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The Benefits of Language and their Environment  

2013-08-16 16:59:29|  分类: 默认分类 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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Languages, and how you’re treated

 

I was thinking about how language is measured or seen by the locals accordingly, and, well… these are my thoughts.

 

Japanese

I was reminiscing about language learning as I looked over a blog post about people trying to learn Japanese in Japan.

 

You think this would be easy, but Japanese people tend to believe that people with a white (or black) face will never be able to speak Japanese, and unless you speak to them in English (no matter how bad your English is), you have failed in your duty as being a helpful and friendly citizen of Japan. 

 

We all have those stories.  You ask the train attendant in perfect Japanese where platform 8 is, and he/she will do crazy gestures and say: “appu!  Appu!”  And you’re like, wha?  Apple?  Are you sneezing?”  And basically you go through this ordeal for about 5 minutes until you realize s/he’s telling you to head up.

 

Most foreigners in Japan are English instructors, and most of them can’t speak Japanese well.  In fact, the schools don’t want them to speak Japanese well—the less the better.  Even the few teachers that try their hardest to pick up the language are knocked down, because they’re supposed to fill the stereotype of the Japanese foreigner: speaking no Japanese, not being able to use chopsticks and shitting a brick whenever they see a slice of sushi. 

 

But there are the few that succeed in getting pera pera at Japanese, and due to suicidal tendencies, or what have you, they decide to enter a Japanese company or actually attempt to work in the Japanese business world.  In order to do this, you either have to 1. Be bitchin at Japanese or 2. have a crazy good skill that requires no language ability whatsoever (i.e. astro physicist). 

 

So, I got a job as an interpreter which means that I fall in category one where I have to have bitchin Japanese to be able to work.  Now, I’m not bragging, I honestly don’t think my Japanese is bitchin (far from it), but I passed the interview so they probably think I’m good enough to work as an interpreter/translator and, well, that’s good enough for me.

 

As an English teacher, I received constant praise for how awesome my Japanese was (even if I only said konnichiwa).  I was able to talk the talk, walk the walk, drink the drink—and for the most part, I interacted with my teachers 90% in Japanese.  I thought I was cool, man, and everyone always said how jyouzu I was and it got to my head.  Hell yeah I’m jyouzu, I thought.  No one gonna beat me.  I’m the shit.

 

Then I entered this company where my job is not to speak English all day, but rather, to speak flawless Japanese.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the Japanese, it’s that they need everything to be absolutely perfect.  This attention to detail doesn’t stop at arranging flowers, oh no, it also applies to language.

 

When you are placed in a situation where you have to do the same work as a Japanese person, your boss isn’t going to slap you on the back and say, “oh wow, your Japanese is so jyozu!”

 

In fact, it’s the opposite.

 

I get scolded for mixing up wa and ga, and there’s been so many times during an interpreting session that I get bitch smacked for my improper use of keigo, it’s embarrassing.  Even if I’m translating some horrifically difficult law report into JAPANESE (my non-native language), the general manager folds his arm, glares at me, and with the stomp of a foot screams: “Why isn’t your Japanese PERFECT?!!?”

 

To be fair, they know that in Shanghai they aint gonna find much better than me when it comes to interpreting and translation.  And even though I get the smackdown for my slightly unnatural Japanese translations, even after editing, 90% of my original translation still remains.

 

But back to my point. After you reach a certain stage of Japanese, no one is going to praise your Japanese anymore.  In fact, the way you know your Japanese has truly become awesome is when people stop commenting about it.

 

When I had my interview for my current job, my boss said nothing about my Japanese until we were 30 minutes into the interview.  All he said was, “your Japanese isn’t THAT bad, I guess, and your pronunciation is quite nice.”  That’s as far as it got.  The other manager said nothing.  In fact, to this day, she’s never told me my Japanese is good (and I work with her everyday).

 

K, too, has NEVER said my Japanese is jyozu.  Ever.  And we only communicate in Japanese (sometimes Chinese when situations arise, but anyway…).  The closest I got to a compliment with K was, “well, Mary’s way better than that one British dude I knew in school.”  Still, even hearing that made me happy.  He wasn’t just kissin my ass, he was being honest.

 

But I think learning Japanese in Japan is much harder than it seems because you have to jump over the ‘I refuse to speak Japanese’ hurdle that most locals throw at you.  Whether they want to practice English, or be kind to you, or don’t want to hear your crap Japanese—we’ll never know the reason; but what we do know is that they just plain won’t speak Japanese with you in their own country.  Speaking Japanese in Japan?  Craziness.

