Japanese: Off The Rails

This has not been an easy week for me. The combination of over a day of no power, several days of no water, being stuck in with literally nowhere to go and nowhere to get there even if I wanted to, because of six to nine inches of snow – gives me a lot of time to think. Or try to avoid thinking.

This blog has gone off the rails. I’m not apologizing for it because it’s my blog and if I want it to go off the rails I’m perfectly well within my rights to do so. I appreciate everyone who reads this blog, but I owe them absolutely nothing. I write because I want to, you read because you want to, you either comment or you don’t, you follow or you don’t, and at the end of the day that’s just how it works.

But it’s still gone off the rails. Truth be told, I’ve been avoiding Japanese. I’ve been avoiding studying it, I’ve been avoiding thinking about it, I’ve mostly been avoiding practicing it. I couldn’t even have told you why. As I mentioned, I understand far more about why I started to learn it, but I couldn’t tell you so much about why I have been continuing to try to learn it.

Today my Japanese teacher, very nicely, fired me, at least for the short term.

Oh, I’m not offended, and I’m not complaining. Sensei believes that they are not the right teacher for me, and while I’m not sure I agree, I see the point. Sensei teaches out of yookoso and the kanken books, and those are completely useless to me. I’ve been trying to make it work, and quite frankly, it hasn’t been working. Sensei is perhaps wiser than I in opening the conversation where I would have kept pushing.

But why isn’t it working? I think it’s because I’ve been learning words, and grammar points, and all sorts of interesting ways to put different Japanese things together – but I don’t understand how it works, and sensei is absolutely right that they are not the right person to do a deep dive into that. I want to understand why the rules are what they are, how they came to be what they are, to take Japanese down to its component parts and put it back together again. Almost everything that’s really useful I have not learned from sensei. It’s not sensei’s fault! It’s just that there’s a way one teaches, and a way one learns, and sometimes they don’t match.

For example, I found a book today called “unlocking Japanese”, and it taught me far more than I’ve learned before, because of two things. First, it went into the “why”, and second and far more important, it went into how thinking about Japanese from an English perspective doesn’t really work. Oh, sure, you gotta bootstrap into it, but you can’t think in Japanese when you don’t even have the right words for the functioning of parts of speech!

For example, it taught me what the function of “ga” is, and why it is the most important particle – and the particle without which any sentence cannot exist, even if it’s not actually in the sentence. Who would have taught me that? No one has, I guess. Not anyone’s fault. It’s just, this is how I learn.

So I need to rethink whether I want to continue with Japanese. I think the answer is yes. But I also think I want to dig deep and figure out why things are the way they are. Why are kanji structured like they are? Why do some adjectives have the sounds that they have? So many questions that no one has yet answered.

Will this blog go back on the rails? I dunno. Maybe. Maybe not. But I will post about interesting things I find. About Japanese, and otherwise.

2 thoughts on “Japanese: Off The Rails

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