How did the skit turn out?

Pretty well.

The constraints were, we had to use introduction phrases, speak relatively fluently, and make sensei laugh.  So early on, we came up with the idea of a doctor and patient.  My partner was the doctor, and I was the patient.  I had not filled out the forms and she kept asking me questions while I asked for help.

The kicker was that the questions got more and more absurd the longer we went on.

Towards the end, she asked my cats’ names (Inoki Antonio, Abe Shinzo, Takahashi Minami, and Kaori Iida), and their birthdays, at which point I abruptly ended the interview by dying.

The biggest laugh was at the reveal of the cat names!

I threw in an easter egg, too.  When she asked for my address, I recited the address of the AKB48 theater.  I don’t think anyone in the class picked up on that.

I got an 88%.  So there’s that.  Even though I hated doing it with an utter passion.  My partner didn’t seem much happier with the assignment, so there’s that, too.  Frankly, that assignment is one of the major reasons why I’m not taking the next class, now, anyway.

After this class ends, I’m going to start studying for the N5.  Probably by studying Japanese to an N4 level so I can be sure I’m overprepared for the N5.  I hear that’s the best way to do it.

Still not sure why I’m learning Japanese but walking up to my boss and saying “今は医者にいきます” and seeing the utterly confused look on his face almost makes it worth it.

Kanji makes it easier?

One of the assignments given to us by sensei was to do a skit where we have to make up and memorize our lines.  I’m finding this very difficult and am rather annoyed by the whole idea.

Okay, “rather annoyed” is something of an understatement.  I’m closer to “royally pissed” on the scale, I think.

But it is what it is, and I have a partner I can’t let down, so here we go.

Anyway, as I’m studying, I have found that one of the biggest obstacles to my memorization of the words is the syllabic system.  No, seriously.  See, English letters are very different than Japanese syllables.  English letters sometimes do not have their own identity, and several letters blend together to make a syllable.  Even though there are 15,000 or so potential syllables, it’s really easy to see the words because the letters don’t really count for much by themselves.

With the syllabic systems – hiragana and katakana – that’s not really true.  While some vowels are unvoiced, entire syllables are never, and they have the same importance mechanically when recited (I said mechanically, not grammatically).  So if you can’t get out of the mindset of sets of hiragana/kanji/ofurigana being actual words and are stuck on the syllables, memorization and fluency becomes near impossible.  This is because you’re memorizing sets of syllables rather than words for themselves.

So kanji, while a formidable challenge in their own right, takes ones mindset off of the individual syllables and puts it on the words where it belongs.  There are some nasty rules when it comes to this as well – their pronunciation changes on a whim, depending on what the context is, but the pronunciation becomes secondary to the meaning of the word.  It’s still vitally important, obviously, but it’s what pulls you out of the syllabic mindset and into the word mindset.

The textbook I’m using starts with romaji, graduates to hiragana and katakana, and only then introduces kanji.  I absolutely understand why they do that – hitting students with kanji all at once would be incredibly intimidating – but I also think that level of intimidation might be the kick in the pants needed to understand that Japanese is fundamentally different from English.  What I mean is this:  if you exposed students to kanji from the very beginning and then had them start to swim out, maybe it would be easier to toss the conventions of English that we have a tendency to stick to for as long as possible, when they just don’t apply.

In fact, I think this is such an important concept that I created my own “study kanji”.  I have kanji now for desu, deshita, masu, mashita, deshouri, and a couple of others.  I’m also learning kanji for words like “iie” and “totemo”.  They’re only for my own use, of course, but the purpose of these is to focus my mind on the “wordness” of the words and particles, rather than what they’re composed of.  It seems to be bearing fruit.  Memorization has become much easier, at least when I have whole sentences to memorize.  Like I do for this kami-forsaken test.

Of course I will cuss myself out for that choice the minute I accidentally use them when I shouldn’t.  But it is what it is, I suppose.

Throwing in the towel?

I just took my second Japanese test at ACC.  And while I think I did okay at it, I’m feeling very discouraged and I’m very close to giving the whole thing up.

I am pretty good at remembering kanji, pronunciations, and grammar, but it all falls apart when I need to actually put together coherent sentences.  Perhaps I’m not getting enough practice, perhaps I’m just not good enough.  But I really feel as if I have about hit the limit of how well I’m going to do if I keep going the way I’m going now.

But I’m really embarrassed to speak it.  I feel like I’m not good enough to hold even a basic conversation and that everyone I attempt to speak to would rather I just didn’t, but I also know that there’s no way I’m going to get better unless I find people to speak with.  So I’m in a position right now where I don’t know why I’m learning it, I find it interesting but I don’t have a really persuasive reason to continue, and every time I attempt to speak with someone it just leaves me embarrassed.

So, why try?

I recognize that learning a language is grammar, etc., second, and exposure and familiarity first.  If I can’t find that, then there’s no point in wasting my time.

I’m certainly not throwing in the towel until this class is over, but after that, I don’t know.  I don’t have a reason.

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.

 

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.

 

Japanese Class: Day 5

Tonight was day five of the Japanese class I am attending at Austin Community College, and I have decidedly mixed feelings about it.

On the positive side, I am learning stuff, and I get to practice speaking a little.  And I am learning things I didn’t know.

On the negative side, it’s going very slow, and the process of learning is not in the way I learn the best.  Honest truth is, I do best when I’m exploring, and this is very structured and rigid.  I understand that that’s to be expected in a classroom setting, but I honestly wonder if it’s helping me move forward or if it’s holding me back.  And, honest truth is, I really don’t know!  I think it’s probably doing both at the same time – holding me back, at the same time it’s filling in the gaps brought on by teaching myself.  Maybe I need to resume my external studies just so I don’t feel held back, like I do at the moment.  Best of both worlds, with the cost being that of spare time.

I have other mixed feelings relating to having to spend time in a room with other people, but that’s just my misanthrope showing.  Sensei made that a lot harder today by having us draw lots to determine who our partner is going to be for the day.  I know that is going to bite me in the rear eventually.  But it is what it is.

But I’m in this class until it ends, I guess.  So I may as well see how it turns out.