Mission: Japanese 9/8/2013

Current level: A1ish

My introduction to Japanese in one way or another was Pokémon as a kid. Of course it was in English, but that show and the kid craze it spawned was what got me into anime, which got me into turning off the dubbing and turning on the subtitles, and so on and so forth. And seeing Japanese characters (script), I never tried to make sense of them; they were like part of the artwork and part of the anime culture I was absorbing. Most Americans will verify that they are terrified of Eastern languages – and when I say that, I mean it as a statement of fact, despite the fact that I’m guessing they would be equally terrified of any non-Latin script language – and I would definitely have included myself in that category. Anything non-Latin alphabet looked like scribbles that I assumed would always and could be nothing but scribbles to me.

With the right resources, for free at that, some simple associations, and engagement of short and long term memory, I learned how to read and write hiragana and katakana in about a month. Now, I could have learned it faster if that was what I wanted, so don’t take that time table to heart. I also learned to read most of the Hindi devanagari script in a night, and that’s no simpler or more difficult.

I mean, I also have a bit of a side mission in Mandarin Chinese, and just looking at sentences elicits a natural terror in me, but I’m honestly not sure if that is because I haven’t found great resources yet to explain how the script works or because I haven’t put enough time in. Japanese is comparatively easier in this sense; I knew to start with kana, the phonetic building blocks, and move into kanji and grammar afterwards.

So, Japanese writing is no longer scribbles to me, even if at the moment the vast majority of Mandarin is. And that fact alone is amazing to me, because for so long I and everyone around me had settled into a JUST ENGLISH FOREVER (AND MAYBE A LITTLE SPANISH OR FRENCH BUT ALL ELSE IS SCARY) mentality.

The next big hurdle staring at me in the face is getting out from behind my books and Memrise and chat boxes and in front of the Skype camera. Since most of my studying to begin with is based on reading and writing, speaking and listening is a (necessary) feat of a different color. I can read some French with fair basic comprehension, and write it and get my point across for the most part, but that communication tanks when I get in front of a person. I distinctly remember being in high school and my mother bringing a French co-worker home and introducing us since I was studying the language in school. I tried to say something, but there was absolutely no recognition at all in her face, and I was so embarrassed I gave up.

Soon I will try once again to overcome this fear by just jumping in; I will be speaking via Skype with a native Japanese speaker, and write about it sometime after the fact.

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