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Hajimemasho! – My Japanese learning journey – Part 2

Week 2

Learning from last week, I came to class armed with copious amounts of coffee and a Japanese-English Conversation Dictionary. When sensei greeted me with a cheery konnichiwa, I panicked and flubbed my pronunciation. I said kwonwa. KWONWA!
Great start to the class, minna-san.

Being the second class, I still didn’t know what the class formula was. Apparently, the lesson plan for the basic course follows this route: a refresher of the previous week, followed by vocabulary enhancements to conversational Japanese, and learning the next series of the Hiragana syllabary. This week, it was Sa and Ta.
It’s shocking how quickly your mind forgets in 7 days. We were utter embarrassments, stumbling over our pronunciation and grammar taught to us only a week ago—it’s ohayo when casual, and ohayo gozaimasu to those you must (pretend) to respect. Defeat was evident during dictation, the surprise spelling test (more bad memories of Chinese lessons!) where I failed miserably to remember that A and Ka vowels. If time and ability permits, choosing a twice-weekly lesson plan isn’t the worst idea.

Useful...and terrible words to learn. I still dread homework.

Most of the lesson was dedicated to refreshing our memory and getting us more comfortable with the language. Conversational and functional grammar is the crux of the lesson and us practicing was tedious, but necessary. Learning the Hiragana, most of that can be memory work. One of my classmates has already memorised them completely, to both our admiration and disgust.
If English is your first language, you’ll realise that we emphasise on the second syllable. In Japanese, it’s the first. So it’s not SA-KU-RA, it’s SA-KU-RA. My brain reminded me of that, but my tongue, so used to the twisters of English, refused to straighten.
For this week, we moved into identifying occupations, and how to—politely!—ask for someone’s name and occupation. Some useful questions we learned:
Onamae wa nan desu ka? (lit. What is your name?)
Oshigoto wa nan desu ka? (lit. What is your occupation?)

Name-san wa oikutsu desu ka? (lit. Name, what is your age?)

Week 3

My sweet, supportive parents laughed in my face when I signed up for Japanese classes. It hasn’t stopped since. I come from a family with a proud tradition of being unable to even write our own Chinese names, and the idea that I would try to learn a language that was so close to Chinese was ludicrous.
The only real support I got from them was a rather comprehensive English-Japanese Conversation Dictionary, from my dad when he used to travel to Japan for work.
Be warned, an English-Japanese dictionary from our trusty Kinokuniya can cost anything from $12 to $53. With electronics and Wi-Fi burning through our veins, you might not need it on native shores. But if you’re planning on travelling to Japan and you need the washroom in a hurry, this baby can help prevent an accident.


In this week’s class, I put my fledging Japanese, my dictionary, and proud otaku badge of honour to the test, to try and inform sensei that I’ll be missing the next week’s class. And I did it in Japanese.
Really, I thought it was a good idea at that time.
Here’s how it went.
Me: “Sensei, ryushu, watashi wa shuuseki…ja nai”. (Lit: Teacher, next week, attending this seminar…I will not.) A horrible bastardisation, but I worked with what I had.
Sensei: “Replacement class?” Great, I got it right!
Me: “Asobi mawatte imasu.” (Lit: I will be travelling for pleasure.) Oh god, he’s staring. Did I pronounce it wrong? Has my trusty otaku senses betrayed me? Where’s my notes?
Me: “Otomodachi wa kekkon shimashita”. (Lit: My friend is getting married.) Should be right, all those hours of anime can’t be failing me. Why is he frowning? “Malaysia,” I add, to explain the need for travel. Still frowning. Not a good sign.

Do you know how to count to 20 in Japanese? Start practicing!

Turns out it wasn’t as horrible as I thought. Apparently, the expressions I was using were rather unusual for a beginner. He actually asked, in fluent English*, because the Japanese equivalent was way too complicated for me, if I had studied Japanese before. An incredible compliment! I proudly said I was an otaku.

Literally, my reaction when he complimented me

Back to the lesson: this week, it was the Na and Ha vowels. Hiragana’s getting real complicated now, but thankfully with some last minute cramming before class, I could still more or less remember the characters.
Grammar was a whole other ballgame, with us trying to learn the difference between using wa and no in a sentence. Using watashi wa, apparently refers to yourself. But watashi no, that refers to a possession or subject you have. Highly-confusing stuff.
The last, was learning the all-important “denwa bango wa nan desu ka”, (lit: what is your number?). If your aim is to get a Japanese partner, there can be no greater sentence to know!
See you guys next lesson.

*Previously I’d said that I wasn’t sure if they were fluent in English. That was presumptuous of me. They just choose to communicate less in English, for the sake of the lessons. If you want to whisper in class, try a third language.

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