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?