What Six Months In Japan Taught Me About The Power Of Immersion In Social Media

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Today we have a special guest post from Brandon Twyford. In this blog post Brandon shares his personal experience with us about learning and “jumping in” and how he relates it to social media. Enjoy this great post!

I took three years of Spanish in high school and one year of Spanish in college. I had to start at Intro to Spanish in college because I had forgotten everything I learned in high school over the summer, just as I had to struggle to remember what I had learned the previous year each time I started a new Spanish course in high school. Spending one hour two or three days a week on a subject just doesn’t make it sink in very well. Most of the knowledge you gain each day slips away as soon as you leave the classroom. Homework helps a little, but unless you have real-world opportunities to apply what you’ve learned, you’re swimming against the stream — gaining a little every day, but not as much as you could be.

Let’s go back to my Spanish skills. To this day I remember a few words and simple phrases — certainly not as much as four school years of studying should have taught me. Granted, I didn’t put as much effort into my Spanish classes that I put into other subjects, but that’s not the point. When I first went to Japan to teach English in 2001 (I stayed for nearly three years), I spoke almost no Japanese. I knew how to count to ten and how to ask where the bathroom was. Actually, due to my reliance on the inaccurate Lonely Planet phrase book I brought with me, what I knew how to ask was, “Where is the bath house?” You can imagine the look on the Japanese airport employee when I asked him that first thing off the plane.

The thing is, after about six months of living in Japan — not consciously studying the language for a single day — I learned more Japanese than I had learned in four years of formal Spanish classes. I found myself at a conversational, natural level of speaking, and I still remember much of what I learned, although it leaves me more and more each day that I don’t use it. The difference between my Spanish and my Japanese was that I was forced to use Japanese every day. When I didn’t understand a word, I looked it up and taught myself the meaning. Then, when I had to use it later that day, the knowledge was reinforced in my mind — I learned through experience.


Educators And Trainers Know The Power Of Immersion


Immersioninstruction based on extensive exposure to surroundings or conditions that are native or pertinent to the object of study — is widely accepted as the most effective way to learn a new language. Social media/social marketing is a kind of language, and the same holds true. A certain amount of savvy and a knowledge base help to get you started on the right foot, of course, but at some point, you’ve gotta just dive in. Taking part in webinars and reading social media blogs is great — and there’s a lot of incredibly useful information out there. But you’re never going to learn what the “right” way is for you until you just start doing it.


Best piece of advice I ever got

One of the best pieces of advice I ever got on learning Japanese was from a long-haired, six-foot-six surfer dude from the U.S. He was pretty close to fluent in Japanese after living in Tokyo for about three years. He watched me flipping through my English-to-Japanese dictionary as I tried to converse with someone I had met at a party. What he told me was, “You should throw that thing away. What you need is a Japanese-to-English dictionary.” Rather than try to translate my thoughts into a foreign language, which could be incredibly frustrating and ineffective, I would absorb exactly what someone was telling me, then look up the various meanings and nuances of that word. When you’re coming strictly from a place you know well (in this example the English language), you subconsciously put blinders on yourself. You look at things solely from your perspective instead of experiencing them as something new. When I threw away that dictionary and began experiencing the language from the other side, from the inside out, a whole new world opened up. Like many people, I’m an experiential learner — I need to do something myself before I “get it.”


Dive in and start swimming

You can read all the articles and watch all the webinars you want — until you actually dive in and start trying to swim, it’s all theoretical. Immerse yourself in the community and the act of social networking and social marketing and you will start to see good things happen, guaranteed.

Do you agree with the idea of immersion: jumping right into social marketing? Or do you think people should learn as much as they can from the experts before they start doing things themselves?

To connect with Brandon, you can find me at @BrandonTwyford or his blog.

  • http://twitter.com/thePRguy Nate Long

    Great thoughts, Brandon; this post is right on target. As someone who learned another really tough language (Polish) through immersion, I can confirm that my immersion into social media was, indeed, a very similar experience.

    Also, the reverse dictionary technique applies very well in both instances. It’s rather difficult to think in English and translate those English thoughts into Polish. Sure, that’s how it starts, but it’s better to eventually learn to think in Polish in the first place.

    Same goes for online forums/social networks (Quora comes to mind). “How can I translate my message into Facebook speak?” is the wrong approach. As a PR guy who dove into social media fairly early, I often heard folks in my profession lamenting 140 character limits and the type of content found on Twitter. After all, a press release can’t fit in that space and Twitter folks need to hear what I have to say! PR/marketing pros have come a long way since then with regards to social media, but we must stay immersed in order to keep up with a way of communicating that evolves even more quickly than Japanese or Polish.


    Nate Long

  • http://diyblogger.net/about Dino Dogan

    As a long time educator and a student of languages I cant even begin to tell you how important and on the money these lessons are.

    Also, I cant tell you how many people simply dont know these lessons. So thank you for shining a light.

    btw…the line “Where is the bath house?” killed me rotflmao

  • http://www.brandontwyford.com BrandonTwyford

    Thanks Nate – good point about the language of social media evolving faster than Japanese or Polish…it really changes daily! If you keep trying to “learn” about what’s going on before trying something new, you’ll never keep up. Best to keep jumping in fresh every day.

  • http://www.brandontwyford.com BrandonTwyford

    Glad you liked the post Dino. Yeah, the Lonely Planet phrase book said “ofuro wa doko desu ka?” which literally translates into “where is the bath house?” “Ofuro” meaning “spa” or “bath.” I kept asking the same thing, not getting why no one was understanding me. I finally had to make a peeing gesture before they all went “ahhh…toilet!” Ironic that the word for toilet in Japanese is toilet. Thanks Lonely Planet.

  • http://twitter.com/mqtodd Michael Q Todd

    Nice one Brandon. Have done around 9 years in Japan. You picked it up in 6 months? You are way more clever than me. Having said that my daughter when 3 years old suddenly jumped one day from English to Japanese after about 3 weeks at a nursery school. She has never used English since. Social Media is a bit like how kids learn languages.You have to throw away everything you have learned about traditional marketing

  • http://www.brandontwyford.com BrandonTwyford

    Hey Michael, I like that analogy. Being open and receptive to new things like a child learning a new language seems like a nice way to approach life in general.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tsuchong Chan Tsu Chong

    I think it has alot to do with one’s personality as well.

    For a structured, perfectionist and OCD person like me, would prefer to read much on the theoritical parts first before trying it out. Also, we need at least some knowledge on the basic principles as a starting point (on a side note: happen to know any articles on this topic?)

    But i agree – the best way to learn is to immerse. I just need to learn to be less OCD!

  • http://www.brandontwyford.com BrandonTwyford

    Hi Chan,

    Thanks for your comments. Your learning style definitely has a tremendous amount to do with how you learn something. For me, I realized I need to just “jump in” to something to really start getting it. I also agree that a solid understanding of the fundamentals is necessary to learning anything – that’s why I wrote in the post: “A certain amount of savvy and a knowledge base help to get you started on the right foot, of course, but at some point, you’ve gotta just dive in.”

    Thanks again for stopping by!

  • http://lighthouse-insights.blogspot.com/ Prasant Naidu

    You can spend ages reading books and following others but unless u try out yourself you will never know how it works. practical or on job knowledge is the best way. Same with sm, you may read new case studies but you need to do it as sm is all about experimenting and finding out what works for u. Simple and an awesome post :)

  • http://lighthouse-insights.blogspot.com/ Prasant Naidu

    time for lonely planet to get updated. they can pick one of their guys and tell hey this is the book now travel the world and update us where our book goes wrong and where its fine. real time service :)

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