The fact that people can communicate in multiple languages has always left me with a sense of awe. But once I started traveling internationally, I felt quite lazy when I realized how many other people had taken on the huge challenge or learning English as a second language, while I was just sat around butchering it; much less learning any other language.
To top it off where I’m from (southern US), our culture resists language learning of any kind, and immigrants are expected to “learn the language before they come here.” Often times these comments go so far as to imply that someone who doesn’t speak perfect English must be unintelligent. Needless to say I was never a part of this camp, but now that I’ve learned some Japanese I realize just how bright and dedicated a person has to be in order to convey any thought, no matter how small or broken, in another language.
Unfortunately for myself however, I choose the language that interested me most, but was also ranked 5th hardest language to learn for native English speakers. I would be venturing into a realm where neither letters nor spaces between words existed. A place where I would have to learn not just another alphabet, but two plus a pictorial one with thousands of unique characters and conjugations.
And that third one is pretty scary. Take for instance the word for “today”, “kyou” pronounce “key-yo” and looks like 今日. You can write this word correctly in 2 different ways, one with kanji as shown, and one with hiragana as such きょう. In kanji form however, the word is the summation of two separate characters that when used separately sound neither like “key” or “yo” but instead are “ima” 今 and “nichi” 日 (“nichi” can also be pronouced “hee”). To illustrate, imagine if the word “homeland” when split apart was pronounced “origin place” but was still spelled as “home land.” Yeah, this goal is going to be a hard one, but arn’t they all?
But I’m making progress. I started getting pretty serious with Rosetta Stone in January of last year, while I prepared for my trip to Tokyo. I studied using RS and made friends online to practice language exchange as well. This got my through Tokyo with ease (but wasn’t actually needed to be honest), and after just three months, and armed with a dictonary app on my phone, I was conversing over dinner with a friends cousin who didn’t speak English short of a few words. Upon returning home however, I promptly abandoned my studies.
Then several months later, I decided to finally tackle what I had been avoiding: kanji, the pictorial alphabet that has thousands of symbols and at least two different ways to read/say each one. So I bought a book on November 11th, 2013 entitled “Reading Japanese,” and published by Yale back in the 70’s. Since then every day I’ve been making slow progress through the book, and now, over 3 months later I hit a big milestone. I can not only fluently read and write both syllabic alphabets (hiragana and katakana) but also 100 kanji!
Yes, this is only a small, miniscule step in the process. I have a very long way to go (1900 more to be specific). But with 100 kanji under my belt, I’m immensely excited, and have a huge boost in confidence that I can actually achieve this goal. My newly formed routine is practically set in stone at this point. Every morning I arrive at work an hour early and copy new kanji, example sentences and reading drills. I haven’t missed a day where I don’t write something or read something in Japanese and as such, I look very forward to it each morning. I doubt I’d ever be successful if I didn’t.
In the next few weeks I’ll start posting entries of my individual study sessions, realizations, and milestones! Any motivation or words of wisdom will be greatly appreciated :D.