There are days when I feel as if I will never understand the Japanese language – and today is one of them. I think I’m tired. I’m struggling with counting systems and numbers. The Japanese have many ways to count objects and the way that you count books is different from the way you count months, or people, or small round things. The word for a number can also change depending on the context. I’ve been trying to learn these but when my teacher starting talking about the system for counting cars I wanted to just bang my head off the table.
Coming from Europe Japanese is hard to learn. I was in Holland recently and was shocked at how well I can follow a Dutch conversation. But it’s not that surprisingly really. I’ve been hearing Dutch sounds for 17 years, I studied related European languages, I did take a Dutch course at some point and living in Japan is teaching me to listen very carefully when people speak. Unfortunately, Japanese is not related to any language I’m used to listening to. The only way for me to guess the meaning of something is to use context. I find it easier when reading as I can take my time looking over the whole sentence and piece together a meaning. But there are lots of times when people speak that I don’t understand a single word. That happened yesterday when a sales assistant approached me in Gap. I really don’t know what he said or even what language he said it in. It didn’t sound like either English or Japanese. We ended up standing smiling at each other until he backed away from me with an embarrassed look on his face.
Not being able to speak Japanese can make simple tasks daunting and difficult tasks become the stuff of nightmares. I received a letter from the health service telling me that I should arrange a visit to my local clinic for a smear test. Well, there is a situation full of words that I don’t know or even know how to begin asking someone to explain.
I did learn today that I was born in the 47th year of the Showa Era and that this was the year of the rat. I’m supposed to be charming, honest, ambitious, and have a tremendous capacity for pursing a course to its end. Let’s hope that’s true or I will never master this language.