Sunday, May 3, 2009

"Uniqlock" as non-verbal language

This is an online clock called "Uniqlock," developed by UNIQLO, a Japanese apparel company. (I also added it to the lower left part of this blog.) UNIQLO offers a great variety of cheap but quality clothes and is therefore very popular in Japan. This company already has launched several shops overseas, including the United States, France, China, and so on, but is still in the middle of global expansion.

This is not the latest news, but a couple of days ago I got to know that last year Uniqlock won three international advertising awards, including Cannes International Advertising Festival. Here's the link to the related article in the website of Fast Retailing Co., Ltd., the parent company of UNIQLO.

As I read some other articles on Uniclock, I thought that it is one form of so-called "non-verbal language." According to those articles, Uniclock has been developed and devised without using words so that it can be understood and used by people around the world, regardless of their countries. Judging from those international advertising awards, I can say that this attempt has been successful.

Language doesn't only mean English, Japanese, French, or Chinese. We have body language and gesture, which are generally referred to as "non-verbal language." Uniqlock just shows the digital clock and dancing girls (of course wearing UNIQLO products!) in turn, but I suppose any kinds of people could enjoy seeing it. So I believe this is an excellent example of advertisement and even entertainment beyond the linguistic barrier! It encourages me with an idea that verbal language, which is often the obstacle to communication, is not the one and only means to communicate.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Languages I have met in my life - part 2

Following yeasterday's post, I'll keep on talking about my language learning experience.

Several years after graduating the university, I got interested in Brazilian music (Samba and Bossa Nova) and had been into it for a while. I even bought some Brazilian instruments. I also got a Portuguese book to learn how to sing Brazilian songs. I remembered the Spanish teacher in my college told us that Portuguese was similar to Spanish like twins - actually these two has many similar words - but in my personal opinion, Portuguese sounded more like French. Honestly, I am not sure yet about it because I studied Portuguese just for three months or less.

Yesterday I wrote about how difficult French was for me, but it turned out later that the grammatical system of Russian was much more complicated than French. I realized that when I joined a weekly Russian lesson offered by my coworker who spent her childhood in Moscow. What makes Russian more difficult is its symbols, or confusing Cyrillic alphabet (for example, Cyrillic "Р," "Н," "В" are pronouced like English "R," "N," and "V" respectively. I took that lesson for more than half a year and memorized all those symbols, but sadly I no longer remember it.

This is the whole story of my wide but shallow language study so far. English, Spanish, Italian, Indonesian, French, Portuguese, and Russian. Because of the shallowness, I can't speak any of them exept English. But I think I have at least "tasted" each one of them - how it sounds, how it's difficult or easy, how it's different from (or similar to) Japanese or English, etc.
Just like wanting to try various kinds of foods in this world, I always want to try different tastes of language.

And after this "tasting," I realize that there are people who speak in a language that I can't speak and who therefore have a different way of thought behind that language. They are human beings just as I am, while they may have value that I can't even imagine. This might be one way to understand and to be respectful towards people around the world.

Languages I have met in my life - part 1

I already mentioned in the previous posts, but again I'd like to talk about which language I have every learned so far.

My first experience of learning foreign language took place when I was 9 or 10 years old. Almost all Japanese people take mandatory English classes at their junior high and high school, but I was so fascinated by the language that was incredibly different from ours and sounded extremely cool for me at that time that I couldn't wait to learn it. So I eagerly asked my parents to allow me to go to a small private English school near my home. There were only 3 or sometimes 4 kids at that school, where we sang English songs (such as the Beatles or the Sound of Music songs) not knowing the meaning, and played games. This first step of language learning was amazing.

About 10 years after that, I took Indonesian, French, and Italian class in my freshman year and Spanish class in my sophomore year in my Japanese university.

Indonesian is very easy to learn because of its simple grammatical structure. For example, they don't have tense; you just say, like "I go to the cafe" and put "yesterday" or "tomorrow" or "in the future," whatever. Sweet. I also felt that its sound was kind of cute when I heard some words like "jalan-jalan" (means "a walk") or "Pagi!" (a casual greeting like "Hi")

Italian and Spanish was a bit difficult, but what was nice about those two languages was that their pronunciation system was similar to that of Japanese. It is great we don't need to care about the difference of sounds, such as between "r" and "l" in English... (this is problematic for many of us because we can't distinguish them! I know it may sounds weird, but it's often a serious problem!)

In that sense, French was really complicated in both pronunciation and grammar. Among those languages I spent the longest time for French class, but the grade was always worst. Meanwhile I like like the way French people talk. Its beautiful sound somehow has a hint of long European history.

Maybe I need more time to talk about my language learning experience, so I will continue this topic in the next post...

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Best season in Tokyo

Here are the pictures of cherry blossom trees along a water path in the area where I lived until last year. My best friend took them last week and sent me. I like this time of year the best, warm and beautiful.

Cherry blossom can be seen as a symbol that implies the Japanese view of life. It is just a week we can enjoy the flower of cherry blossom; it shows amazing scenery but lasts only a short period of time. They so often compare it to the life of human.

This kind of comparison has been used for a long, long time, and I believe that is part of our collective view of life. There is an old novel titled "Hojoki," which was written in 1212, and this work begins with the following line:

"The flow of river never stops, and the water flowing there is never the same water. Bubbles floating on the flow appear and disappear, and never stay at one place. People and their home in this world are similar to this flow of river." (- Sorry for my bad translation)

And I think the mind of people who find beauty of life in this line is consistent with their habit of going out to see cherry blossom.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

So what's the matter with my age??

