Saturday, December 27, 2008

Nihongo wa hanashimasu

[i speak japanese]

or at least I'm learning a few things.
I don't really speak enough Japanese to have a conversation, although I HAVE cobbled together a few ideas.

I've been to Japan a few times. They're a polite culture that nonetheless is finding cause for unpoliteness when it comes to us. I can provide you a few examples.

I met a couple of Japanese tourist girls at a bar in Honolulu and my friend Chris and I arranged for a date the next night. One of the girls knew a few english words and the other knew a few more, enough to express some ideas. I can't say I had a GREAT time on that date seeing how I was paired with the girl who knew very little english. Not much communication went on, I must say.

But these girls weren't unusual in knowing as much as they did. All of the Japanese people I've met have known a few words and phrases in english. Likewise when I was in Japan I made efforts to speak to them. I met a nice cab driver in Okinawa, he spoke enough english to understand me and he seemed surprised that I knew anything at all. He taught me my right and my left (migi to hidari)
On another occasion I ordered a cheeseburger from an American restaurant chain. The girl who had my table was probably the least capable english speaker on staff and was clearly struggling to explain that I was to pay for my check at the front of the restaurant.
I helped her out. "Cashu registeru ikimasu?" (go to the cash register?) and her face lit up. She LOVED it. She went straight to one of the other waitresses and told her what happened. I didn't understand what she was saying but I can guess.
"Oh my god he knows something in our language!"

I could've worked so much game there.

But I never could understand why it was such a big deal to them.

I'm sorry, let me make a correction to that statement.
I do understand why it's a big deal. It's rare for them to meet Americans who took the time to learn some of the language.
What I can't understand is; why would anyone go to Japan and NOT try to speak the language.

The cabbie and the waitress stories each occurred near a U.S. military base. There are a LOT of Marines, Air Force, and Navy personnel living within miles of these locations who come out to the restaurant expecting the locals to speak English for their benefit.

Can you imagine that in reverse? If some French tourists came into a restaurant in America and copped an attitude because no one speaks French?

So. One more story. Involved a few friends of mine.
They're out exploring in Sasebo, try to go into a small restaurant and the owner comes running up with his arms crossed in an 'X'. A clear signal that he doesn't want their business.
Another Japanese man on the street, just passing by mind you, he sees this happening and he pretty much goes ballistic. He starts yelling at the shop owner and the owner throws his hands up and the passer by starts waving to my buddies to come inside and eat.
But they're understandably not very interested anymore.

You see? What the shop-owner did is so rude by Japanese standards that a total stranger was willing to get into a fight with him to stop it, but I can't say that I blame them considering the way some of us act when we're over there.

I've got like, 10 different books on Japanese, 2 or 3 audio programs, 10+ bookmarked link and recently got my hands on a premium learning program.
In the last week I've been hitting the 'books' hard and I just watched my trusty old 'Love Hina' sub again to check my progress.
It's coming. There were a few times where I thought the translation could've been a little bit better, and that's a huge leap in cognition for me. There still will be huge walls of dialog that go in one ear and out the other but more often now I'm recognizing verb and adjective conjugations for what they are and recognizing perhaps that 'something' is being refuted even if I don't know what that something is.
This is good progress.

I'm excited. I feel like I'll always be an incomplete adult until I learn a second language and I know that the new grammar I've been adding will have an exponential effect in increasing my level of understanding.


Brian Barker said...

Hi Paul!

As far as learning another language, is concerned, can I put in a word for the international language, Esperanto?

Although Esperanto is a living language, it helps language learning as well.

Five British schools have introduced Esperanto in order to test its propaedeutic values. The pilot project is being monitored by the University of Manchester and the initial encouraging results can be seen at,%20S2L%20Phase%201.pdf
You might also like to see

Confirmation can be seen at

Paul said...

I think of Esperanto as a 'trophy' language. A feather in your cap if you hang out with the sort of people who know what it is but ultimately not very useful.

If I wanted a language that's not widely spoken I'd take Latin and enjoy the increased understanding of scientific terms.

If I wanted to impress geeks I'd learn Klingon or Sindarin.

Most important;
I find it extremely hard to believe that I could derive any benefit from halting my Japanese, even if I'm only at 20-30 percent of fluency right now, in favor of a language derived primarily from Slavic, Germanic, and Romance languages.
Propaedeutic values be damned!

IF it were my goal to be fluent in many languages I think I might find more value in learning Esperanto, especially if I were going to focus on European tongues or to study language itself.

But dude, I just like reading manga.