Failure = Success

I’ve failed more recently than I ever have in my life, yet I’ve never felt so successful.

It’s two weeks into learning Japanese and I’m failing hard. I’m failing at least once every minute of conversation, failing to find the words, failing to get the few words I’ve found to mean anything, I’m failing to understand what people tell me maybe two, three, four or more times before the vaguest of slightest ideas at to meaning arrives. I have whole hour ‘conversations’ only speaking Japanese, I have whole hours in which I continually fail.

But everytime I fail I learn to not fail like that again. Everytime I don’t make sense I learn that I can’t speak like that again. Everytime I don’t understand something, I am shown something new to understand.

A reporter once asked Thomas Edison how he felt after hundreds of ‘failed’ attempts to build the lightbulb, and he replied ‘I have not failed, I have just found 10,000 ways that don’t work. I am not discouraged, for every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward’. I am stepping forward by means of failure. I am embracing failure to the point that I am almost more proud of my failures than my successes.

Last week I met a beautiful Italian girl in a bookshop. We caught eyes and started chatting, though only for a minute or so. I said I had to go and was quite surprised with myself as my phone just seemed to come out of my pocket and the words ‘andiamo per una birra una volta, cos’è il tuo numero?’ just slipped out of my mouth, and I put her number in and walked off. I’ve never done this before. An Italian friend of mind saw me speak English properly for the first time the other day and said it was amazing, that it was like I was a completely different person when I was speaking (or perhaps even being) English. “To possess a second language is to possess a second soul” was a quote from somebody that came with a language app I once brought, and it seems my second Italian soul is much more of a player than the original.

I texted her the next day in English (I thought it was the exotic thing to do), and she replied. I texted here again yesterday to see if she wanted to go for a drink that evening and she hasn’t yet said anything, nor do I get the feeling she will. Fail.

Or success…? No it’s just a fail. However to get to success you need to try, and if you’re not failing then your not trying hard enough. Bar celebrities and other social anomalies, the people who are getting the most girls in the world are those that are getting rejected the most. The baseball player who got the most hits in baseball history also shares the record for the most strike outs. The guy who’s learning languages the fastest is the guy making shitloads of mistakes.

I woke up this morning, had a skype call with a new Japanese friend, and tried to ask her ‘what was in your hand when we started speaking?’. This task took 5 minutes of continual trying; 5 minutes of continual failing. I then sent a message to a girl on facebook that I spoke to briefly last week and who I kind of fancied when I was travelling, she didn’t reply. But I don’t care, I’m learning Japanese, and I’m going on a date with someone else this week. I’m glad I’m failing, because it means I’m trying.

Back in London I never failed at anything,

Yet here in Milan I’ve never been more successful.

About Sam

Hi I'm Sam and I write here exclusively at Samuel's Travels. Exclusively as by and large no-one wants me writing anywhere else. Please enjoy yourself while reading.
This entry was posted in Articles, Badboy Advice, Language Learning, Reflective Musings (essentially ramblings as well). Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Failure = Success

  1. petitelumi says:

    It sounds like you are using immersion, but with the opposite philosophy behind it, output over input. This is a very interesting combination and I look forward to how you progress. My mother-in-law, who lives in Japan, says that she thinks there are two kinds of people. The people who are good at speaking and the people who are good at listening. And I wondered, how is this possible? Do people really learn speaking without being able to listen well? But maybe you are one of those people!

    “To possess a second language is to possess a second soul” What an amazing quote. Did you know some linguist think that there’s no way to separate your L1 from your L2. That all English speakers need English to learn Japanese. I totally disagree with those linguists, and agree with the quote you gave that growing your L2 is like growing a second soul.

    • Yes I’ve heard that you need one language to learn another, and I actually side with the idea that it’s probably true. However I think once you’ve used your language to learn another and you’re fluent in the second, if you stopped contact with the first for a long time, and I mean completely stopped, it might take only a few years for it to become your first language. My friend’s uncle has been living in Germany since he was 21 for now 30 years. He practically stopped speaking English and now when he does, he speaks broken English with a German accent… so that slightly disproves the theory above a bit.

      Languages have rules, especially Japanese. If you learn them all you can speak the language correctly, and in that sense I think you can learn to speak a language very well actually without listening funnily enough. My Italian is very good, the accent is helped by the immersion immensely, but I think my ability to speak has come from trial and improvement plus correction, not from listening to people. I’m not saying this method is right, I’m just saying this is how it’s gone for me.

      My mind is very logical and finds it easy to put things into place and recognise patterns. Everytime I’m corrected, another piece of the puzzle is presented to me and then it’s just a matter of collecting enough to finish the picture.

      Different brains, different methods I suppose.

      I’ll put some videos up at the end of October to show how far I’ve got since you’re interested.

      Thanks for the support 🙂

  2. December! Then I’m off again. Then I’m back in May, lets’ speak on the phone or something sometime soon please xx

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