Used to speak some Japanese

japansumoAlas, language attrition, use it or lose it.  I lost it!

Back in 2006 I had spent about a year studying some Japanese. What a cool language! One of the most rule driven languages I have ever been exposed to: Topic marker – “wa”; object marker “ga”; put the verb at the end of the sentence; learn to pronounce all of those English-loan words; and learn all of the various endings to indicate tense and aspect. Yes, Japanese was super rule driven, with relatively few exceptions. Then I took a brief 2-week trip to Tokyo, and sure enough, my survival Japanese really was enough to survive, get around, eat incredible food, see the sights, and interact with tons of people.
But then phase II hit with brutal reality, “Oh, you are a man, speaking to a woman, you should really say that differently.” “Oh, you are a boss, talking to a subordinate, you should really say that differently.” “Oh, you are an adult, talking to children, you should really say that differently.” Formal vs informal, regional variations, etc. etc. Wow, all of a sudden Japanese got way more intense. It was about that time that I turned my focus to Chinese, left Japanese behind, and here we are a few years later and my survival Japanese is now gone.
This past week, I’m not sure really why, I pulled out the old CDs from my tried and true Yookoso textbook, and I started listening again to the Japanese tapes. There was a mixed sense of sadness about what I had lost, together with an opening of the old memory bank of things that were just under the surface. It gave me hope that if I ever wanted to restore what I had learned, it would actually come back much quicker the second time around. While listening to the tapes, I kept having the experience of thinking to myself, “Ah yes, that is how you say that. Ah yes, that is how you do that in Japanese.”
Language learning, like musical skills, high school geometry, golf swings, basketball free throws, and tennis serves, all suffer when we leave them behind for a while. Still, I believe there is a type of “language memory” that gives me hope that if I were to buckle down and study Japanese again, things would come back much faster the second time around.  In the end, not all if lost!

The photo:  Gotta take in a little sumo while you are in Japan!

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One Response to “Used to speak some Japanese”

  1. Tamara Says:

    That is how I feel re-learning Portuguese. Oh yeah, I forgot! Can’t wait to travel to Bahia with you!

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