Learning Japanese has become somewhat of a lifestyle for me. Given the amount of care and attention a little baby needs, I have tried to incorporate the learning process into daily life as seamlessly as possible. Soon I am sure our son will have Japanese skills far surpassing mine so if I want to be able to properly understand his and his mother’s communication I really need to study study study.
My daily practices includes listening to podcasts when doing the dishes, secretly practicing vocabulary on the toilet, and then trying to use what I have learned in what often turns out to be funny conversations about parenting with my wife (who patiently continues to speak Japanese to me even if that means she has to repeat herself over and over again for me to understand). Lately a new practice has come into my life. When our son is bored with the few Swedish books we have at home and picks out a Japanese book for me to read, I have to both practice reading and translation at the same time (when I do not understand what is written I look at the pictures and make something up – I can still get away with doing that).
Children’s books are easy to read since kanji, Chinese characters, are not used, but that is about the only place where kanji can be avoided. Chinese characters can really make my head spin. Trying to decipher one at the time is bad enough, trying to read lots of them at speed is quite overwhelming. One way I have found that makes it manageable to study Chinese characters is to read signs in the streets. Living in Tokyo means spending a lot of time standing in front of a crossing waiting for green light, so studying kanji while waiting seems like a practice very well suited for my learning Japanese lifestyle.
While studying streets signs, I have come across some that are a complete all in one lesson in Japanese (kanji, pronunciation and meaning in English), and it has become somewhat of a hobby of mine to collect them. Every time I see one of these signs I feel very happy inside, a “Japanese makes sense and all is well with the world” kind of happiness; a happiness that lasts until I pass the next sign that is incomprehensible and makes me feel like the world is upside down and I will never be able to learn this wonderful language. The truth probably lies somewhere in between, so for now I just enjoy those short seconds of bliss and try to stay positive when language despair hits me – there may be another instant of Japanese happiness just around the corner.
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