Some say I was lucky to be given a chance to move to Japan. Yeah, sure, lucky. It’s not that I have waited for almost two years wandering in uncertainty of a startup life and joining a new company solely based on trust (no contract signing or the likes) and then spent most of my waking hours kicking ass, gaining trust, and simply gets noticed by the higher ups. No, the chance was suddenly dropped from the sky unto my lap while I was sleeping in a broad daylight for no particular reason but just being lazy. But hey, whatever floats your boats.
Anyway, I guess in some respect, lucky is perhaps the right word because the company has taking a serious leap of faith by employing a foreigner from a third world country like myself, who has negligible Japanese vocabulary, into a strictly Japanese company whose practices and communications are exclusively revolves around the use of Japanese languages complete with thousands (maybe tens of it, even, I don’t know) of its daunting scripts. In any case, I owe a many good people to have received such rare chance. And loyalty, is perhaps the only thing I could give back to these good people. For now.
So how I get by with minimal Japanese language skills? By working very hard on both the work’s tasks at hand, and learning the language by my own time, while also juggling the responsibility of a husband to provide and taking care of his now unemployed wife. The latter is probably the most difficult but naturally, it was definitely not intended for a public consumption.
To start off, I am by no means a beginner in Japanese language. Given that people talk to me in a slower Japanese and in a standard dialect, I could get the general nuance and meaning of what (s)he is trying to say. Not always, but enough to know for sure that I am not becoming the object of their conversation. But speaking? Almost zero. I kept stumbling on word order and verb conjugation. Especially hard when I try to be polite as Japanese has quite a different and a daunting polite speech. But for simple situation where casual phrases are acceptable, I get more confidence and in turn able to speak a full sentence. Sometimes. Example, “okane ga nai,” or simply, “I don’t have any money.” That, I could do.
But still, it’s not easy for me to acquire a foreign language. I’ve been trying several methods suggested by many savants but of course, a method that works well for others does not necessarily works as well when applied to self. Thus, I had fall back to one sure method I used when I acquired English language skill. Reading.
Of course, coming from latin characters country, reading English is trivial. Reading Japanese is not. I could read hiragana and katakana with ease. But kanjis? This is where Memrise (memrise.com) comes to play. Memrise combines flashcards and those short term memories thingy. Not interested in details here, but safe to say that Memrise could also help in learning vocabulary as well as those pesky kanjis. And, it’s free. I had solely used Memrise to build my kanji knowledge. Before I left for Japan, I had picking up some Japanese language books to help me learn. This is my choice.
Ah, talk about nostalgia. Counting this book, I had this book in three different languages. My mum brought this book from her school library (she is a teacher) when I was still learning to read, and somehow this book has stuck with me over the years. Bought its English version, and now this, its Japanese version. This book is perhaps intended for younger audiences and why it was perfect for me. The words are simple, and only uses kanjis sparingly. But even with those, it took me a while blazing through N4 level kanji on Memrise to be able to at least, leaf through pages without stopping to check my dictionary (which because I have no idea on how to read a character, involves a lot of guesswork and efforts to get them recognised by my iPhone) for every character I stumbled upon.
All in all, it has been my goal to be able to speak with the natives and able to read more complicated novels within three months of living in Japan. One month has gone since. I’ll tell about how my endeavour ends in a couple of months.