This is a book. It rocks.

I studied Japanese in high school and through college. I still remember a lot of it, but like wisps of smoke, words’ exact meanings and the speed of native speech elude me. I haven’t ridden that bike in years, so watching Fujisankei news, listening to Japanese people at Minoya, it’s frustrating. That cool skill I used to have is fading away. I want to be able to say I speak Japanese beyond konnichiwa, and I don’t want to lose my skills, because, if I do say so myself, I think I wasn’t too shabby at it. I won speech contests for chrissake…First place every year, until I couldn’t compete anymore. Brag brag brag. Anyway, that is the past, because now “fluent” is a joke. Hell, my Chinese isn’t any good either, just baby Chinese, plop plop plop. So I want to change that. I bought a few books on Amazon after seeing them in the store, and I am feeling better about my skills.

For example, in the book Breaking into Japanese Literature there are short stories by Natsume Soseki, every kanji is listed, and you can really read Japanese, rather than breaking your back over kanji. Anyone who has studied Japanese or Chinese know how it feels. In high school, French students were studying Les Miserables in French, and we were reading the Japanese equivalent of Go Dog Go.

I had a translation class in Japanese literature in my fifth year of Japanese study, and it blew my mind. It was so hard. But I took it twice 😀

The Harp of Burma, a stodgy old-man war novel. Eesh. Well, I take that back. How the hell would I know, really? It was read in a foreign language with two other students in fits and starts. We didn’t even get past page 37 in that class. After poring over a dictionary for eight hours per teeny Japanese page, furigana barely visible, trying to figure it out, then being looked at in silence by your professor over the rim of his tortiseshell glasses. Oh the agony. Sweat, tears, and the special humiliating anguish of having taken an eternity to look up a character, counted each blessed stroke, mistaken the radical, missed it when scanning down the page, then come to find that you HAD ALREADY LOOKED IT UP.

Twice.

During this study session.

That’s where the tears came from. I still feel that piercing own-shoe-in-the-ass now and again. God.

But I learned more in that class than any class before it I think. At least in terms of who I am, and the advanced intricacies of Japanese, past “This is a book. This book is on top of the table. It is red.” Thanks, Dr. Dollarhide.

So anyway, I bought 3 language study books, and a textbook for my college course. Oh, did I mention that I am going back to school myself again? I am so excited I could pee, but then at night I have nightmares that I am back in junior high and I forgot my locker combination, or that I am an undergrad again, and I had added a math class, and skipped it so many times I had forgotten about it until finals week. I had issues as an undergrad. Youth being the primary issue. So I am entering into this fully aware of the problems and pains of college. It’s hard. But this time I am studying something I adore that I am good at, rather than something I am just good at. Class starts Thursday.

The text I bought to study Chinese is real basic, Ni Hao 1, seeing as how I studied one semester Chinese in school, and the rest of it was sucked from songs and drunken Malaysian friends. I still don’t know if some of the words I “know” are Mandarin, Hokkien, what. Malay or Indo, maybe?

Anyway, there are very few books for me to use to study Chinese, and definitely nothing as cool as this Japanese text. And at least in Japanese I have the options of –kana, or furigana…So Ni Hao 1 it is, reviewing the words I can say but not read or write. Maybe I should focus on one skill at a time. That’s hard, though, without a phonetic alphabet.

The Japanese reader I bought, though, is a godsend. All kanji are defined, and even some –kana words are defined. And there are online mp3 files I downloaded to get the pronunciation (’cause Japanese kanji are like a wet bar of soap. You think you’ve got it, then whoop!) I cover the English translation until I am done with my own interpretation, then I check to see if I’m right. Check it out…

Every time I think about studying Japanese again, though, I feel a little frisson of fear, self-consciousness, shyness. I think of a fourth grade Japanese girl I teach, who said that she likes to laugh at Americans who speak Japanese, because they sound funny. She just up and said it, after I told her I knew a few Japanese words, that learning languages was hard, trying to make her feel better about her level of language. Thanks kiddo. That helped my affective filter just loads.

She wasn’t being hateful, I know, and she is a good girl, just a little squirrelly firecracker kid. But it is hard for me to put myself out there even though I know I need to. I am scared. I teach this to students of English every day. Practice practice practice. With a native speaker. It depends on the level of perfection you want to attain. You won’t get near good if you don’t take risks. But oh is it hard.