When I first began studying Japanese, I thought it was so complicated I would never speak it. I had a Japanese teacher who couldn’t speak English, and only spoke to me in Japanese in class, and it was really hard to figure out what she was talking about. However, she was really smart, and she knew how to communicate with people in Japanese without them knowing how to speak Japanese, and she built my language like that. The first semester, I felt really, really dumb and didn’t think I would every catch on to anything.
The next time I was in Japan, I was taking Japanese from the same teacher. She was very happy because she never gave us parameters on homework. She just said, “Go home and write.” There were only two of us in the class. We went home and came back. The other student wrote one or two sentences, and I had written several pages. I enjoyed it. I lived in a Japanese boarding house for Japanese university students. There was a small group of American students living with the Japanese students. An American professor from the university told the people at the boarding house that I was their translator, and I couldn’t believe it! I knew my Japanese language wasn’t good enough to translate, but everyone kept asking me to translate. We had a boarding house meeting, and I told them I could basically understand what was going on, but I was not a translator. They told me that no one would understand anything if I didn’t help. I told them, “Okay, I won’t translate line by line. I will just listen and get the general idea and summarize it for you.” They were happy with that, and it worked. The communicate took place. I was teaching a Bible class in my boarding house for the Japanese girls with a friend who spoke English and Japanese both equally well coming as the translator. The translator didn’t show up. the Japanese girls urged me to go ahead and teach the class in Japanese. I told them my Japanese wasn’t good enough, but they said, “You speak to us everyday in Japanese. You can communicate. Teach us in Japanese,” so I did. It may not have been perfect, but I communicated. I ran into my Japanese teacher at church. She saw me using the Japanese Bible and looking up scriptures and following along as the preacher was preaching. She was thrilled! She offered me a ride home. She spoke to me in Japanese all the way home. It drove me crazy! However, I could carry on a Japanese conversation, and she chased me after that wanting to talk to me, and she couldn’t speak English, only Japanese. I had a friend I hung out with all the time, and he could speak English, but he didn’t like to speak English, and he was always talking to me in Japanese. When I left Japan, he was always writing letters back and forth with me in Japanese, but he never used kanji because I never had the chance to study much kanji.
I had a Japanese exchange student in my house in the states a few years later, and I spoke to her in Japanese from the beginning. She said she felt like she had not left Japan when I picked her up at the airport and brought her home because I spoke to her in Japanese and we took our shoes off at the from door, etc. However, I hadn’t studied as much Japanese as she had English, and after a while, she began speaking English, and her English was wonderful, but in the beginning, she thought she couldn’t. I learned that it all boiled down to going ahead and trying, and when she began trying, she could.
A few years later, I was working out of the foreign student office at Abilene Christian University helping Japanese students who were going through culture shock. They really needed someone to speak Japanese to them, and were thrilled with me speaking Japanese. I knew my Japanese wasn’t perfect, but it was enough to make them happy, stop crying, and begin adjusting to their lives in America.
When I was in Romania, several years later, I had a friend who was headed for Japan. She needed someone to help her so she wouldn’t be lost in Japanese when she got there, so I gave her a few Japanese lessons privately. The university where I taught heard about it. They asked me to teach Japanese at the university, and I told them I could carry on conversations in Japanese, but I was not a Japanese teacher. They talked to me for two years trying to convince me to teach Japanese. I finally gave in when they said to me. “No one here speaks Japanese except you, and if you don’t help us, no one will ever speak Japanese.” They told me I could explain the grammar in English, and
English majors could take the class, so I gave in, and I taught beginning Japanese explaining the grammar in English, then they added more Japanese courses as the students got better and better. Eventually, a group of students would couldn’t speak English wanted to study Japanese, and they asked me to explain the grammar in Romanian. I consented, and I taught Japanese explaining the grammar in Romanian, and I felt like my brain was frying! I couldn’t wait to get them into just speaking Japanese because speaking two foreign languages at the same time was hard on my brain. The university also asked me to teach Spanish, but I just wasn’t ready. I couldn’t imagine teaching two foreign languages and having to explain them both in another foreign language.
When I came back to the States, the American students at the university heard I had taught Japanese in Romania. They asked the university to get me to teach Japanese for them. I taught beginning Japanese again. I was luckier this time because there was a young Japanese man who was at the university who wanted to help me. He was a student, and they made him my assistant. He graded all the papers for me. He and I modeled Japanese conversations in front of the class for the students. He loved to have Japanese conversations with me! The Japanese and Korean students at the university decided to give a party for my American Japanese students. They made Japanese food for them. The Japanese students decided to go around and interview the American students one by one in Japanese. They asked them a lot of easy conversational questions and were thrilled because all the American students could speak to them in Japanese. The Korean students were thrilled with what I could do with Japanese! Some of them pulled me aside and decided to teach me Korean, but I had to stop them. I wasn’t ready. It wasn’t easy teaching Japanese. I had to be on top of my game, and the university also had me teaching Spanish. I just couldn’t just keep adding languages no matter how much people wanted me to. One brain can only take so much,
The next year, I found myself back in Japan at a language school teaching English. The other Americans would look at me and say in shock, “You speak Japanese!” Yes, I could carry on conversations, but my kanji level never got very high. I got some books and was studying kanji. Everyone seemed to give me more credit than I gave myself and pushed me. After a year, I went back to America.
The young man who helped me teach Japanese married my daughter. I don’t get to see them much, but I know that I have to continue speaking Japanese because when I see him, he wants to speak Japanese. When I was offered the job teaching in Korea, I wanted to go to Japan, but Korea offered me a job, not Japan. When I first came here, I couldn’t speak Korean, but there were people around who couldn’t speak English, but who could speak Japanese, and I spoke to them in Japanese, and I enjoyed it. I was wishing I could speak to everyone in Japanese. There was a taxi cab driver who always hung out close to my house hoping I would ride his taxi and speak to him in Japanese. There was a Korean preacher who could also speak English, but he and I spoke in Japanese together. Now, I occasionally take trips to Japan and I need my Japanese to get around. I question my Japanese a lot. now because I don’t get to use it often. However, I went to visit a Japanese friend who speaks English, and she left me in the car with a friend who only speaks Japanese, and the lady and I had a long conversation in Japanese. She was thrilled to be able to talk to me, but I was very apprehensive about my Japanese ,but we did communicate. When my friend who speaks English came back, the Japanese lady really praised my Japanese, but I didn’t feel like I was that good. I can only read part of the signs in Japan. I have always used my conversational abilities to get myself around in Japan. It is okay if I can’t read the signs because the Japanese can, and I can talk to them. I always wanted to do better with Japanese, but I never had the chance. My Japanese teacher told me I would have to go to school in Japan for 12 years to learn to read the newspaper, but I never could. You have to have time and money to do things like that.