Monday, June 12, 2006

Easy Peasy Japanesey?

Stand by for some rambling.

Conversation of the Weekend, with the miss'z, about her dog, named Robin:

This is a picture of my dog, Robin.

Robin eh?

Yeah. He's a boy, but I named him Robin.

Robin Williams is a boy.

Hmm, That's true.. Anyway, Robin is really smart.

Dogs aren't smart, we just think they are because if they were humans, they'd appear to be doing smart things. Things that we would want them to do.. In English we say it's to "anthropomorphize". I don't know how to say that in Japanese, but it's like...to give something non-human human features..

Oh, I see. But Robin's really smart though.

Why?

He masturbates.

He does? Like humping people's legs?

No, with his paws. He puts his paws between his legs and does it, like this. *pantomime*

Wow, that's pretty neat. And this makes him smart?

Yep.

Interesting.. Well if that's the scale we're using to determine intelligence, then I am the smartest person on the planet.


I don't know what's cooler -- that I found a girl that thinks shit like that is funny no matter how much I say it, or that the ease at which this conversation happened is the result of four years of college, a fuck load of studying, and thousands upon thousands of dollars spent at bars.. The worst part is that even after all that studying and nuking brain cells, I am still borderline illiterate in Japanese. Being "literate" in Japanese is really tricky though, because even though I know a word, I won't know what it looks like, i,e. I don't know what every word that I know looks like. There is a large disparity between the meanings of the words in my head and how they're written. In some contexts I can rock out and read just fine, and in others I'm totally lost. It sucks, and I simply can't be bothered to try and improve my abilities.

That's right, I'm just that lazy. If I could read everything, I wouldn't be able to say "something something" when reading out loud, which is fun for me. "nantoka nantoka nantoka...." Or better yet, to purposefully mis-read a word and say something really dirty, then act outraged and call the person a pervert when they ask me if I just said [whatever dirty word].

A problem with language learning in the advanced stages is this: What to learn next? After you've got the grammar and whatnot out of the way, all you can do is refine your grammar and learn idioms and vocabulary. I had someone explain it to me like this in college:

The first two years of language learning is like walking down a hallway with doors every so often. You come to a door, open it, learn the stuff, and continue down the hallway, learning whatever is behind the doors. However, once you reach the end of the hallway, you open the door and you have a huge, vast wasteland. From there on out you wander the linguistic wasteland learning stuff with no direction and wondering when it's all gonna end.

The wasteland is rough, because all you do is read newspapers or articles, trying to decide which obscure words to retain and which ones you'll never see again. You spend 10 minutes trying to figure out a word that ends up being totally inconsequential, then skip a word that you think is unimportant, and soon realize that the entire article is hinged upon its meaning.

As a student in Japan it was funny -- we'd learn a specific group of words, then go out to the bars and engage people in conversations about stuff like population densities, famine, political bullshit, etc, and then be completely stumped on something simple like explaining how to make a bed or make a dish of food.

"Um, cut the vegetables and the meat. Then you cook em. Yeah. I can't explain it but I know how to do it."

"Well, I'm not sure verb you use to throw the sheet on or put on a pillow cover."

Bottom line: It never ends, and the more you know, the more you realize you don't know. Some days you feel really good, like you've figured the language out, and then the next day you feel like a complete retard and don't understand anything.

I'm hoping that it'll just happen -- one day I'll be able to fly through a book or a newspaper, no problem.

But any student of Japanese knows that this is a complete pipe-dream, though I find my vocabulary swelling little by little, usually with words that I don't really need to know.

Word on the street is that it doesn't get any better -- people who are like 10 times better than me get that look on their face; the look that says "I don't fucking know, and I can't be bothered with this."

That's OK though; I'm content with what I know, and I do try to figure new stuff out. I've heard that taking on freelance translation jobs helps a lot, but I don't really want to be on someone else's clock/have to worry about a deadline.

