Friday, June 22, 2012

The First Week of Summer

It's been a week since I last posted anything, and quite a lot has happened:  For starters, I packed up and moved out of my apartment, and put my stuff (packed into several suitcases) in storage so that I can move into a new apartment when I return to Japan.  I'll be living on my own starting in August, so that will be a big change.  Second, I flew back to the U.S. on Monday.  This actually didn't feel like all that big of a deal--it was my 16th flight across the ocean, and having only just done the round trip a month ago, my internal clock was more or less prepared for the change.  Jet-lag has not been bad at all this time!

Then again, part of the quick adjustment could have to do with the fact that I started Summer Quarter at Western Washington University the day after I got back.  In fact, before I even went home on Monday, I stopped by WWU to fill out and submit an application for summer registration.  Thus, for the 3rd summer in a row, I am a student again!  This summer, I am taking Japanese 202.  It is a 4-credit class, and it meets from 10:00-12:50 every week-day, for 3 weeks.  Today, Friday, we took our first unit test, which marked roughly 1/3 completion of the course.

I am incredibly grateful to be taking this class, but honestly, I have never struggled so much just to keep up and get by in a single class before.  The trouble is, I only took Japanese 101 and 102 two summers ago.  I did not take Japanese 103 and 201, which are both technically prerequisites for the class I am currently taking.  Furthermore, I forgot most of the kanji (Japanese writing characters) and grammar points while I was in Japan, due to my rather narrow application of my language skills (mostly going to Tully's).  However, I spoke to the professor before class on Tuesday morning and she agreed to let me sit in on the class and see if it seemed doable.  And, it did seem doable.  There are only two other students in the class, and both of them have had a gap since their last Japanese class (they took 201 last fall).  That said, they are both leagues ahead of where I am in their ability to recognize and read kanji.  They are also familiar with grammar points I never learned.

My vocab keeps me in the ball-game, though.  Turns out I have a pretty broad base for Japanese vocabulary!  Still, each day is a struggle.  I can now sympathize with my students who have learning disabilities that target language processing.  I feel very impaired and slow as I try to read passages from the textbook, halting as I try to recall which kanji I am looking at and how it should be read.  I also find myself taking long stretches of time in the middle of speaking simply to think about what I'm saying, how I need to conjugate the verb, and what phrase I must use to end the sentence.

My time outside of class is not much easier.  I've spent about 6 hours already just catching up on kanji that I missed--that's in addition to assigned homework!  All told, it has eaten up my free-time (but kept my brain working and kept me from the grips of debilitating jet-lag).

Despite the sheer uphill battle involved in merely attending and knowing what is going on in class, the experience has been of inestimable value to me.  In 4 short days, I feel like my understanding of the Japanese language has almost doubled (which I guess it has, if you count all of the vocab, grammar and kanji that I'd learned two summers ago, forgotten, and now remembered).  I now know the meaning and proper use of phrases like "toomoteimasu" (I intend to/I think), "nakuchaikemasen" (must do), "nikyoumigaaru" (to have an interest in)--all phrases that I'd heard before... but until this week, they had been a jumble of syllables that held no meaning to me, and in fact stood in the way of my recognizing other vocab and grammar that I did know.  Now, these syllables, which seemed so chaotic and random before, mean something to me and the Japanese language has come into focus for me just a little bit more.  It reminds me of trips to the eye doctor, as they switch the lenses in that giant viewfinder, and the view becomes sharper and sharper.

Though the class is indeed muzukashi (difficult), I can already feel the benefits.  I don't think I've ever dedicated myself so fully to a single class, especially one that was a struggle for me.  I tended not to do quite as well in math and science when I was in high school, but I never felt like those subjects had much direct application to my life, or long-term importance to me, so I never put my full weight into pushing through them.  With this class, the importance is clear to me and I am willing to do whatever it takes to understand (regardless of grades--I couldn't care less about whether I end up passing or failing; that's not what's important to me).  I wonder how I can get my students to this point in Humanities and English class--the point where they feel the subject is so valuable that they would do whatever it took to fully understand (and not just get a good grade).

Anyway, it will be a good summer (though it already feels as though it might speed by)!  I might not be writing as regularly, but I do hope to write at least once or twice a week... stay tuned!


  1. ganbatte! you're already much farther than i ever was in nihongo. ok so maybe that isn't say much, but, yu kyan du iiiiiit!

  2. じゃ、ありがとうございます!