The Japanese Challenge: can you learn a language within a week?

Outrageous Claims?

I tend to be a bit sceptical when I hear reports of people, even geniuses, who claim to have managed to learn a language within a week (just as much as I tend to be sceptical of people telling me that they were able to read and write at the age of 3). These claims don’t tie in with my own experience of language learning (and they don’t tie in with what I see on a daily basis when teaching children and adults of all ages and abilities at my language school, The Universe of Language): whatever you say, language acquisition is a hard, time-consuming task! Although I personally have always enjoyed diving into the unknown realm of a new language, I could never pretend that learning a language is easy. No, it’s a long journey, characterised by numerous setbacks and the need for willpower to re-build words and sentences from the remnants of attempts that failed in times of pressure.

Learning a language within a week?

After discussing reports of super-fast language acquisition in adults with my friend and fellow linguist Charlette, we decided to put the claim that – with a bit of talent and lots of dedication – it is possible to learn a language within a very short period of time to the test: by trying to learn a language none of us has had any previous experience of within a week! And what more interesting language to learn than Japanese? That evening, the Japanese Challenge was born!

A time of unencumbered learning

With our diaries in front of us, we tried to find a week that suited us both, and we soon agreed that it would be the first week of January 2017: it is far enough in the future to allow us to get organised, and it is a week in which none of us has any serious commitments. This is important: such a week has to be well planned! Moreover, I am a strong believer in the idea that both first language acquisition in children, which often appears effortless to the outside world, and the failure many adults experience when trying to learn a foreign language are down to the same factor: life – the motivation to survive, the fact that life happens! While a child can spend countless hours thinking about nothing else but words, and even has to do so in order to get what it needs, adults are faced with all sorts of difficult decisions and intellectual problems, which encumber their thought processes and make language acquisition hard. (This is not to say that children are not faced with problems, but the nature of their problems doesn’t seem to distract from language learning, and language acquisition is even necessary for some of their problems to be solved.)

Preparing to meet the challenge

Now, back to our challenge! The next couple of weeks will be used to organise everything: ordering textbooks, finding a teacher who can help us with potential difficulties, finding Japanese places to eat out in our city (we love dining out almost as much as we love language), buying Japanese food and products of everyday life, ordering Japanese magazines, downloading Japanese music and videos, maybe some hentai for the night :-), and setting up a plan.

Watch us …

If you’re interested in our progress, if you want to see how far we will get learning a language within a week, watch this space from 2nd January 2017 onward. I’ll keep you updated on everything to do with our Japanese Challenge.

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