Japanese and me, so far [part 3] (IS 5)
Once in Japan I was hit by culture shock in varying degrees depending on the situation. I was also horribly nervous and could hardly say a few words to figure out where I was supposed to go to pick up my luggage, let alone have a conversation. Within a week I was able to hold a shaky conversation and after a month, I was talking to everyone and anyone I could. I had always been a “hands-on” learner and being fully immersed in the language, culture, people and everything else in Japan nonstop made all the difference in my ability to learn Japanese. In “Why Immersion” the author mentions how being fully immersed is like going back to the stage when we were children, learning each day in an environment where you can quickly let go of fears of making mistakes and speak freely. (Sweitzer) reaching the level to speak freely is not automatic, but once you hit that point there is a steep slope on the learning curve where you can increase you level rapidly. Besides my motivation, the setting in which I was learning Japanese was absolutely critical.
When in the United States, I would go to class every morning, disheveled and half awake. I had so many distractions that once I combined my Japanese practice and homework, along with my other course work and my friends, I hardly had time to sleep. As such I would not be mentally prepared to take in new information or even review most anything. Over the course of a few semesters I began to find a balance and how to manage everything in a fashion that allowed for all of my interests and my necessities. That helped some, yet my Japanese abilities were still lacking. My speaking and reading skills were passable, yet my listening, comprehension and writing abilities were far below my goals. The semester before going to Japan I was living in a dorm where I was surrounded by Japanese students that of which I was good friends with and we spoke in Japanese whenever we could. This was when I started realizing my strengths came from hands-on practice with language.
The setting leads to a different way to develop one’s own “expert” and “competence.” Expert can be described by reference to different ways sources of information are perceived or understood. (Duranti) For example; “Memory recall for a novice will not be as good as an expert. The novice may produce information overload and it compromises their ability to appropriate oral and written communication.” (Duranti) This in turn, with competence as the level of knowledge underlying a native speaker’s production and interpretation of numerous syntactically well-formed strings in any language is the effectiveness of the language stills. (Duranti 34) I personally went through stages of development from straight memorization to hearing and understanding through context then overall understanding, followed by full understanding in a majority of situations. I am not at the level of expert, but I am improving my level of competence daily.
Once I was in Japan I was not able to back away from a situation if I did not know the proper grammar or vocabulary for a situation, I would have to use what I had. This at first meant use of crude descriptions of places, people, or objects and gestures to describe what I was looking for, later developing into a comprehensible level of speech. I still had many distractions, but the distractions often led me into situations where I would need to use or understand Japanese in one way or another. No matter what I did, I was learning. That is what it means for me when someone says “total immersion.” It is not something I could have received from a book or a computer program, only from being in Japan. In the New Zealand Journal of Asian studies Matsumoto references his research:
“Komiya-Samimy and Tabuse (1992) show that it takes three or four times longer for American students to reach the same level of oral skills in Japanese as it does in French or Spanish.” ( MATSUMOTO 63)
Talking about the amount time people whose first language is English and they are learning Japanese as their second language. This is due to the likeness of the languages grammatical structures.
Something else that threw me off a bit when I first arrived in Japan was the variation of gestures. “Gestures” accompany our speech and are considered involuntary or partly conscious acts of bodily leakage usually accompanied by speech of some sort. (Duranti) The main one that I saw was when someone would beckon for me to go over to where they were. In the US, that would mean having your palm up hand open and pulling back towards yourself. In Japan the gesture for that is palm down, hand in a scoop-like shape, moving almost at the level of flicking the wrist, but just short of that, as the flick would be telling someone to leave. Several times I thought someone was asking me to leave only to have them run up to me and explain that they wanted me to come to them. Also the Japanese people are famous for one gesture with a completely different understanding of the action in comparison to the USA. This action occurs when they are taking pictures, often in groups and it is known in the US as the “peace sign.” Holding two fingers up in the shape of a “V” in Japan is actually quite simple; According to several Japanese student I met and several professors, it is just considered a pose for pictures, if they did not use it, they would have to do a different pose or risk being “too boring” in the pictures.
Duranti, Alessandro. Key Terms in Language and Culture. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2001. Print.
MATSUMOTO, MASANORI, and YASUKO OBANA. “MOTIVATIONAL FACTORS AND PERSISTENCE IN LEARNING JAPANESE AS A FOREIGN LANGUAGE.” New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies (2001): n. pag. New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies. June 2001. Web. 12 Apr. 2013. <http://www.nzasia.org.nz/downloads/NZJAS-June01/LearningJapanese.pdf>.
Sweitzer, Julie. “Why Immersion?” The Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA) : Articulation of Language Instruction. The University of Minnesota, n.d. Web. 08 Apr. 2013. <http://www.carla.umn.edu/immersion/acie/vol4/Feb2001_WhyImmers.html>.
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