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[Lingo] From the "It's Funny 'cause it's True" Dept.

A very tongue-in-cheek essay on why attempting to learn Japanese may
be the biggest mistake you ever make.

It is especially funny to Americans who studied Japanese in US
universities, due to its "been there, done that" flavour, but Japanese
students of every creed should be mightily amused.

I was more or less the "deer in the headlights" type student: I took
Japanese simply because my university required four years of a foreign
language in high school or four college semesters, and I had only
three years of French. But due to the fact that I started French in
8th grade and stopped it by 11th, and then took a year off before
going to uni, I had not done anything with French for three years, and
starting at French 202 (fourth semester French in uni) would have
killed me.

So I thought that of the languages my uni offered, Japanese, Chinese,
and Russian all sounded interesting. I figured Japanese was the
easiest of the three (and since I subsequently studied the other two
later in uni, I can tell you emphatically that is *not* the case for a
native speaker of English), and signed up for it knowing nothing about
Japan other than what I had seen in "The Karate Kid"[1]--and as
wonderful as the late Pat Morita[2] was, an
一般的な日本人(「にっぽんじん」と読んでください)he was not really. Seriously. I had never met
a Japanese person in my life, had not read a single line of
夏目漱石's[3][4] beautiful prose, had not heard one note of
東京スカパラダイスオーケストラ's[5][6] complete mastery of ska music, had not even
seen one of 黒沢明's[8][9] lesser films[10], let alone the sheer
brilliance of 「七人の侍」[11] or 「天国と地獄」[12] or 「赤ひげ」[13]!

I found Japanese delightfully easy for the first couple of months
(let's face it: memorising 平仮名 and 片仮名 is just rote memorisation that
can be done in a couple of days; and 「AはBです」 and  「AはBがCです」 are not so
challenging), so I was hooked long before the spectre of
causitive-passive reared its ugly head in Japanese 102. I got into the
culture through the language, and found it delightful (the export
culture, anyway, but that is another email).

Oh but do I ever remember the anime freak and know-it-all student
types, as well as the more conventional deer-in-the-headlights types
who found Japanese next to impossible and sat through classes in mute
panic, hoping to survive for the next 50 minutes without being asked
any questions. One poor girl lives on in infamy with Ota and I (we
were classmates and later room-mates in uni, didn't you know?) for
pronouncing 「ごめん」 as "GOH-men" (and I mean with a *huge* emphasis on
that GOH).

The anime guys were pretty amusing, because they could say things like
"You will never detect and thus defeat the source of my ultimate
power, you pitiful mortal!" in utterly fluent Japanese, but could not
manage 「机の上に鉛筆があります。」, somehow.

The know-it-alls were also amusing, though none of them made it out of
Japanese 101, for some odd reason. Having a sense of entitlement and
expertise simply because you have a Japanese girlfriend but otherwise
know absolutely nothing about the country or the language does not
seem to get you very far... ;)

And as for me? Ask Ota. ;)



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