Thursday, May 24, 2012
Speaking the Same Language
"You must speak louder," uttered the bespectacled Yodaish-like figure peering over my shoulder in a deep gravelly voice with the most heavily accented English ever spoken. His presence made the already intimidating prospect of learning a new language just a little scarier. I knew that learning a foreign language late in life could be a long haul so I enrolled in a night course taught by local volunteers not a week after I washed up on the shores of this island nation. While the class was up to lesson 11 of 15 by the time I had arrived, for a total tuition fee of 2000 yen (about 25 bucks), including the text, I thought it was worth taking the risk of not being able to catch up.
I had absolutely no idea what was going on the minute the learning process began. We were all speaking the same language, Japanese (or trying to at least), but I had no idea what anyone was talking about. Basically the class was repeating in unison sentences from the textbook that the instructor was reading aloud. Everyone sounded like they had a mouth full of marbles and since I didn't have my marble collection on hand, I soon gave up trying to join in the chanting. That's when the squat little figure with the four eyes popped up behind me.
"You must speak louder," he said again.
"I don't know what their saying. Zenzen wakarimasen," I replied in a hushed tone. "You must speak louder, " he repeated (in a voice that would make Raymond Massey's seem like a kitten's purr). "I DON'T KNOW WHAT THEY'RE SAYING. ZENZEN WAKARIMASEN," I kind of shouted.
Then after noticing that I was beginning to draw some unwanted attention in my direction, I decided to try my best and mumble along with the rest of the group. "Mizumushiniwadonokusrigaiidesuka," I repeated over and over again in the hopes that I wasn't summoning up some demon from the netherworld. But when it was all over, there he was waiting for me.
I must have sounded smart because he asked me, in that unearthly voice of his, "Are you an engineer?" I hated to disappoint him but I told him, "No, I'm not." Then I noticed a curious grin crawl across his lips as he replied, "MEE TOOO!" I was puzzled. Was he an engineer or not? We were speaking the same language but once again I had no idea what we were talking about.
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