11 September 2009

Nihongo Wakarimasen. (I DO NOT Understand Japanese)

For the past year and 8 months I have been living in Japan. This beautiful country with its kind people and deep, rich history has been an awesome place to live. Since we moved here I have been trying to speak the language. And I have, for the most part picked up ALOT of sayings and vocabulary.

Well last night at my husbands softball game, there was a little Japanese boy, the son of one of players. His name is Ryu. Let me tell you, by far one of the cutest kids I've seen... Well, he is not shy about talking to people and the little smartie pants knows some English. But my heart sank, when he was talking to me and I couldn't understand him. His mother, who speaks English too, had to translate everything. So I'm on a mission, first to find a teacher and then to work my butt off to be a good student. That way when I see Ryu, I can tell him in Japanese that he should not pick up that already chewed gum from the bleachers.

If anyone has ever travelled abroad, then you know how the language barrier can be frustrating (on both sides). There have been times (when I first arrived to Japan) that I could go shopping by myself the whole day and not say a word, to anyone. Can you imagine?? I would smile, nod my head, and bow - but no words were said, I was too afraid to use Japanese and they were too afraid to use English. [But for all they knew I spoke Spanish, or French, or German - because I didn't say ANYTHING.]

There was this one time, I think I was here maybe week,  and I needed a plunger (My husband had left me a "project" to deal with while he was at work). So, I went to the BX and commisary and apparently everyone had the same project as I did, because they were sold out of plungers. I walked myself back to find that the mess didn't magically disapear. I'm pacing at this point, thinking, what do I do? what do I do? Aha!  I knew that there were Japanese workers in the building, so I went up and down the halls until I found one. The whole time my fingers were crossed and I was prayyying that he spoke a little English. Great, he doesn't understand English. So, here I go.... I (point to self), need, a, plungerOh no! The look of confusion came over his face. This is a look that only a person who not only doesn't understand your language, but also thinks you look ridiculous demonstrating how to use a plunger has. So I tell him to wait (by holding my finger up to him). I run back to my room, grab my post-its and log into a free translation website. I translate the words toilet, full, stuck, tool, help, and please. I  run back to him, with my sticky notes, and stick them on the hallway wall. I point to each one, and continue demonstrating the plunger. He smiles (and I'm sure laughs to himself) and signals me to follow him. He says some words in Japanese, something to the extent of, is this what you are looking for? And I nearly cried. Oh Thank you, Thank you, Thank you. If the Japanese weren't such a non-hugging culture, I probably would have hugged (and kissed) him! I think it was that defining moment that I wanted to learn how to communicate. Not only for those "emergency" moments, but for the reason that I want to be able to talk to people and understand what they are saying to me. Oh and so that I can talk to that little cutie-patutie at the softball game.

Isn't it what all human's thrive on? Having a voice- in whatever language it might be. I teach English to some amazing women. They have incredible conversation skills. But, their biggest concern is not being able to fully explain themselves and what they are thinking. And these are women that have been studying for 5 to 6 years. I guess I've got some work ahead of me. So this blog is for anyone that speaks multiple languages and can have a voice, in not only their native language, but in other places in the world.

I don't only want to be understood in the U.S.A., Canada, England, and Australia.
I want to be heard.......in Japanese.


These are my students. My wonderful, fabulous, fill-in-mothers-fathers-brothers that I just LOVE!
So sweet and kind - and oh-so patient with my limited Japanese.


  1. I sooo know what you're talking about. That's how I felt when I first got here as well. I have picked up some Japanese here and there. One thing I recommend for you is something I bought for myself n my daughter. They're Japanese flash cards for kids. It's made by Tuttle.

    Here's a link on amazon for it. It's super cheap. Just take the flash cards and post them all around the house. It also comes with a poster which you can place on the door or anywhere where you can look at it everyday. It's just some basics, but it does help. Then take some notecards and write sentences you want to remember on them and post them all over your house or carry them with you where ever you go so you can study it. Helps to remember more. :)

  2. Thanks so much for the tips! :) I carry around a notebook with me and whenever my students say something I want to use.. I write it down. I'm definitely going to check out those flash cards! They sound really helpful!


  3. Oh they are totally awesome let me tell you!