Thursday, March 25, 2010

Imperfect Japanese and Japenglish

Louise here,

Living in a non-English speaking country is certainly an eye-opener. I never before fully appreciated complete communication with other people. I studied Japanese at high school for some years before coming to Japan, and that certainly gave me a base to work from, but it is entirely different from the relatively sterile classroom to being surrounded by a language every day.

At the moment, I'd say I understand maybe 10-20% of what people say, depending on the subject and the speed that they talk, and then I guess the rest. I've got into the bad habit of nodding and agreeing with people, even if I have no idea what they're saying. But then, who wants to seem ignorant?

In some ways it's good not understanding, because I'm insulated from any social gaffes I commit, but then, being a nosy sort of person, I find it incredibly frustrating at times. When Fred Jarbro sensei came to Shiramizu from Sweden (see Erica's earlier blog), he taught some classes in English. I'd forgotten how nice it is being able to understand everything the teacher is saying, down to small nuances. Most of the time in class with Arakawa sensei or one of the other Shiramizu teachers, I'm getting most instruction from their body language and demonstrations, which leaves room for error.

Then trying to frame questions when I've forgotten key pieces of vocabulary can be both hilarious and embarrassing. When I went travelling in the New Year break, there were a few times when I was reduced to pointing and making inarticulate sounds. Luckily Japanese are generally polite and patient, so refrain (most of the time) from laughing openly at struggling foreigners. Erica, I think, has it harder, having less Japanese and looking like a Japanese person, so people expect her to understand when they talk to her. At least I look foreign so any Japanese ability I display is a pleasant surprise.

On the other hand is the joy of Japanese-style English. For some reason, the Japanese seem to think English is cool, so there are examples of English everywhere, from shop and road signs, to food packaging and clothes. For a native English speaker, some Japenglish is truly inspired. To finish this rather contemplative blog, I'd like to share with you some of the Japenglish I've come across.

Maybe they mean 'Burger Queen'?

I find this one especially amusing because in New Zealand some years back there was a big hooha about a Toyota television advertisement (see it on YouTube here), which used the word 'bugger': some people thought it was inappropriate to show an ad on prime-time TV that uses a swearword, while most people didn't actually care.

Well, it's certainly an exciting colour.

The Hiroshima Grand Intelligent Hotel. Can only clever people stay here, or does the hotel itself have a high IQ?

An information desk at Shinjuku station. They question you if you don't have the answer.

1 comment: said...

In the UK, "bugger" is a verb. I won't say here what it means, but suffice to say there aren't many girls who would proudly wear a jacket with that badge on!