I bet you knew that Japanese word, right? Or maybe kimono, too? If you’re anything like me, you probably only recognized kimono because the Dad from “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” described the etymological origin of the word as harking back from the Greek word for winter…but that’s irrelevant.
In fact, the truth is until a year ago that was the extent of my knowledge about the Japanese language. The only difference now, as a third-year level student of the language at the University of Michigan, is that I sometimes forget to speak English when I get out of class and end up startling girls on my way out of the bathroom by shrieking “Sumimasen!!!! Sumimasen!!! Shitsurei Shimasu!!!!” and waving my hands wildly around in an effort to better convey my utter horror at being in their way. Really, I swear, this is my mindset after 90 minutes of Japanese. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned among the myriad 2,000 vocabulary words and 465 kanji I’ve collectively memorized over the past year, it’s that learning a language in college is much, much more than flash cards and awkward self-introductions–it’s forgoing all pretense of intelligence and accepting your utter and complete inability to express even the most simplest of desires, such as “Why thank you, I would love to try this new style of hair toupee…”
But let it also be said that learning a second language at the collegiate level is an experience spanning the sensory spectrum of sentiments, ranging from amazement, astonishment, accomplishment, enlightenment, encouragement, disheartenment, despair, discouragement, despondency, hope, expectancy, utter loss of said hope, and relief at the reliability of emphatic hand-gesturing to convey all surplus, non-communicable meaning.
For the precise reason that language is a means of communication at its most basic level, attempting to learn one other than your native tongue often ends up feeling like an unwanted evocation of one’s middle-school days of sober and intense insecurity at self-expression. And in addition to the uncomfortable inability to string together words without awkward pauses in conversation because you’re trying to remember the bizarre word-association you made up to help you remember that the Japanese word suteki, which means awesome, sounds a lot like steak-y, there’s the added importance of learning how to say what you want in the framework of another culture. Although any spoken language is essentially just a bunch of arbitrary sputterings, plosives, nasals, and fricatives, the act of communicating far exceeds the basic movements of one’s lips and tongue–it’s the beautiful symbiosis of facial expression, tone of voice, hand gesture, stance, and eye movement, a veritable communion of both verbal and non-verbal communication.
And it’s all this that I’m studying in my fourth year at the University of Michigan, and as both consolation and an attempt at self-encouragement in the process of learning another language, I share my thoughts, musings, frustrations, and enthusiasm with the world of fellow locution-aficionados out there here at HELLO NIHONGO.
あそびましょうね！ or, in the American vernacular, ‘LET’S DO THIS!!!’
From your friend and comrade in the comfort of words,