I hated language classes at school; they were the only subjects that I received C grades for. It seemed pointless and impractical, full of random vocab and not at all interested.
However, in December of 2010 I travelled to Nagoya, Japan for a one month mission trip with Campus Crusade for Christ Australia (now called Cru). I fell in love with the culture - the food, the courtesy, the scenery (though it didn’t hurt that my future wife was also on the trip). When I returned, I decided that I would go back to Japan for a year-long commitment to the organisation, and I knew that I wanted to speak Japanese by that point.
As I reached the half-way point of my third year of university, I did everything I could to learn faster: I devoured language learning blogs, eventually being strongly influenced by Fluent in 3 Months; I used italki for Japanese-English conversation exchange; I invited myself to the Japanese conversations classes at my uni; I found a great resource for learning kanji, and created thousands of my own flashcards to study on the 40 minute train ride to and from university; someone showed me a fantastic guide to Japanese grammar that I also studied every day; I joined a language exchange program at my uni; and finally, I tried to speak Japanese to every Japanese person I knew (though I was laughed at more than once).
When I arrive in Nagoya in January 2013, I was ready. I had nothing in November of 2010 the previous time, but I had studied.
Since then I’ve been back to Japan a few times and gotten back into the groove, and we speak Japanese with my in-laws when we visit, though I can feel myself slipping. Part of me really wants to concentrate on these skills again, but when it’s not necessary every day, it can become difficult.