Archive for the 'Language' Category

The Cloths of Heaven

Sunday, October 2nd, 2016

Had I the heaven’s embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light;
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

— W. B. Yeats

Back to School

Sunday, January 26th, 2014

I am back to school and back to struggling with Japanese again.  The first class of the new term was terrible as I found it incredibly hard to understand the new grammar.  The lesson also contained about 200 new words that I did not know.  In my first few terms every new verb and noun was explained in class, but not any more.  Now that I am considered to be an intermediate student I am expected to go through all the class material in advance and look up the meaning of anything I don’t understand.  I am also allowed to use a dictionary in class.  This does mean that the classes progress faster as explaining every new verb in Japanese using words that we have been taught before is time consuming.  But it also means spending many more hours a day studying by myself.

I am managing to keep up with homework, kanji, essay writing, and grammar but I am not good enough at conversation.  I have a good memory, so I can memorize the weekly conversations we are expected to learn by heart, but my general conversation ability in class is low.  I have a disadvantage.  Everyone else in my class lives with someone who is a native Japanese speaker.  The women who sits beside me is Chinese and she only communicates in Japan in Japanese because her husband and his family don’t understand any Chinese.  I rarely communicate in Japanese and my fellow students were surprised to discover that I was not married to a Japanese man.  It seems that the only reasons they could come up with for a woman living in Japan for this long was that she was married to a Japanese man or that she taught English.  And since neither of these things is true for me I get to remain mysterious.  Aided by the fact I find it hard to explain my situation in Japanese so I don’t always try.

Today I am working on kanji.  This week’s kanji is much too difficult to remember as all the words are new and the concepts are a little confusing.  There are far too many ways to describe construction and building in Japanese.  Of course there are many ways in English too but today it’s Japanese I am sulking with.


Test Day

Friday, October 19th, 2012

Tests make me nervous.  I made a mistake during my test today in my haste to finish the horrible thing and to get rid of the nervous feeling.  I no longer feel nervous, now I just feel stupid.  Getting a question wrong because I don’t know the answer doesn’t bother me in quite the same way as actually knowing the answers and then writing them in the wrong spaces!  Hopefully I still pass.  I did forget how to spell a couple of words in Japanese and I need to come up with a better way to learn these.  I recognise the words when I see or hear them, but I don’t spend a lot of time writing in Japanese.  Typing is much easier as the computer helps by highlighting words if I make a mistake, or I will notice if the correct kanji aren’t available to me.  But typing doesn’t seem to be helping me improve my spelling.

I am getting braver in class.  I argued with my teacher for the first time today.  There was a question on my homework regarding the opening hours of the school, which I answered correctly.  It was marked wrong because the teacher actually wanted information on when I attended school, but that’s not what was asked.  It’s the first time I have tried arguing in Japanese and I wasn’t good at it, but I did get my homework remarked as the teacher did agree that there was nothing in the question about when I attended school and it really did just ask about the building.

I think I’m going to ignore Japanese tomorrow and start to study again on Sunday.

Language Practice

Monday, September 20th, 2010

I spent a couple of hours this morning practising my Japanese accent with my teacher.  I am working on a lightning talk for YAPC::Asia.  I don’t know if this talk will be accepted but even if it isn’t this is an interesting learning experience.  Usually it’s a text book that determines what I learn next and not something that I wrote myself.  This can lead to me learning about things that I never use in day to day life and, as a consequence, things I quickly forget.  The talk contains concepts that I actually want to be able to speak about.  With help from a friend I now know the correct way to say “Perl” and “YAPC” in Japanese.  And I also know how to talk about altering clothing.

I am having quite a few problems with my accent.  It’s not terrible when I am speaking normally but speaking in a loud voice amplifies every imperfection.  I am having problems with pitching and with some sounds.  The length of my vowels isn’t always correct and there are sounds that I find nearly impossible to say in combination.

I’m also having problems finding my voice in Japanese.  At times I sound overly girly.  I end up speaking in a higher pitched voice than usual because many Japanese woman have high pitched voices.  It works, in a Japanese context, but my teacher can’t imagine me sustaining it for 5 minutes.  If my voice becomes too low I apparently sound scary and not friendly enough.  I’m not sure where my real voice is hiding but I need to find it before the middle of October.

Learning Kanji

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

My teacher told me this morning that I need to learn another 52 kanji before the exam in early December.  She believes that I can learn 4 per lesson.  4 doesn’t sound like a lot but today we worked really hard and it took 30 minutes per kanji.  Each kanji can have more than one way to pronounce it and more than one meaning.  As well as understanding it I need to be able to draw it.  Some are simple like “katana 刀”, or complicated like “kazu 数”.

The 4 kanji took up my whole lesson.  This gave me no time to work on the other parts of the exam and, given that kanji is only 25% of what I need to know, this is not going to be a winning strategy.

The other problem with learning Japanese through kanji is that they are not always relevant to my daily life, making them difficult to remember.  Today I spent 30 minutes discussing Japanese swords.  We didn’t have problems when discussing katana, the Japanese swords, but my teacher’s English is not good enough for her to know the difference between daggers, blades, and knifes.  This means getting out dictionaries and trying to find sentences that adequately describe the meaning.  Sometimes these sentences lead us off on strange tangents.  At one point she said, “Robin Hood used this instead of a sword”.  And I’m left trying to work out the connection between Samurai swords and the weapons that Robin Hood might have used.  The word she was looking for was dagger.

