Do you speak Japanese? When inquiring minds learn I am spending a lot of time in Japan, I am invariably asked this question.
It’s a fair question, but one that constantly reminds me that the unfortunate answer is no, I do not speak Japanese!
At first, I thought I could get by if I only learned conversational Japanese, but friends living in Japan looked doubtful when they heard my plan. They gently suggested that I learn to read and write as well. Taking their advice, I bought books about learning to read and write hiragana, katakana or kanji. I bought apps as well, this being the technological age. With each new effort and purchase I realized just how far I had to go. That’s when things started to go downhill.
Each new teaching venue stressed how simple the process of learning would be. I can easily imagine thousands of other gullible and overly optimistic foreigners doing the same. BIG LESSON LEARNED: there are no shortcuts.
Becoming genuinely competent in the language requires a BIG commitment of time and energy. I’m now back to wondering if I should limit myself to learning conversational Japanese as I originally planned twenty years ago. I also know that wondering won’t get me very far. If I’m ever to make significant progress while I’m here in Kyoto, I’ll need to get a tutor for some intense one on one.
I have learned some basic critical phrases, mostly about how and when to be polite. I know when to say sumimasen (I’m sorry for the trouble I’ve caused you). You can’t go wrong saying sumimasen for most interpersonal interactions, be it requesting a menu, when climbing into a taxi, before buying something at a store, or requesting a glass of water, beer or sake at a restaurant, or just getting someone’s attention.
Additionally I can wow you with yes/no, hot/cold, big/small/, this/that/, here/there, ok, where is the bathroom? pretty, cute, dog, cat, etc.; I essentially have the vocabulary of an 18 month old just learning how to talk, except the toddler wouldn’t care where the bathroom is.
I’ve got to do better!!