 

My breakthrough in Japanese came when a salaryman was hitting on me.  He spoke really damn good English, but at that time I was pretty fed up with people trying to get a free English lesson out of me so I looked him dead in the eyes and said: “Speak Japanese with me and buy me a drink, or I’m leaving.”

 

When he asked for my number (we were in Osaka), I straight up told him that I lived in Niigata and I wasn’t going to sleep with him.  He said he didn’t have that intent.  I said, is that why you asked me to a love hotel 5 minutes ago then?  He said no, seriously, he wanted to get to know me.  Even if I live in Niigata, I said?  Yeah, he replied.  I gave him my phone number and said, “I know you’re full of crap, so it doesn’t matter.”

 

The next day he called me.  And continued to call me every single day.  I told him that I refused to speak English over the phone, and he said that was fine.  We spoke Japanese everyday for an hour, to the point where I had a Kansai accent and all my teacher’s thought I was watching too many variety shows on TV. 

 

He tried to ask me out again, propose to me, even said he would give me a perfect life in Tokyo.  We met multiple times, however, in the end I turned him down and he married another American girl--but we’re still friends today.

 

Point of that story?  Unless you’re aggressive about speaking Japanese with the locals, you’ll never learn how to speak Japanese.

 

Chinese

 

One of the things I loved the most about my transition from Japan to China was—everyone speaks Chinese to you (I lived in Beijing, btw, Shanghai may be different).  Of course, you do get those weirdos that want to study English and stalk you, but for the most part people give it to you in Chinese. 

 

Chinese people do not have a reputation for being the nicest people on Earth.  This is absolutely true.  No one is going to whisper to you softly, take your hand and guide you to the train platform.  If you ask for directions, they’ll probably grunt at you, scream at you in Chinese, and then go back to watching TV on their mobile phone.  If you say, “sorry, I didn’t get that” they will look at you, snarl, then point in an ambiguous direction as to where you want to go.

 

Compared to the kind Japanese people that go out of their way to help you, even try and speak English with you, it’s simply incomparable.

 

But the great part about all this is—you gotta understand Chinese, or you’re screwed.  English menus are scarce.  People that speak English even more so.  If you want to get by in China, the only way you’re going to succeed is to pick up a Mandarin 101 book and hop to it.

 

This can also be frustrating due to obvious reasons—the most being, no one will help you, even if you are Chinese-deaf.  And even if they do help you, chances of them trying to cheat you or nickel and dime you are, well, pretty high.  I broke down and cried in China more times than I’d like to remember over my inability to speak.  It was so horrifically frustrating, and when they’re being an ass to you it doesn’t really make things better.

 

What I really love about China is, if you speak Chinese and the local you’re speaking with (that can also speak English) knows it, 9/10 they will switch the language to Chinese.  And they don’t dumb it down either—they will always speak to you in full force at 100 mph, flinging Chinese proverbs and tones at you in full force.  This helps with language learning as well, because the person you’re speaking with is encouraging you to speak their language.  I also noticed Chinese people are very quick to help in the language learning process, or are willing to strike up an exchange (whereas Japanese people literally want a free English lesson).

 

My joy with the Chinese language died when I moved south to Shanghai.  Almost everyone in Shanghai can speak really good English.  Like, blow-your-mind-you-think-they-are-from-america good English.  So chances for speaking Chinese drop.

 

In the south, everyone speaks a different dialect.  The standard dialect of China is Mandarin, and everyone is forced to learn it in school; however, most southern locals learn their native dialect first and put off Mandarin learning until they go to school.  And when I say dialect, I mean like… a completely different language. 

 

So I shed blood, sweat and tears to learn Mandarin and I come to Shanghai—where everyone speaks Shanghai dialect.

 

Shanghai people are similar to the French in the way that they have crazy pride for their city and think its gods greatest gift to mandkind.  They don’t like to speak Mandarin and when they cluster in their little Shanghai cliques, you can kiss your Mandarin listening practice goodbye.  You’ll never hear it again.

 

Fortunately, however, the basics still apply: If you speak Chinese to a local, no matter how shitty, they will ALWAYS respond to you in Chinese.  Always.  And they will talk to you at regular speed and fire off into conversation.

 

Almost all my western friends in Shanghai can speak fluent Chinese.

 

But only one or two of my western friends in Japan can speak fluent Japanese.

 

I think when you have to twist arms to even speak the local language in the country, it makes things a lot harder.  In Chinese, when you actually need the language to survive and you have people screaming it at you all day everyday—well, let’s just say it’s hard not to even learn a little.

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