Sunday, May 01, 2005

Rya, Ryu, Ryo

I spent last night burning cds with Takao, laughing really hard about silly things that have happened at the school (Takao is a new teacher at Edosaki this year) as well as laughing about silly things that have happened to me as a foreigner here, and silly things I've said to people as I've learned the language. I had my horribly messy Japanese writing scrutinized, and some of my self-instructed homework examined, and spent an hour trying to figure how to make three sounds in the Japanese phonetics system that will be the death of me. Rya, ryu, ryo. We don't have these sounds in English, and I find them really hard to say. I even avoid many words that use these sounds, as I know I don't say them well. This is sad, because I avoid saying "I cooked" (ryori shita) and will choose "I made" (tsukuta) instead. This is fine, as I probably say "I made nani nani" in English as well, over "I cooked nani nani", but this is just one case. And I'm sure I say poor Ryu's name, my buddy from last entry, a little awkwardly. But after an hour of what probably sounded like zen meditation to my neighbors (rya rya rya, ryu, ryu, ryu, ryo, ryo, ryo) I have a better handle on the sounds, though my "ryo" still needs a little more work. It sounds more like "riyo" than "ryo". Hey, I can't trill my r's either, so Spanish would be out of the question. But I'm trying.

And also, the more I learn, the harder it gets. I think it was easier for me to improvise speaking with less grammar. The more I learn, the more I want to use the new grammar, but it gets harder and harder, and I have to concentrate more intensely than usual to speak now, unless I fall back on simple sentences. But I don't want to do that, so I've got to keep trucking, I guess.

Onwards and upwards, or is it upwards and onwards? Either way, it's in that direction I've got to go.


Blogger Maureen McHugh said...

It sounds like Japanese is like English--it's pretty easy to speak bad, beginner English and still communicate. Chinese, because of the tones, isn't like that. Beginners are incomprehensible.

But English, because of its huge vocabulary, is hard to speak well. And someone told me once that Japanese grammar seems really simple but gets amazingly subtle. Chinese, if you can get tones and vocabulary down, is not nearly so difficult.(I'm told. I never got the tones down.)

But I used to do those drills distinguishing between sounds we didn't have in English. I always felt so cool when I thought I could make them!

10:36 AM  
Blogger Christopher Barzak said...

Maureen, this is all true. Japanese grammar is simple and subtle all at the same time. I can say I'm going to Europe this year, and if I misplace a particle might mean that I went somewhere else this year and couldn't make it to Europe last year but this year for sure. What my Japanese friends have told me about Chinese is that the grammar is actually a lot like English, but yeah, it's the tones that make it difficult for anyone to understand what's being said.

I went out on a date tonight with a girl who speaks English about as well as I speak Japanese and it was interesting to say the least. We managed to order food and see a movie and talk generally about it, but had to turn to the dictionary on several occassions, some because of her English, some because of my Japanese. At least we're learning, no matter how pitiful we're sounding to each other, I guess.

But I do wish I were more savvy at using what I know than I am. I know a lot more grammar than I use in daily conversation. I think part of it is just not enough speaking practice. Best way to do that, I think, is to have people around who don't know much English. And that's what I'm trying to forge now, friendships and relationships that aren't dependant on my language or my circumatances (because I can teach a class in Japanese well) though other situations are up for grabs.

Anyway, yeah, tough language to learn in the end.

1:28 PM  
Blogger Maureen McHugh said...

Hey, they say the best way to learn a language is to become romantically involved with a native speaker.

So date often.

10:37 PM  

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