Some of you may not know this, but I studied Japanese during my last two years in college. I didn’t do particularly well, in fact I did terribly, but I refused to give up, re-enrolling doggedly every semester until I graduated. After four semesters of studying Japanese, I can tell when someone is speaking Japanese; that’s about the extent of my enduring understanding of the language. When I graduated, there was no suggestion from my Sensei that I continue any post-grad work in the field of Japanese Studies, or move abroad to continue learning the language. In fact, I’m pretty sure he said something along the lines of ‘Schoemann-san, you’re graduating? Thank God.’ If nothing else, I suppose my persistence was commendable, although it might have been more like sad.
One of my favorite memories of the saga of Taking Japanese Even Though I was Horrible at It came after I completed the year-long introductory class. During the following registration period, in a moment of unusual cruelty, I told the Sensei that I thought I was ready to skip the Intermediate level class and move straight to Advanced Japanese. “I’m sure you can agree,” I said, “that I am far enough along after only a year of Japanese that I should be able to keep up with the Advanced class.” My Sensei was aghast. The look on his face was priceless. I can still his strangled response of “Schoemann-san, no!” It brings a smile to my face to this day.
My other favorite memory is of the time a friend of mine asked me to translate the title of a Japanese movie he had rented to watch for a film class. His copy didn’t have subtitles, and I boldly told him that, after three semesters of Japanese, I should be able to at least translate the title of a film for him. I stared at the cover.
“Well,” I said, “this is the character for…‘meat’, I think. And this one…means…vacation? I KNOW that this is the sign that means ‘of’—and this last character is the verb ‘listen’. So, your movie is called ‘Meat Vacation of Listening’. You’re welcome.”
A short google search later, and my friend found a translation of the title online. “You mean, ‘Temple of Flesh’?” he said.
“Yes. Of course that’s what I meant.”
October 19, 2009 at 4:20 am
I’m in my third semester of Japanese right now, and suffering a similar fate.
Sometimes I feel like the only thing I’ve learned is how to correctly read the names of sushi off the menu. And write what day it is with fancy kanji things.
“See that sign after August? That means MONTH. And after 25? That means DAY.”
October 19, 2009 at 4:35 pm
“schoemann-san, no!” is going directly into my lexicon for when someone is about to make a grave error in judgment.
October 19, 2009 at 4:40 pm
Oh man. He really did say that. And the look on his face! It was so great.
Sensei, I’m sorry. You went above and beyond to teach me unlearnable things, and all I did was make trouble.