Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Opposite of Difficult

Language School
Today was my first day of Japanese language school. For December I'll have private lessons 2 hours a day/3 days a week, down town Tokyo until the next semester starts in January. Today was a survival Japanese lesson. After 2 hours talking in English and Japanese about language, culture, customs and grammar. I had a one hour commute back to my host family's home. I was exhausted and realized just how taxing language learning can be. My 6 year old language helper
When I returned home (it really feels like home now that I'm unpacked) I was greeted by Mion-chan. My host family's granddaughter - age 6.(see photo) She was watching some Japanese children's programs (great practice for me!). Then we played a game of "memory" with the "Turampu" (trump) cards. When we flip over the cards we say the number in Japanese. She won the game without contest as my memory bank was too full to be much competition.

Simple Japanese:
I was writing flash cards in hiragana - a Japanese writing system of phoentic symbols, each representing one syllable - used to write Japanese words. All Japanese words written in "Kanji" - the chinese characters - may be phonetically spelled in hiragana. So hiragana is the writing system learned in preschool in Japan. (Children gradually add Kanji as they progress through school - a certain number each year until reaching 1900 or 2000 kanji - the amount needed for reading a newspaper - my goal is to read 1000 kanji in one year.)

When I was studying my vocabulary list and flash cards of adjectives, I came across the word "mu-zu-ka-shi-i" which means "difficult". In Japanese, I asked Mion, "What is the 'opposite' of muzukashii"? I expected her to say "Ya-sa-shi-i" (easy). Instead she looked at the word and said "i-shi-ka-zu-mu". Which is reading the word backwards - but doesn't make a Japanese word. She makes me smile!
I later realized that the word I used for 'opposite' (hantai) also has the meaning - backwards or reverse. Later we both practiced writing our 46 hiragana symbols.

Borrowed words:

Japanese language uses many words from other languages - they are written in a special writing system called katakana. Some words come from France, some Germany but many are borrowed English words. Borrowed Words like Pizza (pi-za), Hamburger (ha-mu-ba-ga), McDonald's (ma-ku-do-na-do) or names of foreign people (Lori = ro-ri) or places use katakana. Once you can read the phonetic katakana symbols it greatly expands your vocabulary. However, some pronunciations of the words are just different enough that they are "Mu-zu-ka-shi-i"

For example - Mion also told me that tomorrow she has a "dochi baru taikai" at preschool. I couldn't figure out what she meant. I used my dictionary to find "taikai" (in hiragana and kanji) is like a tournament. But "dochi baru" - was not in the dictionary. Thankfully with the help of my host mother acting it out and a picture drawn by Mion - I realized dochi baru is katakana which meant - - She has a "dodge ball tournament" tomorrow! - The universal game of kids (and adults) everywhere!

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