Thursday, February 16, 2012

Writing in 日本語

Every month the Hippo interns and exchange students write a report sharing about their experiences that month with other Hippo members. This month I decided to challenge myself to write it all in Japanese. It took me two full days to complete, and I'm sure it's far from perfect, but I did it! And what's more, everyone could understand it. :)

A lot of the time I still feel really lost during conversations or presentations in Japanese and I feel like there is so much I can't understand or communicate, but when I look at what I'm able to write four months after arriving in Japan without every having studied the language at all, I realize that I have learned a lot! 

Being able to read and write in Japanese is like unlocking a secret code, which is pretty much how it feels like as I'm trying to figure out what different characters mean and how they go together. It also helps me to understand a lot about grammar and the way that sentences and words are put together, which helps me to be able to better understand and communicate in spoken Japanese as well. For example, the Japanese word "ee-tah" can have three different meanings based on the context. I learned one of them, "went", and always thought that when people said this in conversation they were saying "so and so went", but this same sound can also mean "was" or "were" (referring to people) and "said". When I realized that they are different words, which look different when written, and Sakkun explained to me, it made conversations make a lot more sense, since to have been somewhere, said something, and gone somewhere are very different things.

Being able to understand written symbols also helps to understand the makeup and meaning of words. Just like knowing Latin roots can sometimes help you be able to figure out the meaning of an unfamiliar word in English, being able to understand the kanji and hiragana of Japanese allows me to understand new words in Japanese. For example I learned that the word "otokonoko" means child, but it was really hard for me to remember how to say this, since I would get confused as to the order of the consonant/vowel pairs which all end in "o". "O-to-ko-no-ko" and "o-ko-no-to-ko" sounded the same to me. But when I realized that "otoko-no-ko", which actually means boy, is written as 男の子, it finally made sense to me. 男 means man and is pronounced "otoko". の, pronounced "no", is suffix which means belonging to, -ese, type. And 子 "ko" means child. So 男の子 means man type child. 女 is the kanji for woman, pronounced "onna". So can you guess how to say girl (those who don't already speak Japanese)? 女の子 "onna-no-ko", woman type child. Very good!

Stephanie (すーちゃん)

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