I don't want to sound like I'm complaining -- again, I'm happy with my Japanese ability -- I can do pretty much anything I want to do, get in arguments with women and lose them just as well as I could in English, etc.. Still, one problem being a foreigner speaking Japanese is that your Japanese abilities are often viewed as a parlor trick rather than something to be taken seriously. In more out of the way places it's hard to engage people in a conversation other than where you learned Japanese and how you learned it, like it's some mystical and impossible thing, along with using chopsticks. Just taking care of business can be difficult sometimes, because often times Japanese people see a foreigner, don't listen to what they're saying, and only respond with,
"Sorry, no English."

"I know. I'm speaking Japanese."

"Oh! Sorry, what can I do for you?"


Or, like I said before, you play linguistic tennis, where they refuse to speak anything back to you but broken English. It makes it hard to get things done sometimes.

Still, it's about small victories. In the greater scheme of things, do we really need to be having conversations about anything other than chihuahuas named Robin that display their superior intellect by masturbating like a human?

No...I didn't think so either.

Study hard, now..

11 Comments:

Blogger Paul Davidson said...

That really is the difficulty of acquiring vocabulary in a nutshell!

7:33 PM  
Anonymous Cory said...

Wow, so I'm reading this post and it starts with a masturbating dog and then it becomes this complicated diatribe about the pitfalls of learning a second language (or even your first language) and never really being able to master the the grammatical intricacies except by random chance encounters (by wandering monster table, d100%), and all I can think the whole time is: "Paul has a girlfriend?"

5:39 AM  
Blogger Paul said...

whats the big deal?!

you met my ex-fiance at brando's wedding.

just because i haven't shown a tendency to do so for a while, I have the ability to settle down...

8:20 AM  
Blogger brando said...

Paul's gal is pretty nice. She showed me how to say "hi" to god. Just put smoke on your head (notional smoke), wash your hands (notional water), and throw 5 yen in the big thing. (notional god)

12:31 PM  
Blogger nedric said...

(Besides the prologue and the epilogue, which were hilarious) I liked the analogy of the hallway leading to a wasteland for language acquisition.

Door #1: Learn vocabulary like "spoon" or "toilet"

Door #2: Learn vocabulary for family relationships.

Door #3: Learn the declension of verbs.

End of hallway: Go make a fool of yourself in front of strangers trying to pick up the specific dialects and idiosyncracies that no one taught you.

11:56 PM  
Blogger Paul said...

Nedric--
exactly.

You can master everything in the doors and the hallways. You'll think you're pretty good at the language 'cuz you're better than most of the people in your class, and then you open that final door, wander around aimlessly, then go in country, which is where u fall off a cliff. That's when your world really comes crashing down on you -- just cuz your language teacher can understand what you're trying to say doesn't mean that real native speakers can understand it. and those verb forms they taught you in class? yeah, not only does no one talk like that, but it creeps them out when you use it and they tell you to stop.

7:39 AM  
Blogger nedric said...

Wait, why does it creep them out? Kind of like when foreign exchange students here speak more grammatically correct than we do?

11:24 AM  
Blogger Paul said...

It creeps them out because it's too polite. it would be like if someone insisted on calling you "Sir" and answering in a really respectful or humble manner, even though they were the same age as you. It alsoserves the function of driving a familiarity wedge between too people making it kind've difficult to become close.

1:31 PM  
Blogger brando said...

When I was eating in the cafeteria, some asian kid asked if he could sit at the same table. I said "sure", then he begins quizzing my on my hobbies, and how old I am and shit. And I said "Look, You need to to cool it. Just eat your tuna sandwich and stop asking me questions. And stay out of Asia...GOT IT?!"

6:08 AM  
Blogger Jinxy said...

"Srorry. Nro Engrish!"

5:19 AM  
Anonymous Tony said...

I like your lady's intelligence test. I think that's brilliant. Although I'd have to argue that I don't think it's really that smart to use your hands to masturbate when you don't have thumbs. I think so many dogs hump legs because it's a tried and true method.

7:06 AM  

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