My English Journey: Serious Study at Age 30

It’s been five years since I began seriously studying English. I’ve done a working holiday in Canada, attended the NCC Comprehensive English Academy, and am now developing a language learning app. For five years, English learning has been at the center of my life.

I’ll share how I became engrossed in English and my learning journey over these five years. I hope you enjoy it as a story. Let’s start with the trip to America that sparked my English learning.

Off to America

At 29, I traveled to California, USA. At that time, I was working as a programmer but feeling unfulfilled. Questions like, “Is it okay to enter my 30s like this?” and “What do I truly want to do?” weighed on me. One vague future dream was to work as a programmer in Silicon Valley. So, I traveled to see it for myself.

The moment I stepped out of the airport and onto American soil, I felt incredibly excited. I took my first Uber ride, which was different from taxis in Japan because it offered ride-sharing. This meant other passengers were in the car with me, making the fare much cheaper, albeit with a slightly longer trip.

In the Uber, the driver and passengers eagerly talked to me, asking where I was from and if it was my first time in America. I could understand their questions but could only respond with single words. Conversations quickly dwindled due to my poor English, making me wish to reach my destination faster.

I stayed in an Airbnb, which was another new experience since services like Uber and Airbnb weren’t available in Japan at the time. I rented a room in a house, with the owner living in another room. The owner was friendly and used Google Translate to communicate with me. Though I wanted to talk more, I lost confidence and never initiated conversation or shared meals with the owner during my five-day stay.

Visiting the Big Tech Companies

The main goal of my trip was to visit the headquarters of Apple, Google, and Meta (then Facebook). Each company was impressively large, especially Google, which left a lasting impression. There were photo spots with Android mascots, a souvenir shop, and even tours of the GAFA headquarters.

Inside Google, there were colorful bikes for employees to travel between offices, countless cafes where everything was free, and employees working on benches outside. Their attire was notably plain, mostly gray or black t-shirts, often worn out at the neck.

I explored Google’s campus for about an hour but couldn’t cover even half of it. I vowed to return as an employee next time and left the headquarters with renewed determination.

All my travel was via Uber, and though I still couldn’t converse much, one kind driver spoke slowly, allowing me to have a 30-minute conversation. On my last night, I moved to LA and stayed in a lodge, where I met and bonded with other young travelers, including a friendly Asian woman who loved Japan. We spent the day visiting a nearby museum, speaking a mix of English and Japanese, which was the highlight of my trip.

Working Holiday

On my way home from the airport, I researched working holidays, wanting to act on my newfound motivation before it faded. At 29, I had limited time since most working holiday programs are for those under 30. I decided on Vancouver, Canada, because it was close to California.

The day after returning to Japan, I applied for a Canadian working holiday visa and quit my job. Six months later, I left for Canada.

During the six months before leaving, I did minimal studying: 30 minutes of online English lessons daily and weekend grammar review. I believed I’d manage once there.

I didn’t have a fixed place to stay in Canada. I booked an Airbnb for the first week to find lodging while there, avoiding the high costs of pre-arranged rentals. I wanted to immerse myself in English and chose a lodge in Squamish, two hours from Vancouver, to minimize Japanese interactions.

With about 2.5 million yen saved, I planned to spend the first six months focusing on English and work part-time later.

Lodge Life

Lodge life was rough. Sharing a room with seven others, noisy nights, and feeling out of place during shared kitchen conversations. I quickly fell into self-loathing for avoiding interactions.

Daily, I studied alone in the library, took three online English lessons, and watched Netflix at McDonald’s until midnight, all methods I could have used in Japan. Stress and exhaustion peaked after two weeks, and I left the lodge, forfeiting the remaining rent. I moved back to Vancouver, staying in a private room Airbnb, and planned my next steps.

I realized I needed a private space and decided to attend a language school for three months, despite initial reluctance. I joined a school with a mix of nationalities and enjoyed sharing struggles and goals with classmates. The constant exposure to English boosted my listening skills, though speaking remained challenging.

I started writing daily English journals, which a teacher corrected, making the process enjoyable. Living in a shared house with a Korean student, a Japanese woman, and an Irish man, I learned a lot, particularly from the respectful and disciplined Irish roommate.

Meetup Events

I participated in language exchange and conversation events found on Meetup, despite initial anxiety. These events were held in cafes, providing opportunities to practice English. While Japanese women were popular among foreign men, I found little attention as a Japanese man.

Despite the challenges, consistent participation led to respect from event hosts and eventual invitations to social activities, making my Canadian life more fulfilling.

After Language School

Post-school, I struggled to find a job, failing multiple cafe applications due to limited English. I also attempted programming jobs but failed interviews due to language barriers, feeling the mental strain of rejection.

I finally secured a remote programming job with a Japanese company, working during the day and studying or attending Meetups in the evening. Friends I made at school gradually left, deepening my loneliness.

Realizing I didn’t need to stay in Canada for this lifestyle, I spent four months working and traveling across different countries. Eventually, I returned to Japan after a year abroad, with improved listening skills and reduced fear of speaking English.

Studying at NCC

Back in Japan at 30, I pursued my dream of working in America, continuing my English studies at the NCC Comprehensive English Academy in Shinjuku. The school offered intensive courses with substantial homework, and I thrived in this environment.

I spent two years at NCC, significantly improving my English through rigorous assignments and speaking practice. I learned the importance of short-term goals in language learning, maintaining high motivation.

Creating LangJournal

At 33, married with a child, my goals shifted. I wanted to focus on work and stay in Japan until my child grew older. I used my programming skills to develop the LangJournal app, a free diary correction tool inspired by my own learning experiences.

LangJournal has been out for a year, continuously improving with user feedback. Though not yet profitable, I aim to grow its user base and sustain my living through its development. I continue to study English daily, aiming to speak it more fluently and make LangJournal widely used.

This concludes my English learning journey. I hope to share more successes in the future.

For more information, visit LangJournal.