Nov 12, 2006

"Je ne parle pas de Japonais."

A few days ago I went into a video game store. Whilst the titles were in Roman script, the rest was Greek to me.
Yesterday, British Girl showed me where the manga is. Of course, I could read none of it.
I must learn Japanese.
Sure, there's practical considerations. I'd like to be able to, say, interact with the world around me on a daily basis and do all sorts of practical stuff, but having lots of sweet looking comics and video games dangled in front of me is quite the carrot. You here that? "Awesome video games" is more of a motivator to me than "going to the post office without an interpreter." Watashi wa huge geek.
So, I'm diving into studies. Japanese doesn't actually seem that difficult. The spoken language is fairly straightforward, none of the bajillion rules and exceptions that we have in English, and all of the phonetic sounds in Japanese also occur in English, so pronunciation is a breeze.
But the written language is a little daunting.
The two phonetic alphabets don't seem that bad. I'm picking up the hiragana and katakana fairly quickly, but the fact that there are two completely redundant phonetic systems seems a little weird to me. Ah well.
And then there are the Kanji.
The Kanji are also completely redundant. All of the phonetics of the Kanji can be made using just the Hiragana (and sometimes are), but there are a number of homonyms in Japanese that apparently the Kanji clarify is written language. Personally, eye love homonyms, and don't sea how this is much of a problem. But people tell me that the Kanji have all kinds of subtleties, so I'll just take their word for it.
One weird thing, that's happening, though, is that the latent part of my brain that knows some French has started to become active again. I suppose that French is what I think of when I think of "crazy non-English foreign talk," and thus it's started to surface.
Now, I hated French in high school. Not because of the subject matter, mind you, but because my teachers were real chiennes. They hated me. I hated them. I gained a subconcious hostility to learning foreign languages for quite a while. In fact, my antipathy towards foreign languages is part of the reason why I've got a B.S. in Political Science rather than a B.A.- I decided that calculus was far more bearable than ever having to take a foreign language course again.
I blame my evil French teachers.
Anyway...
Hip-Hop speaks a little French (about as much as me), and we've sometimes interpersed it with English and Japanese, mostly to drive our manager crazy. The Manager is actually a really cool guy, and speaks pretty good English, even though he's always putting himself down. Partly because of my bubbling up memories, and partly because of banter with Hip-Hop I've started mixing in French, sometimes unconciously, when I've tried to say stuff in Japanese. I think I've said "pardonnez moi," on the street instead of "sumi ma sen." I've actually said "bonjour" to people, and I think that a "c'est vrai" came out once. As you can see, I don't even speak that much French. We're talking bare-bones high school remnants here, but they're reappearing anyway. I thought that I'd left French on the regrettable slag pile of high school memories, but it's come back, somehow. I'm interested in it again, along with Japanese.
So, I had an hour or so between classes a few nights ago, and was out walking. I looked at the various signs, and tried to pick out the kana and kanji that I could recognize (not very much of it) and I was suddenly struck with a sort of epiphany: I will not die monolingual. I'm in Japan for a year, living in a different language environment, and you don't really get a better learning opportunity than that. I'm going to learn Japanese, dammit. And I'm going to take another look at French. Hey, if two year olds can learn languages, I can to.
I figure I'm 26, so I've got plenty of time to practice. And English, Japanese, and French would be a pretty wicked trifecta of languages to know. English and French together can get you almost anywhere in Europe, and there's no shortage of cool stuff in Japanese.
Yeah.
I can do this.

4 comments:

Eric said...

When I think back on all the crap I learned in High School, it's a wonder I can even think at all.

Sounds like a good project, and possibly useful. Plus, wouldn't it suck to say that you spent a year in Japan, and don't speak a word of it? Right now my project is to get Jouney's "Don't stop believin'" out of my head. And into Steph's. Mwa Ha Ha!

Sydneyej said...

The pedantic French major in me feels the need to point out that "Je ne parle pas de japonais" means (roughly) "I don't speak some Japanese." What's really impressive about this, though, is that you remembered the over-riding rule that is ignored in the case of this phrase: it's always pas de!

Japanese should be easier for you to learn now than French was in high school (and French should be easier now too) for another reason: part of why learning a second langauge is so hard the first time is because you're also learning how to learn a language at the same time that you're learning the language in question. But you've already learned that, as evidenced by the fact that picking up some Japanese has activated your latent French. It's information that's kept in the opposite side of your brain from your first language. Hey, if you become fluent in Japanese and then get hit in the head really hard, you could end up monolingual in your second language!! Whoa - did that totally blow your mind??

Sydney said...

Oh my God, you'll never believe what Pete pointed out! "Je ne parle pas de japonais" could also mean "I'm not speaking of Japanese," or "I'm not speaking about [the] Japanese [man]." I tell you, for a man whose study of French has been entirely informal as well as entirely train-station and menu oriented, he has an excellent grasp of grammar. ; )

Kori the tomorrow lady said...

I occasionally substitute my spanish for Japanese. The tango group I go to sometimes writes out Spanish in katakana and I can't figure it out for ages because it just looks all wrong!

nihongo gambatte!! it's totally totally worth it to study and get a bit of a grasp. I could go on and on about the rewards of knowing what the hell is going on around you. However, you will realize more people talk about you behind your back right in front of you (including students!!) more than you'd think. It freaks people out if you get good at Japanese.

I recommend asking your Jet to give you Sp3 lessons in Japanese and mastering the kana alphabets as soon as possible. There is a good kanji workbook, who's name is escaping me now, but level one is pink and level two is light blue. They are a bitch to start learning but you hit a good platue after you get about 150 under your belt. After that it really does get much easier.

you can do it.

or as the Japanese are wont to say.

come on!
come on!

(and no, it doesn't make sense in English. just in Engrish.