Sunday, May 21


Everyday I study Japanese. And everyday my brain resists absorbing the Japanese in such a direct, forced manner. It prefers passive learning, immersed in the language, absorbing it through physical clues rather than textual insistence. I am rather content to learn my second language in this manner but I have arrived at the point where formal study is required.

There are many reasons I have not engaged in such intense study before. For starters, I was never very certain about how long I would remain in Japan and thus my commitment to acquiring Japanese as a second language was wavering. And yet there seems to be no option of returning to my homeland, mostly due to economic reasons.

Another reason was that I was concerned about how being proficient in a second language would affect my first, especially since I am a writer. I know people who have lost their first language and this fear has kept me from embracing Japanese. Of course, having studied bilingualism for my master's, I know that those people were exceptions. I recently read Jhumpa Lahiri's In Other Words and was impressed with her endeavor to write in her second language, using it as an opportunity to get beyond the cultural trappings of the first language and enter into a linguistic sphere where she is blind but persistent.

I usually tell people that the logistics were never in my favor for Japanese study (a story which has merits as a working mother of four, living in places where Japanese classes are unavailable) but the truth is that logistics in general are rarely in my favor and yet I persevere if it suits me.

When you acquire a second language, it is not that you are necessarily losing yourself but that you are evolving. Evolving can mean that you must let go of old notions, old attachments, but it also means that you develop new ones. It is an adventure but not in a shiny, glamping sort of way. It is an adventure in the way that your car breaking down in the middle of the night is an adventure. It is an adventure like mountain climbing during a thunderstorm without any rain gear. You feel foolish and unprepared and really wish to be doing anything else, wish to be in the safety of the known and yet you cannot. Because this is just what you are doing, regardless if it was your intention or not. And yet these are the sort of adventures that make you stronger, ready for what lies ahead.

On the first weekend of July, I will be somewhere in Kyushu (location yet declared) to take the Japanese proficiency exam. I chose a level that I thought I would pass easily but now that I am studying, I realize that I will be damn lucky to pass, mainly because of the grammar. Listening and reading (passive skills) come easily to me, and kanji is not really an issue (I have a strange instinctual grasp of kanji). But grammar is kicking my ass. And it is terrible and humbling and yet strangely alluring. I am contrary by nature so the fact that I am failing grammar makes me more determined to learn it. My brain is intrigued by it much as it is intrigued by those subject that it cannot consume readily like calculus and quantum physics. And yet unlike those subjects, I actually need to conquer Japanese grammar.

 I originally signed up for the proficiency exam to help boost my luck with job-hunting. Recently an opportunity has arisen (technically re-arisen) and the odds are in my favor. With any luck, we will be in our new home, off the island, by October. My younger self would take this as an opportunity to quit studying and to return to my usual antics but something has evolved within me. I don't want to return to my usual antics. It turns out that I actually want to be proficient now, that I am comfortable with turning Japanese, or Japanese in my own manner (which is definitely unauthorized by the official Japanese notion of being Japanese but I don't mind being rogue). Of course, I am really just turning into myself because that is all we ever do, the true adventure.


Becca said...

Good luck with the test and with the job-hunt. Where will you be come October I wonder? Somewhere on Honshu again?
Several years ago now I passed the JPLT level 2, had to work very hard to make it happen and maybe there was some luck involved? Hope next year to try for level 1. Lovely to discover that you are writing here again. I wondered how the move back to Nihon had gone. Ganbatte!

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