Wednesday, May 21, 2008

My Japanese Is Better

I should be fluent in Japanese.  In a previous post, I mentioned that my mom is from Okinawa.  Other than counting to ten and saying "please" and "thank you", I didn't learn to speak my mom's native tongue.  It's something that she and I both regret to this day.  I've been studying the language for nine years now, but I'm nowhere near where I should be, which is fluent.  I'm fine when doing my homework or composing an e-mail to one of my cousins in Okinawa because I have time to think and access to my textbooks and dictionaries. But I'm worthless in situations where I'm put on the spot, such as during my lesson when my teacher asks me a question in Japanese!  

Every Wednesday morning my sensei (teacher) comes to my apartment and spends almost two hours teaching me one of the most complicated languages in the world.  She's a great teacher and a delightful person, so I often feel guilty that I'm such a bad student.  I love the Japanese language and want to excel at speaking and writing and comprehending it, but I lack that something that will make me more confident.  My month-long stay in Japan this September should help that.  Or at least the thought of spending a month in Japan will motivate me to buckle down and etch my weekly lessons into my brain.  

During the last couple of weeks, the class has been devoted to  sakura hanami, or cherry blossom viewing, Japan's main event in the spring.  After reading a passage in the textbook I'm about to finish, I was charged with the task of writing an essay about Japan's big craze of the fall, which is momijigari, or "hunting autumn leaves."  I love the imagery of the kanji (Chinese characters) for momiji: 紅葉.  Individually, the characters mean "red" and "leaf".  Isn't that nice?  If I have a free minute tomorrow, I'll post my essay.  In the meantime, I have a new homework assignment for next Wednesday: Describing the scenes in six pictures (all relating to sakura hanami) and brushing up on all 20 chapters of my textbook for a review.  I should've started learning Japanese 39 years ago!

A reader posted a comment to my previous entry and said something that I thought was very interesting.  He said that he doesn't know how to explain the way we (meaning native English speakers) say certain things in English to non-native speakers (in his case, to his Japanese friend).  I encounter that occasionally with my sensei, who speaks excellent English, and with my mom, who has lived in the States for more than thirty years.  Of course, I can't think of anything specific at this moment, but when I do, I'll post it here.

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