Love/Hate

Last Friday night. Being the social creature that I am, I did the usual thing of holing up in my room with a book and a quickly emptied mug of tea.

“プリス今どこ?(purisu ima doko: where are you now?)” my phone lit up. One of my housemates.

Texting in Japanese makes me squirm. Instant messaging is meant to be instant, after all, and I am incapable of doing so in this language. Not to mention that all my mistakes are on display as soon as I hit send.

“私の部屋 (watashi no heya: in my room),” I sent back. “どうしたの?(doushitano: why? What’s up?)”

My guess was that I’d need to get the door. There’s no intercom system to get into our house so if you forget your key, you can either get someone to open it for you from the inside or wait until the next person comes home. We all opt for the former.

A gentle whoop alerted me to the reply. “今忙しい?(ima isogashii: are you busy at the moment?)”

“Nope,” I replied, switching languages for speed now that my interest was piqued. Opening doors doesn’t require that much time.

“新しい外国の人がいるんだけど、日本語わからないんだ(atarashii gaikokunojin ga irundakedo, nihongo wakaranainda: there’s a new foreigner here but they don’t understand Japanese),” came an equally quick reply, “キッチンに来れる? (kicchin ni koreru: can you come to the kitchen?)”

I laughed. Uh sure, I thought, wondering what I was supposed to do. Welcome them, maybe? After all their help in getting me settled in, it was time to pass it on. And, if we’re going to be completely honest, I really should be more social. On a Friday night, no less.

Grabbing milk and my empty mug on my way out the room, I figured I could microwave my now cold pot of tea while I was there.

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Tea: my social safety blanket.

Our new housemate had just arrived in Japan the day before and moved in earlier that afternoon. So, for the first time in a while, I was able to unleash a storm of English in our common room. It wasn’t long, however, for the other housemates to join in the conversation – in English – to my surprise.

To my great surprise.

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In other words

Oh Twitter, you misleading bird, you. 140 characters? So short! Finally, a social media platform that won’t suck the time from your life… Wrong!

I have Twitter. Mind you, I only tweet about myself and about television shows. Well, I’ve only just gotten access to TV in the first time in two years so…I only really tweet about myself. Occasionally. Ok, fine. I don’t really tweet.

I wish I could use Twitter proficiently and join one of the many Twitter communities. But let’s be honest here: for such a small character limit, its nature of instancy means that it involves a lot of time commitment. Even on a non-participatory spectating level: if you refresh the page as soon as it’s loaded, there are sure to be new tweets already. It’s impossible to keep on top of it all.

So as a wise meme once said, “Ain’t nobody got time for ‘dat!”

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“Dang it!” *Blitz…*

I didn’t realise there’s a real life equivalent: being immersed in another language.

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Flip flop

Ahhh holidays, how I love thee.

I mean, mine’s over now but still, it’s a great concept, isn’t it? It’s a time to let my inner tourist roam free.

Unfortunately in Japan, tourism also equates to waiting in lines. And when it’s winter, one topic transcends all language barriers.

“寒いね (samui ne)” “超寒い! (chou samui)”

“好凍啊,呵? (hou2 dung3 a3 ho2)”

“Es ist kalt, Mama!”

My friend turned to me. “It’s freezing today, isn’t it?”

I chuckled. “So I hear.”

Waiting in line isn't always fun.

Waiting in line isn’t always fun.

I’m fluent in English. As for Chinese, Japanese and German, my comprehension varies around the beginner levels.

As such, you’d think I’d only feel comfortable speaking English, which is true for the majority of the time. Conversationally, my brain struggles to balance being social and thinking in another language.

But there are certain phrases that are helpful to season the main bulk of what I’m trying to say.

Something I love about learning other languages is that not everything translates. And once I’ve learnt them, I’m confused as to how I ever lived without expressing that concept so concisely.

Even for phrases that do translate, the usage and tone is often vastly different.

Going home to Australia, I had to suppress urges to say certain things in Japanese and rely more on Cantonese. Coming back to Japan, I had to reverse it.

So here are things I love saying in one language that doesn’t work well in the others.

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No English

“Hi, can I take a moment to talk to you about the upcoming local election?”

I groaned internally. It was seven thirty in the morning, my bus was late and I was preparing myself for the awkward and inevitable “please don’t notice me” shuffle into the back of that morning’s lecture theatre.

So I did something I’m not particularly proud of but had gotten good and efficient results in the past.

I turned to the man and did my best impression of my Chinese-Vietnamese grandma.

“Sorry. No English.”

Usually, they smile as an apology and back away. Sometimes, they’ll try again but give up as my expression gets more and more confused.

But oh no, not this guy.

“DO YOU -,” I’m sure he didn’t mean to look so wild and aggressive, but I had to lean back to avoid his jabbing fingertips. “- LIVE HERE? HERE? THERE IS – AN ELECTION – GOVERNMENT – SOOOOOOOOON.”

He’s lucky I was only pretending to not understand him. If it wasn’t just a ploy, I would have well and truly started panicking by then.

Playing the foreign card doesn’t usually go well in Australia.

In Japan, however, it can be really convenient.

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Ready, set, goal!

“第一号! (daiichigou)” my office announced earlier this week.

“Big strawberry?” I asked, very confused.

Up until that moment, I thought I had understood the gist of the conversation. Is big strawberry slang for something else?

I found everyone staring back at me with the same thing written on their faces: what?!

Thankfully, after a moment, my chill head teacher chuckled, clicking his finger in realisation.

“Not 大いちご (dai ichigo: a weird way of saying ‘big strawberry’),” he explained as everyone else caught on to my mistake and started laughing. “第一号 (daiichigou).”

Being the thoughtful teacher that he is, he repeated it once or twice, pronouncing every letter clearly. “It means ‘the first one.'”

My Japanese listening is not very good. Neither is my speaking, especially for someone who lives in Tokyo.

Actually, I don’t really have much going for me in terms of Japanese.

Well, this is awkward.

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Japanese study resources

Japanese is not easy or peasy. Whoever came up with that phrase should know that the rhyme isn’t worth the lie.

Well, now that that’s off my chest, I should clarify. I’ve been learning Japanese for almost a year now. Some things frustrate me to no end.

But, as far as learning languages go, it’s not terrible either. In fact, once I got into the swing of it, I started to really enjoy the logic of it.

I’m not going to lie: I’ve had a few advantages.

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You can take the girl out of Australia but…

There were sixteen of us in my initial training group. About two thirds were from the States, the others were from the UK and then there was me – the lone Australian.

In the second week of training, one of our (American) trainers talked about the language we use in our classrooms; tips that would help the students understand us like keeping our sentences simple and being consistent with our instructional phrases.

“It’s very easy to use slang when we talk so try to be mindful of that,” she said. “And I don’t mean to single out anyone here but Australians tend to slip up the most.”

Naturally, despite her best intentions, everyone turned to look at the single Australian in the building. I was determined that, for the rest of training at least, I wouldn’t speak Australian.

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