Learning Japanese in Mexico

Greetings once again. I just want to begin by saying I would like to receive comments, helpful hints, commiseration, inspiration, advice regarding what I am about to say, especially for those who began learning another language whether or not that language learning included a different writing system.

I am not really whining, just venting a bit and detailing my experience so far. Sometimes I feel as if I am drowning, probably going to fail, but enjoying the experience of being a student again learning something new, and even if I do fail the course, I will still have learned a thing or two which will be useful in the future.

As some of you know, I am a member of Rotary Internation and currently in an e-club, which means we hold our meetings online, as my current club has members all over the world. One of our members lives in Tokyo and invited me to visit his family. Next year, our Rotary International convention will be held in Hawaii, and since Hawaii is roughly halfway to Japan, I will visit my friend and his family, then head off to Hawaii.

Since I like to learn at least a little bit about the native language when I am visiting a foreign, non-English-speaking country, I signed up for classes at the Language Institute of the University of Colima. The first class was held on August 3rd and will continue every Saturday until December 21st.

Before signing up, I had bought some Japanese study guides and tried to study on my own, but realized after a while that it would progress better in a more organized fashion by attending regular classes. As a result, I am now attending classes in the Japanese language in Mexico with a Spanish-speaking teacher, as the only student who is not a native Spanish-speaker.

Initially, my thought was that learning Japanese would be easier than learning another Romance language, since learning a language with the same root as Spanish would lead to confusion, as it sometimes did for me with French. Japanese is SO different from Spanish that there would be no way for my brain to confuse the two languages – that seems to be the way my brain is wired, anyway.

Problem is, there are three different writing methods in Japanese – Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji, so a student needs to start learning a whole new way of writing as well as vocabulary, sentence structure, etc. and that has turned out to be a big stumbling block.

Add to the fact that my teacher speaks VERY RAPID Spanish, so it is difficult to follow her sometimes and I need to speak with her after each class to clarify what I did not understand in English, which she also speaks. And so, I am in reality taking two language classes – Japanese as well as Spanish, as vocabulary in the lessons, instructions in the lessons and classes as well as our official two textbooks which are written in Spanish and Japanese.

It’s certainly giving my brain a workout, but improving my vocabulary in both languages. One trick I use to bypass using English and while thinking of a concept go directly to the Japanese is using Post Its, just as I did when first learning Spanish. As an example, I hung a Post-It from my wall clock with the Japanese characters for clock, printed drawings of the human body and labeled the parts with the Japanese characters that we have learned so far.

Besides learning the language, we are also learning about culture in our course. For our next class we are required to give a brief talk (3 minutes) about some aspect of Japanese culture. My friend in Tokyo told me about the Obon festival, which mirrors our Day of the Dead here in Mexico, so I am researching it, then will have to give my talk in Spanish during class.

In the past, I would beat myself up if I didn’t get an “A” in all of my classes. I have tried very hard to relax, especially since this class is not part of a degree program, but only for my own desire for education. I am putting in a lot of effort to learn all that is required, and it is more difficult than I imagined it would be. I started learning Ukrainian when I was about 8 years old, including the Cyrillic alphabet (only remember one or two words in Ukrainian, but I can still read Cyrillic out loud without understanding most of what I am reading), so there is some experience of learning a new writing system, but many decades in the past – I will be 70 years old in two months (and can hardly believe I am saying that). I studied Latin and German in high school, but, again, that was many decades ago. Started studying Spanish in my 50’s, but being in the medical field and having studied Latin for 4 years helped with the learning.

Anyway, I just figured that I would share my experience so far, and would really appreciate commentary and shared experiences, especially from other adult learners of foreign languages, whether you learned a second language in your own country, a third language in your non-native country and/or also had to learn a different writing system.

Thanks for listening, thanks in advance for sharing, and now I’ve got to get back to my homework… Until next time, stay safe and have a great rest of your week, wherever you are…..

4 thoughts on “Learning Japanese in Mexico

  1. I admire your determination and desire to learn about the culture of a country you will be visiting. I have heard that learning a new language does wonders for exercising the brain–yours in certainly getting a great workout.

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    1. Thanks for the compliment and vote of confidence. Sometimes the “workout” makes my brain hurt, but most of the time it is fun, including being in a classroom with a bunch of other like-minded younger students.

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  2. WOW – that’s quite the challenge you’ve set yourself – a non-Indo-European language AND a new writing system which has three alphabets. No wonder your brain is tired. 🙂

    If I were in your situation – given that you’re going to be just paying a visit to Japan, not moving there – I would concentrate on the vocabulary and the spoken language, and let the alphabets catch up when they may. Being able to ask directions, and understand the responses, is a big help all by itself. And if you ask for directions to the ladies’ room when you are in fact standing right outside it (but can’t read the sign) it will afford amusement all around, and you’ll have learned something new.

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    1. Thanks. The course I’m taking is heavily concentrating on the writing systems, but class ends December 21st and I’m not going to Japan until the end of May, so I have plenty of time after class is over to focus on conversations.

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