私は日本語がレベルアップしました!

("My Japanese has leveled up!")

I always liked Metroidvanias. Because I like exploring, I like seeing new things, new places, meeting new characters. And the nature of a Metroidvania makes things especially engaging in this way. I come across obstacles, and I have to figure them out. I think, "Should I be able to get past this obstacle? No, I don't think so, not yet. There must be some new technique or item that I have yet to find." And I wonder, what will that be? This space is too short for me to walk under. Will I learn to crawl? Roll up into a ball? Slide-kick? Shoot myself out of a cannon?

And when I finally do learn a technique to make myself tiny, I feel a thrill of anticipation. Now, when I see those little crawlspaces, I can shrink myself and go find out what's on the other side!

The ones with RPG elements can be especially fun. No matter what I'm doing, even if I'm retreading ground I've already been over, I feel like I'm gaining something. Yeah, these enemies might not be challenging, and they might not be guarding anything new, but they're fun to face, and they'll make me stronger when I go up against the more difficult enemies! And when I do face something difficult, I can feel the progress I've made.

It isn't a far leap to apply this to language learning.

Every flash card, every casual conversation with friends, every pair-work exercise in class, every tweet from Japanese Twitter users, every line of dialog in anime and dramas, every J-pop song, every post on HelloTalk makes me stronger. These aren't just things that I'm doing to practice my Japanese, they're things I want to do. ... Well, okay, the flash cards are purely for grinding experience. But everything else... I want to make friends, I want to get to know them, I want to get closer to them. I really like my classmates, and the pair-work exercises are structured ways for us to play with a new toy that we just got. I want to know what the Japanese community on Twitter is up to. I love the stories in anime and dramas, and I want to know what the original meaning is without the lossy conversion to English. J-pop is my life and I want to feel the words as well as the tone and the music. I love talking to the HelloTalk community.

And when I come up against something difficult and my mind doesn't crumble against it but stands mostly steady, it feels really good. When I stopped learning Japanese three years ago, I still couldn't keep up with the slowed-down beginner lessons on JapanesePod101 with more than 75% accuracy, and I needed to pause regularly. In the ~four months since I have returned to it, my listening skill has leveled up to the point where I can keep up with a full-speed beginner lesson at 95% accuracy without pausing at all. Even despite not recognizing one character's accent, and needing to concentrate especially hard on the sounds.

But I can level up forever and still have most of Japanese locked away from me if I don't learn new grammar. And it's that that most gives me that thrill, that excitement of exploration and unlocking things that I can go back to now. Every time I learn a new piece of grammar, sentences that I was completely unable to form or understand are suddenly newly accessible. My mind goes wild thinking about all the times I wanted to say something but couldn't, or when I heard a certain structure and couldn't make sense of it.

And just like how in Metroidvanias, I got better at intuitively understanding how a room was laid out the more I played...

In language learning, the more I learn, the more things make sense to me "automatically".

When I was in high school, I could barely even tell apart different languages enough to recognize when Japanese was being spoken.

As I heard more of it, I could get a feel for what was Japanese vs. some other foreign language.

And as I started learning Japanese, I started to recognize the syllables automatically even when I couldn't understand what they meant.

And now, even if I don't have the vocabulary (and, in some cases, even the grammar), the ghosts of sentence structures are starting to become palpable.

I'm getting there, piece by piece. It feels really good.

Every experience level is a cause for a triumphant fanfare! Every piece of grammar deserves to be held up and given its own text-box describing what it's useful for! But it's not just the learning itself that's rewarding. It's excitedly wondering what's on the other side of the locked doors that not having those skills guarded.

I'm going to keep exploring this open world!