January 27, 2008

Intensive Study-- Intensified Experience

A few months ago I started formal Japanese studies-- a textbook, teacher and weekly classes-- after three years in Japan. This was a mistake-- not the studies, but the wait. The best way is to jump into learning a language as soon as you arrive-- as I did with Spanish and Chinese-- but I failed to do with Hindi-- during the five years I was in India-- and now, Japanese.

Trying to make up for my lack with a big push, I'm now past chapter three in my thirty-chapter Japanese textbook. I recently started carrying all my Japanese books with me everywhere to build up my muscles... well, not actually. The truth is that it's to help me to be less embarrassed when I have to face my teacher each week.

Besides avoiding humiliation, I've discovered that when I'm studying, people who would usually not speak to me, often do. On three successive train trips I've sat across from young persons on the train who asked how my studies were going and were glad to help as I struggled to read and pronounce my Japanese assignments.

An older couple joined one conversation-- first the wife, commenting in a mixture of English and Japanese-- and then her husband began making comments to her in Japanese like, 'How many of those 'ABC' things do they have in English?' 'Twenty-six', she told him. 'So few!' he responded, 'It must be difficult for them to learn ours.'

And it is! Forty-six phonetic characters duplicated in two sets-- one principal set and a second set mostly for foreign words and emphasis--like italics. There is also a third set which uses our 'ABC's to approximate the sounds of Japanese.

Besides these, there are thousands of ideographs, each one representing a word-- object, action etc. At the top of this post, the first two ideographs mean Japan, and the third, language.

See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_writing_system

And the grammar!-- If it wasn't for learning Chinese tones, I'd say for certain that Japanese was the more difficult of the two languages... but back to my conversations.

I gave the first person I met my email address on the back of a small flyer called, 'Professionals'. She seemed especially interested-- saying that she was studying to be an occupational therapist, and adding that her sister is handicapped.

I suggested that life's difficulties can help us to become kinder and more unselfish. I pointed her to the tract, which says that we all want to excel in whatever we do-- be professionals-- and, importantly, that with God's help, we can all be 'love professionals'.

I further explained, 'Kamisawa aidesu [God is Love]' and 'Anatao aiteshiteimasu [He loves you]'. I invited her to repeat a prayer, accepting God's love, forgiveness, His gift of eternal life-- and His power to be a 'love professional'-- which she did.

She then asked for my notebook and pen and wrote a few lines saying how glad she was to have met and had our conversation, and asked me to write her every day-- in Japanese-- so back to my studies! I'll keep you updated on my adventures in Japan and in Japanese-- Mata! [Later!]

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