Language Barrier

Being a big anime (Japanese animation) and manga (Japanese-word for comics) fan when I was young, I wanted to learn how to speak and read Japanese or Nihongo. I even took up Nihongo classes at the Japanese Embassy in Makati, Philippines in the 90’s. I was actually doing pretty good with me being fourth best in my class midway through. Unfortunately, I stopped taking the class due to other priorities and so my Nihongo never really improved beyond those I have already learned up to that point.

So, I’m not a total newbie when it comes to Nihongo. I could read hiragana and katakana (alphabet-like characters that make up Japanese words) just fine albeit slowly since I haven’t been practicing. That meant that if there is something written in Japanese that isn’t written with kanji (Chinese characters), I can read it out loud. Understanding what the words mean is a different thing entirely though.

That little skill actually helped us a little when we visited Japan last week. You see, the Japanese have borrowed a lot of words from English over the years and they write down these borrowed words in katakana. So, when I needed to know what’s on the menu, I scan for words written in katakana hoping they were borrowed English words. I was at least able to read hamburger, chicken, pork, beef, Coca-cola, Pepsi, ice-tea, katsu, curry and ramen off the menu.

In hindsight though, I should’ve been more prepared. I should have brushed up on my Nihongo prior to our flight to Japan. It would’ve have spared us a lot of misunderstandings.

I can say hello, thanks, excuse me, and other simple phrases. I can even ask basic questions. The problem was that I wasn’t fluent enough to understand the replies to my questions. Many times I had asked how much an item is and the salesperson would quote the price in Nihongo real fast. I had to ask him to write it down or enter it on the cash registry so I could see how much it was in numeric form. One time, I also asked where a particular place was. The person I asked replied but I couldn’t understand a word of what he said.

That said, if you have any plans of visiting Japan, I highly recommend you study basic Nihongo first. Unless you have friends there who can act as your guide, you’ll have a tough time trying to get your point across as most people you’ll come across there aren’t very fluent in English. Having a phrasebook without prior studying isn’t much of a help, too. I was able to say and ask what I want thanks to our phrasebook but I still couldn’t understand the replies of the person I was talking to.

Now that we’re back in Melbourne, I started learning Nihongo again. I know that it may seem like it’s a little too late for that, but I have another motivation now. I want to learn the language so I can read their books. Their art books, to be specific.

I was overjoyed to have found these various art instruction books in Japan. The only problem was that they were all written and Japanese and I couldn’t read any of it. Sure, I could still stare at the pretty pictures but the professional advice and instructions were lost to me. I actually bought two already and my aim is to be able to read them easily eventually.

I also wanted to learn Nihongo now so that next time we go to Japan, I’ll be ready. I loved it there. It’s already a few days since returning to Melbourne and I still daydream about Tokyo and Kyoto. Next time in there, I’ll be able to appreciate it a lot more than I did the last time.

Published in: on May 7, 2007 at 11:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

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