Foreign language skills are ‘chotto’ rusty

Published 8:29 am Thursday, March 29, 2018

I’ve been trying to learn Japanese since I was in high school, and I took several classes on the subject in college. But my graduation was six years ago, and the old saying “if you don’t use it, you lose it” is certainly true.

We had a running joke in Japanese class which began early on when we were all struggling to remember new vocabulary and grammar points from week to week. Our teacher asked what the problem was, and another student answered “I’m chotto rusty” mixing the Japanese word for “a little bit” with English to express his thought. It was funny because we weren’t supposed to be answering questions with English words at all but did so anyway at a loss for any other answer.

Since then, “chotto rusty” was our catchphrase and catch-all excuse for when we forgot things.

So about a month ago, I finally decided to get rid of my “chotto rusty” Japanese skills and start improving again. I had begun watching more TV shows in Japanese and listening to more Japanese radio programs as well, but I noticed I didn’t understand as much as I used to. It’s very frustrating when I try to read or listen to something, and I can’t figure out what’s going on. And even more frustrating when I understand most of it, but still feel like I’m missing the last piece of the puzzle to make sense.

I set up a plan of action to restart my studying: learn 10 kanji and 10 words per week. Kanji are characters (or symbols) which represent words in Japanese. Some are simple but most are complex, usually made from a jumble of strokes tangled together. One stray mark of my pencil can change the entire meaning if I’m not careful. There are hundreds upon hundreds to learn.

For the vocabulary, I decided to ask my family to submit common words for me to choose from, and I’d study the ones I don’t already know. This idea worked better in theory than practice because the words I got back were things like “lackadaisical” and “mendacity” and “tree surgeon.”

All words that normally come up in conversation, right?

A month has gone by and studying isn’t going exactly like I planned. Rote memorization is rather boring and it’s hard to get the new words to stick in my head, even though I practice them by writing sentences. Sometimes I want to throw my textbooks and notebooks away and never look at them again.

But, still, I can’t give up after only a month. Has anyone ever mastered a complex skill after only a few weeks? I highly doubt it! (But if you have, let me know so I can use your method to learn more kanji!)

Above all else, the hardest issue is maintaining motivation to keep studying. I seriously welcome any suggestions you may have to not give up. Should I set smaller goals? Should I think of rewards to hold my interest? Should I give up my current study method and just start translating things to learn more?

Any recommendations are welcome! I’ll take all of them, whether they pertain specifically to learning a language or just keeping motivated to complete any task. And if you’re like me and struggling to tackle a challenge, I wish you good luck in return!

I’d rather keep “chotto rusty” as a fond memory from college and not as a description of my language skills.


Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at or by phone at 252-332-7206.