We also spent much too long trying to work out what “meitou” means.  The direct translation is “famous sword”.  But what is a famous sword?  I thought it was something like “Excalibur”.  A sword that had a name or was used by a great warrior.  My teacher believes that it is a sword created by a famous sword master.  Whatever it actually is it’s not a word I’m going to be using very often if ever.  I can remember it today, as it irritated me, but I will have forgotten it two weeks from now.

I know I need to learn kanji but I wish that they were taught in a different order.  Today’s lesson reminded me much too much of the Eddie Izzard sketch on how French is taught in UK  schools.  Only the Japanese equivalent of, “the monkey is on the branch” is, “the Budhist monk wore black robes”.

Time to Study

Saturday, October 3rd, 2009

I need to start studying Japanese again.  I haven’t had that many lessons in the past couple of months but that’s about to change.  I have an exam in December. This isn’t something I want to do but Marty got the application form and filled  it in for me.  My Japanese teacher also thinks it’s a good idea but I’m not convinced.  I only know 50% of the vocabulary and about 60% of the kanji.  I have been too frightened to even look at the required grammar list.  The pass mark for the exam is around 65% and I would fail if I had to sit this tomorrow.  I wish I found it easier to learn Japanese.

English Instructions

Friday, October 2nd, 2009

I was in one of the bathrooms in the Mori Tower today.  They had bottles of hand disinfectant beside the soap.  These are new but I imagine they have been added because of the swine flu scare. On the wall was a list of instructions written in multiple languages.  It stated that you shouldn’t use the disinfectant under the following conditions:

If you have a deep cut or burn;
If you are alergic:
If you are under a doctor.

Limited Understanding

Friday, September 25th, 2009

It’s been a bad Japanese morning.  As I find it hard to understand people on the phone I try to avoid calls with strangers.  This morning, in my half awake state, I answered a call from a phone number I didn’t recognise.  From what little I could understand the caller had dialed the wrong number.  At one point during the short conversation the person I was speaking to said “Hai, wakarimashita” and I was so busy thinking that I was glad that at least one of us had understanding that I missed the rest of the sentence.

After I hang up I decided to comfort myself with reading some English.  But within 5 minutes of starting the intercom in the apartment sprung to life and an automated female voice started to speak.  I’m glad the building wasn’t burning down because the only word I caught of that announcement was “everyone”.

Japanese TV and My Quest to Learn Japanese

Sunday, July 27th, 2008

I have been trying to find programs in Japanese to watch on TV as the more Japanese I hear the better.  In the past I watched Infomercials but sometimes these just don’t hold my attention.  For a while the only thing I watched in Japanese was the F1.  This has taught me some interesting phrases for describing how cars move around a track but I wanted to find more to watch than this.

In the past month I have found a couple of new things to watch.  One of these is karaoke TV.  We have the Star Karaoke channel which plays a lot of karaoke songs and the Popular Music Channel which has charts of karaoke songs.  Being able to listen to someone sing the words whilst I read them is really helpful.  It is improving the speed at which I can read hirigana and the 200 kanji that I have learnt as well as improving my accuracy.  These programs can be hard for me to watch as they contain a lot of Japanese music that I don’t like but they do play lots of slow songs with the words written underneath.  And sometimes I do hear something I that I like.  Today I heard a group which I think was called “Tenjochiki” which I quite liked at a first hearing.

The second thing I have been watching is the Sci-Fi channel.  I hadn’t realised we had this channel, as it wasn’t one of the ones we selected when we got the Sky Perfect box, but I’m glad I have found it. They have been showing Buffy the Vampire Slayer dubbed in Japanese.  I have all of Buffy on DVD so I have been watching the episodes in English and then watching the Japanese versions.  These are really hard for me to understand but I am starting to understand some of the things being said.

What I would really like to find is something that was made in Japanese that is interesting enough for me to watch even if I can’t understand most of it.  Most people suggest anime but so far I haven’t found any I like.  And I can’t even easily tell people what I have been watching as I can’t read the titles of the programs!

What Does Handsome Mean?

Thursday, March 13th, 2008

I was reading some Japanese today in which a girl described her friend’s family. It was all really normal until I got to the line “your Dad is handsome”. I don’t think I have ever told a female friend that her Dad was handsome. At first I thought it was because the word seems old-fashioned but I had difficultly thinking of a more modern word. My teacher suggested “good-looking” or “attractive” but both these seemed to be a strange way to describe a friend’s Dad. I realised that the problem had to do with sexual connotations and how I think a female friend would react if she thought I found her father attractive.

As a teenager I would have avoided describing anyone’s family members in any way that would have made my friends think that I found either their brothers or Dads attractive. Children don’t like to think of members of their family as sexual and even some adults don’t cope well with the concept. And I certainly wouldn’t have wanted anyone to think I was only her friend because I thought her brother was hot.

In Japan the adjective handsome does not imply that the person is sexually attractive and refers only to the person having a pleasing or dignified appearance. My teacher assumed that the meanings would be identical because the Japanese word is a loan-word taken from English.

I wonder if I think the word means more than that because I associate it with the “handsome prince” in fairy tales who goes on to become the heroine’s lover or is at least someone who is desired?