As I am finishing up my third semester studying the Japanese language, I find I am not quite as satisfied with myself as I thought I would be at this point when I first started learning. My initial reason for learning the language was to integrate it into my major as one of the minor literatures I would study, besides English, but that is now an impossible gesture given that I started learning the language my second year in and at least three years of study are needed in order to study Japanese literature in the original language. After I finished my first year of studying, I consulted a sensei on whether it would be a good idea to take intermediate Japanese over the summer to substitute an academic year and make up for not having started my freshman year, but she highly recommended NOT to do it. [I can now see why.] That recommendation, coupled with the fact that I am a lower middle class Latina student with sensible parents that were obviously hoping I would be a doctor or a lawyer, shot my dream solution to pieces.
Also, I’m not the best student, even given that I have no background knowledge of an Asian language like most of the other students. The first semester was very lenient, now that I remember. You didn’t have to worry about learning kanji, the Chinese characters Japanese people still insist on utilizing in their daily lives, and you could drop a test or two to pad your grade. I didn’t try too hard, and I passed with a B+, which was roughly the average of my test scores. The second semester, my test average dropped to a C+, where it’s stayed ever since.
Lucky for me, grading is now curved. However, I still feel a certain bit of resentment towards people such as my Korean friend, who considers Japanese her easy class, studies the bare minimum and swiftly aces the written tests every other week. What is worse, I can’t even ask her to help me better my understanding of the language. Since Korean is so similar to Japanese, 90% of her learning experience is substituting the Korean version of a certain grammar structure with Japanese words. Thus, she has no idea of how to explain which particle goes where and why this certain grammar structure can only be used in such-and-such a situation while that other one can be applied to half the afore-mentioned situations but mean a completely different thing.
Now, I am one of the least outgoing and slowest speakers in the classroom. Though I am proud to say my accent isn’t in the least atrocious, since Japanese pronunciation is exactly the same as Spanish, my mother tongue. (That’s about the only thing I have going for me right now.) My language exchange partner constantly pushes me to blurt out whatever without worrying about grammar, but since my vocabulary is also limited, we often end up talking mostly about food. That’s a topic all foreign language students learn about early on, for good reason (there’s little to disagree on, or misunderstand).
Too bad my final exam will involve more than saying「母の料理は最高です。」(Romaji: “Haha no ryouri wa saikou desu.” English: “My mother’s cooking is the best.”)
For more CLUJ blog posts on being a comparative literature major, click here.