[The American Years]

Friday, September 01, 2006

Greetings from Japan, where drinking your morning coffee from what you and I would consider a juicebox is a perfectly acceptable and dare I say delicious option!

In Japan, as you may have heard, they speak a foreign language.

I have decided that it would be in my best interest to learn a few words of it, since I’m living here and working for a Japanese company and all. Working knowledge might come in handy in case I ever have to order a beer, or having succeeded in that, find a restroom.

Japanese is the language they’ve decided to speak over here, and I guess it was an obvious choice, since it has the word ‘Japan’ right in the name of the language.

Learning Japanese, like any language, isn’t easy. Certain things are, like the vowel sounds. There’s just 5. Compare that with English and its dozens, and it seems easier. Japanese also has only about 50 single-syllable sounds that make up all words. Like, ah - ee - uu -- eh -- oh ; kah -- kee -- kuu -- keh -- koh, and so on.

The problem is that when people run a bunch of those syllables together, you have no idea when one word stops and the next word starts. And so it is terrifically confusing to pick up things in conversation.

In my 10+ years working for a Japanese company I have only picked up a handful of phrases and words. Unfortunately the majority of them involve beer and bathrooms.

Coming here for this extended term I was hoping that I would get enough vocabulary that I would turn a corner. I would turn the corner where I could listen to someone speak, and be able to understand 75% of what they say, so that the other 25% would become understandable, and therefore learnable from context.

Sadly I have not turned the corner yet. That corner will be a long slow curve, I fear. I can listen to someone speak, and have no idea if they said “haki mo nomi masu“ or “ha kimono mimasu“. (Neither of which make any sense but you get the idea.)

It’s like every sentence in their spoken language can be misinterpreted, along the lines of “Excuse me while I kiss the sky” vs. “Excuse me while I kiss this guy.”

Get this. There can be such confusion along these lines that many Japanese TV shows use subtitles. These are Japanese TV shows starring Japanese people speaking Japanese to other Japanese people, and the intended audience is completely Japanese. The subtitles of course, are also Japanese, but they include the kanji (Chinese character alphabet), so the audience knows what the people meant when they say 25 syllables in a row at blazing speed. If they say “Ni hon” they could mean two books, two bottles, or the country of Japan itself.

The subtitles would be great for me the student of Japanese, except that of the thousands of kanji out there, I know about 50, and the people on TV never use those 50. The 50 kanji I know are the numbers (yes, 1,2,3,4,5 is just too easy so there are different characters for those), the days of the week, and then the rest are those having to do with (what else) beer and bathrooms!


In case you forgot, here is confirmation that the Thomas family can be silly. At times downright foolhardy.


Japanese proverb:
Knowledge without wisdom is a load of books on the back of an ass.

1 comment:

Mrak Tohmas said...

Oh my! What a great shot. The look on your face Eric is how I felt every time I drove in Japan.