Japanese thoughts

How proficient are you in your mother tongue?


This does not simply refer to the ability to make yourself understood. How many of us can give a decent speech in our own mother tongue – a speech that is not laced with too many foreign words, a speech without grammar mistakes?

In India especially, mother tongue is spoken at home with a heavy mix of English words. Most of us go to English-medium schools and pick up a bit of spoken English along the way. While at school, English, for most of us works just as a medium to understand other subjects like Science and Math. We don’t stop to enjoy the beauty of English poetry and English grammar is something we worry about only the day before the exam.

If this is the case with English, the way we treat our mother tongue is infinitely worse.Some of us finish schooling without learning to read or write in our mother tongue. Some of us barely learn to read and write and quickly shift to learning French or Spanish in middle school. We do this under the false assumption that these languages are easier to learn and therefore easier to score marks in. At the end of 16 years of schooling,  we find that although we have “learnt” around 3 languages, we are fully conversant with none.

Later, depending on where life takes us, some of us are forced pick up a new language. This is when all those schooling years that we spent relegating “language” to the bottom of our priority list comes back to haunt us:-).

Those who have a sound grammar base in their mother tongue invariably find it easier to learn a new language. The others struggle and imagine that the language they are trying to learn is “tough”. But as far as grammar is concerned there is no tough or easy language. If you already have a fairly good hold over one language, the journey to learning another new one can actually be fun…you compare the sentence structure of the new language with your own and try to relate to a new system of thinking and communicating. It’s almost as if you’ve found the keys to a whole new world.

But when your grasp over your own language is weak, it becomes that much more difficult to pick up a new language. Add a tough script like Japanese or a tricky pronunciation system like Chinese to this mix and learning a new language can seem tortuous.

I would think that the first step to learning any new language is to love, enjoy and appreciate one’s own language first.



Japanese thoughts

Beating around the bush in Japanese


The Japanese even have a word for this – “Aimai na iikata”, which literally means “vague way of talking”. “Minna no Nihongo”,  the ultimate “go to” book for beginners introduces this in one of the initial lessons. Mira-san invites Kimura-san for a concert with “Isshyoni ikaga desu ka?(Would you like to go to concert with me?). Kimura-san, who is not interested, doesn’t simply say “No, I have other plans”. She instead says “Ashita wa chotto..”. “Chotto” literally means “a little”. Here, it’s used to politely and not to forget gently decline an invitation. She is probably trying to say “A little tough for me tomorrow” If Mira-san presses further with a “How about day after then?” he is “shitsukoi” or “obstinate”. If Mira-san has good “Kuuki wo yomu”skills (“reading into a situation”skills), he will get the message and close the topic with “sou desu ka. zannen desu ne” (Really..that’s too bad).

The advantage with “chotto”is that you don’t have to quickly make up lies. You don’t have to give any reason why. You simply drag the word”Chotto..” :-).