Thursday, March 30, 2017

Oboeyou Nihongo (GO!) Nihongo(GO!)

My mom and all of her siblings served Spanish-speaking missions for the LDS church. My aunt married a man she met on her mission in the Dominican Republic. Between the family connections and growing up in Texas and Utah, and it made sense to start learning Spanish in school, which I started doing in 7th grade. I advanced to Spanish AP by junior year in high school and passed the AP test at the end of the year. I loved learning a new language and culture. With one year left in high school, I wanted to start learning a new language. My school also offered German (which didn't appeal to me), French (seemed to similar to Spanish to interest me), and Japanese. I also had the opportunity to apply for a Sterling Scholar award as a senior, and I thought my best shot would be in Foreign Languages. Committees look favorably on multi-lingual applicants, and I knew Japanese was different enough from Spanish to be interesting to me and look good on my award application (and future college applications).

So, for my senior year of high school, I took Japanese I and absolutely loved it - the language, culture, food, and everything. I did well in the class (until I got to learning katakana and was suffering from senioritis) and won the school level Foreign Language Sterling Scholar award. (It goes on to region and state level, but my Japanese wasn't good enough for that, which was totally fine.) I was amused that I would come out of class thinking in Spanish, but I still managed to retain some Japanese. 

It was because of this class that when the Navy said we were moving to Japan that I was thrilled! Unfortunately, not having practiced it for more than a decade, I had lost a lot of it. I could remember how to pronounce it, a handful of vocabulary and grammar, and a little bit of hiragana. I started reviewing it before our move, but it wasn't until we arrived here that I really started diving in. 

Now, I'm using Mango Languages through my library in Virginia. I do a lesson every day, and I participated in their 31 Days of Language challenge in January for extra enrichment. Of course, I'm practicing any time I'm out in town, listening to train announcements, conversing when I can, and reviewing hiragana on signs. I also recently took a 10 week course through our Fleet and Family Services office with classes held once a week. I also just ordered a few new workbooks, but I haven't started them yet. All of these methods have their strengths and weaknesses, but, for me, they're working very well together and I'm able to use things I have learned from all of them.

I'm happy to say that it's getting better everyday! I'm gaining vocabulary and grammar and, most importantly, confidence. I love knowing what's going on around me and solving language mysteries. Sometimes it's nice to not know what's going on - it's hard to get overwhelmed with information overload if you can't read or hear the language. That is still possible, since I can't understand everything, but when I can understand, it's a win! I sound a little bit like a primary school kid when I try to read and sound things out, but it's progress! For example, I may not understand what time it is when a train is announced, but at least I know it's a time!

Recently, we had a regional conference for church and everything was translated into both languages. The meetings were wonderful, of course, but I spent a lot of time listening to the language. If the talk or announcement was in Japanese first, then I tested myself. I also tried to sing the hymns in Japanese by reading the hiragana in the hymnbook. I also learned that the construction for words like "Nephite" - Nefijin - is the same as the word for American - Amerikajin. Basically, people of _______. Makes sense!

A few things are just automatic now - Good morning (ohayo gozaimasu), Thank you (arigatou gozaimasu), Excuse me (sumimasen). I'll even say "Sumimasen" on base or to an American. It's just what comes out now.

My new goal, as of yesterday, is to be able to read this book that I found wandering through a honya (bookstore). It's about pandas going to an onsen (a Japanese public bath using natural hot springs) and I about died when I started peeking through the pages and landed on the one below.


Of course, I bought it. It will be awhile, if ever, that I can read novels in Japanese, but I should be able to handle picture books!

My biggest win recently was ordering dessert on Monday for a Relief Society (women's ministry) dinner on Tuesday. I went to a cream puff shop that I just found and asked if they spoke English. They said no in the Japanese way (by saying "Uhhh" and looking concerned, not by directly saying "no"). And then, using Google Translate, I asked if I could order 40 in advance. They said yes and the rest of the conversation happened with the vocabulary I knew!

"Yonjyu. Ashita. Gojihan?"  "40? Tomorrow? 5:30?"

And then she wrote down the order and 17:30. And I said "Onamae - Amanda" "Name - Amanda"

So it wasn't complete sentences, but it worked! I went back yesterday and they were ready for me, as arranged. 

And they were delicious. I had the chocolate one - it was cookies and cream filled! 

The lyric title comes from this amusing video that I understand better every time I watch it, and it's just adorable.  Maybe soon I'll be able to understand all of it!


The key for me is just to keep practicing and, eventually, when my brain starts searching for a word in Japanese, maybe it won't give me the Spanish one first. It's nice to know I haven't totally lost my Spanish yet though!

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