Rajiotaiso

So I’ve learned something very interesting about Japanese culture.

Every day at around 6 AM, they put exercise music on the radio, and have a prescribed set of exercises everyone in the country does.  Sensei told us that children, even in the summer, go to the park and do the exercises, and get a sticker, which they can redeem at the beginning of school for a prize.

So, naturally, sensei had the brilliant idea to have us do the exercises in class.

I did not.  I stood up and halfheartedly waved my arms for five seconds, and then just stood there feeling like a fish out of water while everyone else flailed around.

I’ll take the grade hit, if there is one.  She found my limit.

It’s an interesting cultural phenomenon, for sure.  But I’m a gaijin.  I’m learning about Japanese culture, but it’s not my culture.  I wasn’t brought up with that, and I don’t have to do it.  So I won’t.

But I think I understand why Japanese do.  Not only is the common health very important to them, but it’s a shared ceremony, which is something my country doesn’t have enough of.  So perhaps it is rather telling of me that when given the opportunity (or even obligation) to participate in such a ceremony, even at work, I consistently refuse.

This is something I certainly need to dig into – it’s as if I am completely incapable at the moment of doing anything that might make me a part of a group, even a little.

But it is what it is.  It’s an interesting Japanese cultural artifact, for sure.  But the more I learn about Japanese culture, the more certain I am that I will never, ever set foot there.  Which, again, leads to the obvious question of why I’m bothering to learn it at all.

I still don’t know.

That is all.

To class or not to class, that is the question

I have decidedly, and solidly, mixed feelings about Japanese class.

On the one hand, I have found it of some value.  I was finally able to get my hiragana and katakana very solid, which is something I was missing, I learned things like telling time, and I took away things that were definitely of value to me in my ongoing studies.  In that sense, I don’t really regret it.

In another sense, though, I regret it very much.  I’m trying to take these classes while holding down a full time job, many of the students there are literally old enough to be my children (and a couple are, if my hypothetical children and I were particularly irresponsible, old enough to be my grandchildren), and to be quite frank, the curriculum is not oriented towards adult continuing education.  We just spent a week or two talking about our college major, and I have a full time job.  I only have a college major on paper, and I don’t think that’s happening.  So I ended up having to just call myself 一年生 (first year) and just be done with it.  That really made me feel like I was an outsider.

Even though I pretty obviously am, for many reasons.

For that reason, I’m seriously considering taking a break from Japanese II and just studying on my own for a while.  I have a much better foundation now to know what I’m missing, I have a textbook and workbook I can play in that seems to be somewhat effective, and if I study I think I can get most of what I get from class without the structure.  That said, they do have online or hybrid classes, so I’m considering taking that instead, maybe it will be a little less stressful than having to go to class twice a week.  Either way, I have about a month more to get through this, and then I think something’s going to have to change.  It was a valuable experience in some ways, a stressful and painful experience in others, and regardless, I think something will need to be different next semester.  I don’t think it’s working as is.

 

私はなぜ日本語を勉強しますか

私は1年から日本語を勉強しました。難しいと面白いでした。九月からクラスで勉強しました。今は難しいです。でもなぜ知りません。

日本語は楽しすけどオースチンであまち日本人ありません。オースチンの日本語は私と日本語を話ません, 多分私はいい日本語を話ませんから。多分日本人忍耐ありません、でも多分私はばかです。

多分止まれ日本語を勉強します。知りません。でも私は恥ずかしい日本語を話ますてばか感じます。多分すぐ知りますなぜ日本語を勉強しっています。でも今は落胆したします

 

This should be easy.

Here’s the thing about Japanese:  It should be easy.  It’s not really a hard language, to be honest.  It seems like one, but that’s only because I feel we approach it in exactly the wrong way.  If you try to memorize it, you’ll kinda fail, or it’ll be at least a lot harder than it needs to be.

The trick to learning Japanese is to accept it for exactly what it is, and leave all of your English preconceptions at the door.  Japanese is difficult only because we can’t let go of what we know.

Kanji is something almost but not entirely unlike anything in the English language, and this is because the meaning of each symbol, and the use and pronunciation of the symbol, are almost neatly divorced from each other.  We’re taught early on that kanji can have a multitude of different pronunciations, and that becomes very intimidating very fast.  That’s because we’re treating it like an alphabet, like hiragana or katakana or even romaji, and it isn’t one.  A kanji is a meaning upon which a word is built, and that’s all it is.

It’s not the kanji you have to memorize.  It’s the words.  Because here’s the not-so-dirty little secret of kanji:  the pronunciation of a kanji is always exactly the same when it’s in a word .  Even if it has eight different pronunciations on its own, that doesn’t matter – the pronunciation never changes when it’s a part of a word.

