Writing emails in Japanese…

… Is really, really good for my Japanese.

Now that’s not really a surprise when you think about it.

Writing emails means I have to think about phrasing things for myself rather than just reading them. Writing emails means I have to try and remember my grammar and tenses and all the crazy-complicated-stuff that bamboozles me. Writing emails takes my intensive-kanji-learning from random words on a screen to useful-in-action vocabulary. Writing emails (or anything really) makes my brain work in a way that it’s just not used to.

Writing emails is really, really, good for my Japanese.

Writing emails also presents me with a choice.

Do I, or do I not, get one of my Japanese speaking friends to proof-read what I’ve written before I send it?

It’s a big question.


Up until recently, I would have said ‘Yes’. Because, it would be really embarrassing to send an email to my homestay Mum or a local pastor and end up really offending them by using the wrong phrase, or the casual form, or a word that I think means something that actually means something else.

I mean, that’s a whole world of language-learning embarrassment. And it’s always nice to get a bit of reassurance.

But today, despite my love-for-said-reassurance, I also thought that it’s a whole world of language-learning embarrassment that I need to get better at overcoming.

Because as my leave-the-UK-date draws closer, I’m emailing more and more in Japanese. Like you’d expect. Because my new boss is Japanese, and the people I’m living with are Japanese, and a lot of the Christians or other agencies that I’m making links with are Japanese… (or even harder… They’re Korean… And our common language is Japanese! Eek for communication!) Just practically, I need to get over my fear of making mistakes, accept that I will make them, and realise that it’s ok. People are (on the whole) gracious. I need to accept that making mistakes is a huge part of the learning journey and will become a vital part of my daily life over the next couple of years. Fact.

So today I needed to reply to an email in time for the sender to get it back first thing in the morning Japan time (9 hours ahead of the UK). And despite knowing that I have a few seemingly-insomniac-suffering-Japanese-or-living-in-Japan friends (Seriously guys, those of you who respond to emails or messages when it’s like 3am your time… Do you ever sleep?! ;)), I also thought that this could be my opportunity to just (wo)man-up and get on with it.

And so I did.

A couple of things reassured me.

Firstly, my Japanese friend Maiko always emails me in English. Now, she’s pretty fabulous at English, but even so, when she emails there are still plenty of mistakes that I could correct if I wanted to. She sometimes spells words slightly weirdly, or uses the wrong tense in a sentence, or her phrases might sound a bit un-natural… But to be honest, I don’t care. Because I don’t get an email from her to do a grammar-check. I get an email from her to hear about all the exciting things in her world that I really want to know about. Are there mistakes? Sometimes, yes. Does it mean I can’t understand what she’s trying to say? No, we’ve always got there. Does it take away my enjoyment at hearing from her? Absolutely not. At all. In fact I so totally love the fact she puts that much effort in.

Secondly, I was thinking about two good friends of mine who got married a few years ago. They are originally from opposite sides of the globe, and their native language is different. When they first met and then kept in contact by email, there were some major communication challenges to overcome! She would email him in her native tongue, and he would painstakingly use a dictionary to interpret the email, and then do his best to reply… In her language. (Now, that, right there… Is some serious true-love-and-investment!) But here’s the thing. As their emails increased in frequency, and as the detail of what they were trying to talk about increased… Plenty of mistakes were made. But it also meant my friend became pretty fluent in his future-wife’s language before they walked down the aisle. Were there grammatical errors? Sometimes, yes. But actually, the whole loving gesture of him taking the time to learn the language and go to that much effort, more than overcame any linguistical failures.

And today, as I’ve been writing emails, I’ve been thinking that I don’t want my fear of failure or of making a mistake, to stop me from communicating, building friendships or loving the people that God has called me to. My heart burns with such a deep love for Japan, and in prayer for the nation, and that pushes me forwards in this learning-journey I’m on.

But I was also thinking, that we sometimes approach God like this.

Because He longs to communicate with us, and He rejoices in our conversation with Him. But sometimes, we get so caught up on our mistakes, that we become scared to send the email. Now, I’m not talking about deliberately choosing to live in disobedience against God, I’m talking about when everything within us is striving after Him and running towards Him, but we just still struggle sometimes. Like, when everything within you is working so hard to learn the language, but then you sit down to write the message and you just become aware that your grammar is muddled up, and you don’t know all the vocabulary yet, and you might be using the wrong level of politeness. But your heart is battling to communicate.

And here’s the thing. Think about my friends. When my friend emailed his girlfriend, do you think she counted how many spelling mistakes he’d made? Do you think she emailed him back in anger because he’d got his full-stops in the wrong place? Of course not. Her heart was so moved in love at the fact he was trying so hard. Her heart was for him. Her heart skipped a beat when she recieved an email from him… Because he had taken the time and put the energy into sending it in the first place. She was gracious with his mistakes, because she saw his heart. It wasn’t like he couldn’t be bothered. It wasn’t that he was distracted. It was just that he was learning. He was still growing. And everything within her wanted him to succeed.

And I can’t help but think that God’s heart towards us is more like that than we often think.

He’d rather us send so many metaphorical emails to Him, littered with mistakes that He can gently correct and instruct us in, than us stay silent and never get in touch because we’re scared of failure. He sees that our hearts are yearning for Him because we love Him, even in our inadequacy. And when we put all our effort into the translation to holy living, His grace meets us there, and He delights in our weak love. When you genuinely go to meet with God, do you think He’s just counting how many spelling mistakes you’ve made? Do you think He’s angry with you because you got your full-stops in the wrong place? Of course not. His heart is so moved in love at the fact you are trying so hard. His heart is for you. His heart skips a beat when you run to Him… Because you have taken the time and effort to run to Him in your weakness. He is gracious with your mistakes because He sees your heart. He sees that you can be bothered. He sees that you are fighting against distraction. It’s just that you are still learning. And still growing. And everything within Him wants you to succeed.

Holy Spirit is still working in us. He gets the memo. He loves the memo. Because He loves you.

Oh, and I know I’ve said this before, but for those people who are language-learning and don’t have handy friends spread across the globe… Lang-8 is an amazing tool which you should totally check out!!



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