“After one year, how is your Japanese going? Do you speak it? Do you understand it? What level are you?”
If you study in Japan, or plan to live there, be ready because this question will haunt you for life. Not just your mum, not just your dad, but everyone will ask you that.
Personally, with a forced smile with a slightly worried look, I always give the usual answer.
When I came to Japan with the idea of living here, my language level was zero. Never studied Hiragana or Katakana, never read manga, never played Japanese video games and, the only Anime, go back to when I was in elementary after school, watching “Dragon Ball” and “Sailor moon” while eating bread, butter and sugar (yep, my grandmother was making pretty heavy snack)
I was such ignorant that I couldn’t even remember basic words like “connichiwa” or “sayonara”. I limited myself to a continuous “Arigatou” pronounced even at unnecessary moments. And I remind you that, besides having been to Japan twice, I had a Japanese boyfriend (current husband). I was really bad.
For this reason, it was not difficult to plan my first months in Tokyo.
Back at school!
Even before leaving, buy a plane ticket, and announce to my parents that I was going to the other side of the world (sorry Mom if you find out this way) I already had in mind what to do.
I relied on GoGoNihon’s advice! and I enrolled in a language course.
I spent my first 6 months in Japan studying in the morning at the library or in the cafeteria, and going to school in the afternoon. 6 months in which it seemed to go back to high school.
Homework, pre-and post-exam anxiety, nightlife with classmates (some of whom were almost 30 but with a great desire to party like they were 18), gossip in the corridors and apparently “cultural” trips throughout the year . (Actually ‘we went a full day to Fujiland on a roller coaster. Is that consider cultural?!).
So, did you learn something?
I assure you that the intention of wanting to concentrate exclusively on the study was succeed. High grades, homework, repetitions at night with Yo … but the school environment remains that at any age. It was impossible not to be kids again.
Bu I’m absolutely happy about this 6 months.
Did I mention that my level was equal to a blank sheet? Well, the school taught me to fill it.
I learned the basics of reading and writing, how to behave on certain occasions and what is better to say. I discovered that the Japanese language is not only made up of words, but also of postures and movements that very often, can say more than words.
But above all, I understood that there are no particular secrets to learn it if not perseverance and dedication every day (no day off).
Forget books that promise to become native speakers in 6 months, they can’t work.
So, did you start speaking Japanese?
Do you doubt me if I tell you the answer is NI?
One day a dear friend of Yo (whom I respect a lot) told me
“The school can’t help you up to a certain point. You have to live a population to be able to understand it and to be able to start speaking the same language.”
After thinking “But I live in Japan!” I immediately realised that I was actually moving just in my comfort zone, made up of international friends, with whom I spoke in English, Yo, with whom I still communicate in English, and a city like Tokyo willing to understand me even if I didn’t use Japanese.
Grammar for breakfast and Kanji for dinner? It wasn’t, and it’s not enough.
And that is how, with Yo’s thousandth question: “what if we moved out of town?”, after second thoughts and afterthoughts, it was not so difficult to pack our belongings, get on a rented pickup truck, load it with suitcases (between which a table and my beloved Graziella) and change the air.
I left school, international environments of English mother tongue, various distractions, and we catapulted into an area where or you speak Japanese, or you can communicate with gestures.
We live here since more than 5 months and I can not be more happy!
So, now do you speak Japanese?
Well, I thought so.
I thought that being able to answer the questions of the usual cashier at the supermarket about who I am, what I do, where I come from and what I’m going to cook made me a person capable of mastering the language in everyday life. I was thinking that understanding the announcements at the train station would have made me able to move freely, anywhere. I thought that being able to understand and talk with the family of Yo (obviously with thousand mistakes) was enough.
But do you know when my castles collapsed?
- When visiting Yo’s hometown. in the north of the country, I got to go to dinner with his friends who, with such a speed of talking and an entirely new accent for my ears, made Japanese an unknown language .
- When I realised that both the cashier of the supermarket and all the people I have been able to communicate with, have always talked to me in an informal, friendly way. The problems came when I started dealing with strangers, intent on respecting the Japanese conversation rules called Keigo – 語.
If with point one, I will have to resign and try to practice with the accent of Yamagata (it is in fact an area in which we often return), with the second I cannot escape. Studying is the only solution.
Work of the Japanese artist “Keigo”. The only way to achieve the goals is to work hard.
For who doesn’t know, Keigo 敬 語 is a form of “polite” conversation.
When you use it you have to:
Change words or phrases (almost like studying a second vocabulary);
Adding honorary prefixes in front of some words;
You have to understand the person that you are talking to and depending on that you have to know three different form with three different levels of “education”. Thay must be used in specific contexts and people (polite, humble and honorary style);
If your Japanese language level allows you to respect these three points, you deserve all my respect.
If you come to Japan for vacation, you don’t need to know Keigo. The Japanese are aware of the difficulty of their language, and I assure you that they will help you with simple and concise sentences.
If you live in Japan instead, having a notion of this form is necessary in order to survive in everyday life as its use is not limited to offices. You will hear Keigo at the train stations, hotels, supermarkets, public announcement items, postman, home deliveries.
In short, the places or people you often deal with!
My Japanese language level after a year?
I still define myself as an “elementary conversation” level. If with kanji I’m not so bad, I cannot say the same with my speech.
A road still language, but certainly full of satisfaction.
Let’s say that “I’m in the process of learning”.