Language limitations?

Before we came to Japan, we fully intended to take some Japanese lessons once we settled in. We thought that a basic knowledge of the language would be necessary in order to cope with everyday life. While there have been occasions when it would have been helpful, we quickly came to the realization that knowing Japanese wasn’t essential and decided that our time would be better spent in other ways. If we had planned to stay longer than a year or if we thought that we would have any opportunity to continue using the language once we returned to Alberta, we probably would have taken some lessons but we also realize that old brains like ours don’t absorb new languages easily and it would take much longer than a year to develop any level of fluency.

We’ve learned a few useful words and phrases along the way as well as some that are just plain fun. The latest is saiko. According to the dictionary, it means highest or maximum but it can be used in the same way that we commonly use the English word awesome, as in “How are you?” “I’m awesome!” The reason we’re having so much fun with it is the fact that it’s pronounced exactly like the English word psycho. So, imagine for a moment the quizzical looks I’ll get if, back in Canada, someone asks “How are you?” and I respond “I’m saiko!”

Most of our fellow teachers here are the age of our children or younger and many have studied some Japanese before they arrive in the country. One of them, a somewhat immature and self-absorbed young lady, hopes to become completely fluent in the language and work as a translator someday. She takes advantage of every opportunity to point out to anyone and everyone that she speaks Japanese and she clearly looks down on anyone who doesn’t. She actually told Richard some time ago that we wouldn’t have any opportunity to get to know any Japanese people if we didn’t make an effort to learn the language. She’d be shocked to learn how difficult it’s going to be for us to leave this country because, after just one year, it means saying good-bye to so many dear friends and how hopeful we are that we’ll be able to come back and visit them someday!

We spent the past two Sunday afternoons and evenings visiting in Japanese homes. Last week we enjoyed a wonderful visit with Seiko, Atsuo and their eight month old son, Ayumu. The fact that we don’t speak Japanese and Atsuo doesn’t speak English hardly interfered at all and has not hindered us from developing a very special relationship with this young couple. Ayumu is our “adopted” grandson and it warms my heart every time I hear Seiko refer to us as Granma and Granpa!

Yesterday we visited Yoko and Yoshinori, a couple who are almost the same age as we are. Yoshinori is a journalist who spent much of his career as a foreign correspondent so they spent many years living and raising their children in London, Mexico City and the United States and they both speak English quite fluently.

Of course, being a part of a church family here has given us the opportunity to get to know Japanese people and enter into their lives in a way that we wouldn’t have otherwise. We won’t be here to see Yugo and Minako’s new baby when it arrives in July or to watch Dave and Yuki exchange marriage vows but it’s been a delight to share in their excitement as they’ve told us of these upcoming events. In fact, it’s been absolutely saiko!

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Brenda
    Feb 16, 2009 @ 11:59:01

    This is to funny. Roni just showed me how to past a reply on this blog. I have been reading all of it and found your writing very enlightening about your life for the past year. you sound like you have experienced all there is to do there in the time that you had. We will see you when you get home I guess. Brenda

    Reply

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