Japanese is one of the tougher languages to learn. It has three distinct written forms, one of which is basically just Chinese ideograms ascribed context sensitive pronunciations based on...based on nothing. It's not logical. Unlike Korean, you can't learn the alphabet in two weeks and then pick up a newspaper and look up words you don't know by referencing a dictionary. It takes a lot of discipline to even learn how to look up those complex characters and even if you somehow master the written language, spoken Japanese can be daunting with its various levels of formal and informal speach that differ even within those systems based on the status of the speaker and the one being spoken to. I tell you this not to discourage you, but to tell you about how I cracked this elusive language nut.
I'm not a native speaker. I started off, like most of you, saying Godzilla and Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto. At Clark University, where I majored in Japanese language and cultural studies, I earned an A+ or 4.25 average in my language classes which was unheard of. I studied my textbooks backwards and forward and went above and beyond to learn the language. Then when the moment of truth arrived and I finally went to Japan to visit some friends, I could not speak a word. Well, aside from "Domo arigato, Mr roboto." The Japanese have a special word, "kotodama," or the spirit of words. Cool, right? It basically means that you know what you're talking about. Japanese culture, from the homes they live in to the ways they interact in public, is such a specific experience that it's incredibly hard to feel the meaning of all those vocabulary words without experiencing them in some way. Now, I can't take you to Japan, but I can offer you the benefit of my experiences and the methods I used to master this tricky language.
My experiences come from having lived and worked in Japan as a language instructor, a fledgling rock star and the greeter at a trendy shopping plaza with a giant pink whale at its center. Since moving back to the U.S. in 2004, I've continued to keep Japan in my life, foremost through my wife and soulmate Takako and our young daughter. I worked for the largest Japanese food distributor in the U.S., House Foods America, and I was the editorial director for a Japanese rock magazine. My passion for Japan is not some withered keepsake. It remains vibrant and alive to this day. I still play Japanese video games, read Japanese manga and watch overwrought Japanese melodramas. When you meet a Japanese person, if you say anything in Japanese, they will politely compliment you on how well you speak. This a simple and formal pleasantry. With my help, you'll be able to smash through those pleasantries to the real thing: an actual conversation and the real compliment will be their stunned silence.
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