Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Nihongo es no Espanol

It's been more than two months since I arrived in the land of the rising sun, but every day is an uphill battle to speak Japanese. Being thrust into a new culture is difficult enough, but trying to live in a place where you don't speak the language sometimes feels less like an experience and more like a chore. Ordering food becomes a game of charades that you will probably lose. Small talk with a native becomes a series of long pauses, abnormal speaking volumes and obnoxious amounts of pointing. If anyone's ever tried learning two foreign languages, sometimes the problem of language-mixing arises. Being from California, I took three years of Spanish in high school. Around 50 percent of the population in California speaks Spanish, so even if you didn't take Spanish you can still recognize the meanings of several words. Living in California, you most likely know that when you see a sign that says, "piso mojado" in a grocery store, you know to watch your step. You also know the important words like "cervesa", "bano" and "por favor".

Learning Japanese after learning Spanish can make things a bit more difficult. If you hear a question in Japanese you don't know, you have this automatic urge to say "no se". (I don't know). Sometimes we revert back to our second language in the process of learning our third. I had this problem about a month ago. I was in a bar trying to request that the bartender put on some music. Trying to make requests in Japanese when you're a bit tipsy is never a good idea if you're not fluent in the language. After a few minutes of English/Japanese gibberish my mildly intoxicated brain just couldn't translate anymore and eventually started spouting out Spanish words, sheerly out of habit. We've all heard don't drink and drive, but I have a new one, don't drink and doesn't really work. Eventually your speech becomes a linguistic blender and all you can produce is a soupy mess of words. But no matter what, at the end of the night, you're still just the ridiculous gaijin who looks so cute trying to string Japanese words together. The Japanese won't hate you for trying, in fact, they will respect you more for making the effort. So, if you're Japanese sucks, don't stress, you'll learn more eventually. And as for the Spanish, well, hopefully I don't spout off "si"s or "muchas gracias"s anytime soon!

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