My husband’s Japanese company here in Tokyo has loaned employees from many countries. Right now there are only two from the US… another to be arriving later this month. Most of the other loaned employees come from Korea, China, India, Pakistan, Russia… and couple of European countries.
Because there are so many foreign employees — many with spouses and families in tow — the company provides a twice-monthly language/culture class for the spouses. The official company language is English, and all employees have to be proficient at speaking and writing in English, but many of the spouses do not speak English, and most do not speak Japanese either.
These classes are fun, and it gives us a chance to get to know each other — a kind of cultural exchange. We are divided into two levels: beginner and intermediate. We have an hour long lesson, then a box lunch (bento box), and while we are eating, the two teachers present a cultural topic — in Japanese. This past year, I have been in the beginner class, but today when I walked in, they told me I was being moved to the other class. NOT that my language skills are anywhere adequate, but I have learned a lot of vocabulary, and I think they now are wanting to force me to start SPEAKING the language more.
And today was my trial by fire…lol. I was kind of hoping that since it was my first day in that level, they would take it easy and just let me listen. I can usually get the gist of a simple conversation, and I was following along pretty well until the teacher turned to me and started asking me questions… in Japanese.Yikes! As soon as someone speaks to me, it is like all language skill flies out the window and I sit there blankly, trying desperately to put a few words together in some sort of coherent fashion.
Ueda-sensei (my teacher today) was very patient with me, and also wrote most of the dialog up on the whiteboard for me to follow. She wrote it, however, in Hiragana, which I can read, but slowly. The four other students there today were all from Korea. They are all very nice, and friendly, with varying degrees of English proficiency… but their Japanese skills were far above mine!
As difficult and somewhat stressful as this was, I know this is just what I need! I can study my Japanese book all day long, but at some point I have to be able to actually talk to someone. I have to quit blanking out just because someone speaks to me. I know I have made a lot of progress in the past year, but there is still a long way to go. We are hoping to get started again soon with a new private instructor, who will focus more on the conversation. Hopefully that will help.
Those two simple sentences at the top? Watashi wa kyounen Nihongo ni kimashita. (I came to Japan last year in January.) And… Watashi wa Amerika kara kimashita. (I came from America.)
Arigato gozaimasu… sayonara.