Wowie, it has been a bit of time since my last post. Really, the cause of it has been that, since I’ve really only been improving my knowledge of the Japanese language since I’ve been here, there haven’t been too many hiccups in trying to communicate that are extraordinarily different from the ones I’ve already talked about. That, and because since we’re winding down in the second half of the program, there’s been a bunch more work regarding studying for the final tests and presentations. Regardless, I do still have some stories to share in terms of communication difficulties.
Last week, my host family threw a party for another teacher’s birthday. As in usual scenes, I sat at a table crowded with food, with about six adults talking about who-knows-what around me. As they were handing around dishes, one filled with yakitori, or grilled meat on sticks, passed by, and I took a few of the sticks. The older sister I’m staying with asked me if I knew what one of the mysterious meats was, a kind of meat I hadn’t seen before then. I shook my head, and she and another teacher proceeded to tell me it was “riba”, which I couldn’t really understand. It was late in the day after a tiring day of school, and my brain was barely functioning. One of the main differences in pronunciation between Japanese and English is with various letters, such as “l” and “v”. Our “l”s sound like “r”s and our “v” sound like “b”s. So if I was to say “larva” for instance, a Japanese person will most likely pronounce it “raruba”. This did not click in my head, however, and I just went ahead and took a bite of the meat. As soon as it hit my tongue, I had a sudden realization that they were trying to tell me the meat was liver, something I had never tried before and, frankly, never wanted to. That was the one and only piece of liver I ate that night.
Another instance of language misusage wasn’t even from me. It just goes to show you that even those with Japanese as their native language can mess up, which is common sense considering how often we English speakers make mistakes in trying to talk our native tongue. Anyways, after lunch today, the sisters and I went to a cake shop to buy some sweets to eat later in the evening. As the clerk packed up the cakes we had decided on, I inclined my head and said, “Thank you,” in Japanese. The younger sister, who had just paid, said, “ごちそうさま” at the same moment, only to realize what she had said and laugh at herself. The phrase, “gochisousama”, is typically said after you eat and is basically used to show gratitude for the food. She and her older sister laughed it off, even pointing out how I had responded correctly, yet the younger sister didn’t. It goes to show that even if we’re worried to practice a language because we don’t want to look stupid in front of people who can speak it fluently, they make the same mistakes as we do.
The last event I’m going to detail is a conversation that happened tonight. As we ate the cakes we had bought previously and were watching TV, I asked the older sister about how Japanese use keigo, the honorific way of talking. That led to a discussion about addressing teachers and whatnot, and the differences between how Japanese and American teachers are seen in society. Mind you, I couldn’t really offer any sound points because of my lack of Japanese-speaking capabilities, but I could sort of get what she was saying and asking overall. It got to a point though, that after I told her that, in America, teachers in college are addressed differently than those in lower education, she tried asking me something about high school and elementary school teachers. I didn’t know what she was saying, so she brought up google translate, something she often does when I don’t understand her. However, when she said her phrase into her phone and showed it to me, the translation on the screen was “helluva”. I chuckled, knowing google translate had messed up somewhere along the line, and when the sisters asked why I was laughing, I told them simply that it was weird English. The older sister tried looking up synonyms to her previous word and eventually found a correct definition, but I still thought back to google’s mistake and kept cracking a smile. They couldn’t understand why I was still finding it funny, but I didn’t know how to express the reason other than it was funny. This happens some of the time though, so I really only laugh it off and then try to find a more effective way to translate what I’m saying.
Anyways, those are some of the language mishaps that have occurred in the past four weeks. I apologize for the lack of pictures, but I think having an update that’s entirely text and story-based isn’t a bad idea once in a while. Regardless, thank you for reading!