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Friday, July 29, 2011

Notes on language learning

I've been studying Japanese since March. It's one of those things that probably seems like it came out of the blue to a lot of people. When I lived in Los Angeles in my 20s, for example, I was exposed much more to Korean, Vietnamese and Chinese signage on restaurants and in grocery stores. Since returning to New Hampshire (where I was born), I've had even less exposure to any Asian languages. So why Japanese?

It's a complicated answer. Part of it is because my fiancee and I have been trying to eat healthier, so have adopted a lot of Japanese-style food into our diets like tofu and miso. Part of it is my love of old obscure video games for the Nintendo Entertainment System and Turbo-Grafx 16, many of which never reached American shores and were written in Japanese and designed for a Japanese audience. But probably the biggest instigator was seeing all the devastation on the news from the earthquake and tsunami. When I saw a YouTube video of the port city of Kesennuma literally being wiped off the map in a little over six minutes, I was not only shocked at how quickly a natural disaster can happen, but at how little I knew about Japan's people, language and culture. That might be a strange reaction to a natural disaster, but it suddenly cemented my desire to learn the language and feel a little less ignorant about a very important part of the globe and its people.

One tool I have found invaluable in learning the language is What I love about the site is it's about more than just the language. It's about learning the culture. It's about using Japanese in a variety of situations, from informal to very formal. I also love how it is taught via podcasts. Not only is it extremely convenient, almost a habit, to slip on the headphones and listen to a new lesson, but dialog is taught using a range of native speakers to really give you an idea of how words may sound different coming from different people.

One of the most recent lessons talks about very basic adjectives and using them in very basic patterns. For whatever reason, one of the phrases really connected with me. Hence, this poem:

Notes on language learning
At a very early level
of Japanese language study,
he paused at the phrase
"Nihon no natsu wa
mushiatsui desu."

Not much of a sentence.
Roughly translated:
"Summers in Japan are humid."

But the gentle tap of ns in
Nihon no natsu, like bug's
feet on skin,

the wet net of steam
swirling in the
baking street of

were immersive,

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