My birthday is March 26, 1980, which means that I became 29 two weeks ago. My life is getting more and more interesting as I get older, so I think I'm glad to get older, at least at this moment.

When I talk about my age to friends here, that is, people who are NOT from Japan, they just say that I don't look as old as my actual age. A 23-year-old friend from Brazil even lost words for a while when he knew my age because, according to him, he strongly believed that I'm two or three years younger than him. Well, I felt a bit complicated when he told me so, but maybe I should be pleased about it.

It is often said that people from some Asian countries, especially Japan and Korea, look much younger than they actually are. It is also the fact, however, that many Japanese people seriously care about their own age more than people from any other countries do. I know I cannot generalize how people think - but, for example, many Japanese women of my age would sadly say that "I'm not young any more," and not a few men of my age would say that "26-year-old women are not young any more, I prefer women younger than 25." I don't know how it sounds to other people though. Do people in the States also think like this?

Of course not all Japanese think like that; it's just a tendency of the way of thought about age, and now this attitude has been changing along with the change in society. People get married and have their child later and later, and this fact seems to gradually change the definition of being young. However, I think Japanese way of thought about age is still greatly different from that of American people. I'm not sure yet, but at least for me, American people (and maybe people from any other countries) do not seem to care about others' age as we do.

I believe that that attitude toward age is deeply associated with the language we use. In other words, we are usually very careful to use polite expressions especially to others older than ourselves due to the nature of our language, as well as the influence of Confucianism. (I also heard that Korean language has the same, or sometimes more strict rule of the use of polite expression.) I know English also has both casual and polite expression. Compared with English-speaking people, however, the way Japanese people care about the use of polite expression can even seem to be extreme.

Here's an example. Assume I meet someone and think he or she is the same age or younger than me. So I talk to he/she in a casual way. But after a short conversation, I realize that he/she is, say, 2 years older than me. Then I would feel a bit embarrassed and maybe say sorry to talk in such a casual manner. In this situation, if I were the older one, I would not care that much about the way people talk to me. However, some people do care; they would consider those who are younger and talk in that casual way to be very rude.

What does it mean? It means that as you get older, the number of those who talk to you in a polite way increases accordingly. One day you would notice that more coworkers in your office talk to you very politely even when having a casual lunch, and think surprisedly or sadly, "ah, I'm already this age!" Thinking of the nature of English, I guess this kind of moment may not take place among native English-speaking people... Could someone please tell me about it?

Monday, March 2, 2009

How to get the sense of different languages?

This semester I'm taking Spanish 101 class. Though I took a beginner Spanish class for a year about 9 years ago, I already forgot most of what I learned there. Now I'm remembering the sense of Spanish little by little.

In today's class, the professor explained the sentence "Me gusta la playa" as below:

In English we say "I like the beach."
But in Spanish, it's more like "The beach is pleasing to me." So the subject of this sentence is not "me" but "la playa" (the beach).

"Me" in this sentence corresponds to "to me" in English, "gusta" corresponds to "is pleasing." The infinitive form of the verb is "gustar," and it varies depending on "la playa", not "me."

Let's think about English. You change the verb depending on the subject, so you say "I like the beach and he likes the beach too." On the other hand, in Spanish you say "Me gusta la foto y me gustan las gatos." (Please don't care about the meaning of the sentence, it just occurred to me.)

A little confusing, but it's ok so far. I can still keep up.

By the way, I was thinking about why many Japanese people find it difficult to speak in English, and one of the major reason seems to be the word order.

In English we say "I like bananas."
In Japanese we say "私は(I)バナナが(bananas)好きです(like)."

In English we say "I don't like beef."
In Japanese we say "私は(I)牛肉が(beef)好き(like)ではありません(not)."

And after coming to the States I found that this word order problem affects understanding of English to a greater extent than I thought at first. This is just my opinion, but many of us are too much used to unconsciously try to know what the object is before knowing the verb. In other words, especially when we Japanese listen to spoken English saying "I don't like beef," we unconsciously try to first find the subject and second the object, not the verb.

As a result, we think, like, "Ok, this person said something about him/herself because the subject was 'I' and talked something about beef. But what's the matter with beef?" This is because we easily miss the verb and get no idea about if it was "like" or "hate."

This is kind of an exaggerated example, but this kind of thing did occur when I was listen to a long and complicated sentence or attending a speech for a long time. What was interesting is that it happens less and less after I recognized this phenomenon.

So, based on my own experience, clearly recognizing the difference between the mother language and another language may lead to greater understanding of another language.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Difference in languages

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I simply like learning languages that I don't know. When I was in a college in Japan, I took Spanish class, Italian class, French class, and Indonesian class, each for just an year. Outside the college I also tried to learn Russian and Portuguese by myself. Of course it is impossible to become able to speak languages other than our mother languages through a mere one-year or less absolute beginner class. However, it is still fun to learn languages because I can find something new about my own language in comparison with other languages.

As I already mentioned in the previous post, each language has its original concept that can be called its "roots" for those who speak that language. After coming to the United States, one thing I was surprised during a conversation with my American roommate was that when I said that "the rainbow has seven colors," she immediately corrected me saying that "no, it's six colors, right?" I knew that the number of colors in the rainbow differs in every country but at that time I totally forgot about it.

What this little episode indicates is the difference in perception of colors. In other examples, Japanese language classifies rain into more than 20 kinds based on its strength, seasons, or even the size of raindrops. I also heard that some tribes who live in Northern part of the Earth has a large number of expression for snow, and other tribes who make their living mainly from fishing has a great variety of terms about wave and fish.

What I love the most about learning different languages is to get the new viewpoint from this kind of discovery, if not become able to speak in those languages.