So you can have 生まれ (umare), which means something like “time of birth”, and 先生 (sensei), which means “teacher”.  Both contain the same kanji, which means roughly “life” or “birth”, but the kanji are used in two different ways, and have two different pronunciations.  If you just memorize the kanji, you’ll be utterly confused.  If you memorize the word, and accept that the kanji is pronounced differently each time, then you might have a bit more to learn but you will not be confused.

You can even end up with the same kanji twice pronounced differently in the same word, such as 日曜日 (nichiyoubi, or Sunday).  Just let go of the fact that they’re the same kanji.  It’s that much easier in the end.

Sometimes the kanji is itself a word.  Fine.  Then it has its own pronunciation in that case (kun-yomi), memorize it as a word, and move on.  But don’t then assume that that has anything to do with how it’s used in any other word.  Because it doesn’t.  It can, (such as 本 and 日本) but that’s more the exception than the rule.

This is the trap of learning Japanese.  Trying to understand it in terms of your language.  You can’t.  It’s different.  Accept the differences for what they are, and move on.

 

One third through…

Tomorrow is the first of four big tests in Japanese class (there are three tests and a final exam).  I must say that I’m dreading it, even though I’m pretty sure I have a lot of it down.  I wonder if it’s enough.

Last week I was sick with a cold and I hardly studied at all.  I rather miss being able to study at my own pace, and I’m not entirely sure that the structure is helping me.  It’s not hurting, don’t get me wrong!, but I feel like in some ways I was learning more when I was just studying on my own, though I didn’t know what I didn’t know.  Which means I was missing some important things, like how to tell time, etc.

Our sensei doesn’t waste time – the class moves at a breakneck speed (as classes go) and people are dropping like flies.  We started with 13 or 14 people, and last night there were seven.  A few were out for whatever reason, but I wouldn’t do that unless I had no choice, because missing even one class could set one back irreparably.  That, I guess, is what I don’t like about class.  You learn a lot but you’re always on a knife’s edge unless you really overstudy, and who has time for that?

Where I’m not satisfied is that I am very bad, still, conversationally.  I need to figure out how to address that.  I may even invest in some private tutoring just to find someone who will have a conversation with me without judgement.

I know what I want to do with Japanese – at least one thing – once I become conversational in it, but I’m not there yet, and I’m kind of chomping at the bit.

Proceeding Apace

Japanese class is proceeding apace.  It is going at a rather breakneck speed.  To be quite honest, if it hadn’t been for the fact that I’d studied ahead for a year, I’d be sunk.  Many students seem to be.  It’s been, what, four weeks now?  And we’ve already covered all of hiragana and are finishing up katakana now.

I don’t think all students are going to make it out of the class unscathed, to be honest.

I have noticed something odd, though.  I am able now to carry on simple conversations with Japanese speakers.  Nothing too complicated, and about half the time I can’t understand them until they slow down, but I am now able to carry on a conversation.  So that is absolutely a positive.  But that’s not the odd thing.  The odd thing is that whenever I speak to a Japanese person or practice Japanese with any intensity, for about two hours afterwards, whenever I say something in English, I’m also saying it in my head in Japanese.  There have been several times when I have almost (or have!) said “arigatou gozaimasu” to someone who has no idea what the heck I’m talking about.  I’m not sure if it’s cool or frustrating, but it’s very much unexpected.

I guess that’s good practice, in an odd way.

Hiragana isn’t that hard.  Katakana is a little harder.  Switching between them is hella difficult – I have to really think about it when switching between writing systems (when taking a quiz, etc).  Grammar isn’t that hard, but constructing the grammar from whole cloth on the fly is really difficult.  I need to find an effective way to practice.  There is a tutor over at the Northridge campus, I’m going to impose on some of his time for conversation.

Onwards and upwards!

The Most Important Thing

Every now and then, I take a step back and try to reassess where I am and what I’m trying to accomplish, but even more importantly, how to get where I want to be. And frankly, there’s a lot of noise, and not much of it is helpful.

I’m on several sites. Each one of which claims that they all I’ll need to get fluent, which is essentially a lie with a little bit of truth. But they only teach the mechanics. Even if I were to be fluent mechanically, I’d only be speaking Japanese with an American “accent”, so to speak.

No, I think the most important thing is to let go of my American preconceptions and try to understand how the Japanese language works to a Japanese person. And maybe that’s the hardest thing of all, because I’m not one. But that’s probably the essence of learning any language – just doubly important in Japanese because it’s so different.

How, though, is perhaps the toughest question, short of going all in and moving to Japan.