realized fluency is king, and I needed to pick a language early and focus on it sharply. I have many regrets about college-era decisions, and not putting that sharp focus on Japanese sooner is definitely one of them.

Because here we are, almost four (!) years out of college, and while I’ve successfully kept up my Japanese and not lost any of my knowledge, and probably improved a fair amount (I’m definitely more literate now), I’m still not where I want to be after almost eight (eight!) years studying this language. I still have so much further to go. Another frustrating thing about learning Japanese is that there’s just so many layers to it–you master one part, or think you have, and there’s still so much left. If I hadn’t fallen so completely, irrevocably, foolishly in love with this language–for better or worse!–I would have given up a long time ago, as so many have before me.

As it stands… 頑張ります。


2 thoughts on “Jack of all trades, master of none

  1. Tulipfield says:

    I totally understand this… I remember thinking in high school or thereabouts it was actually feasible to master like 8 different languages… I’m college that fell to maybe 4, and now I realize even commanding one language other than what you know natively is an immense challenge. I wish I could have dedicated all of college to the one language I would end up using after graduation, but it wasn’t even available at my school and at the time I didn’t know I’d be studying it.

    I’d say don’t feel too regretful about following your passions in college, though. Hard as I might have tried then, there’s no way I could have known at the time what I’ve come to discover with experience… at least I felt intellectually fulfilled in college, which for me is more of the point.

    • サラgraphie says:

      Yes! Exactly.

      I know… there’s no way I could have known what I do now, but it’s just tough to think of all the time that could have been put to better use. sigh!!! You’re right though, I did feel intellectually fulfilled, so at least there’s that, but did it have to come with the heavy price tag?? haha

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