Tackling language, learning loan words.

That’s kind of an ironic title for this blog post, as I haven’t actually tackled a language yet.

More at a very slow plod at the very beginning of a mountain that it’s going to take a few years to climb.

But I do look at this over the long haul rather than the immediate.

I’m prepared for the journey.

And I also know that it’s going to take a lot of hard work, and a huge reliance on God’s almighty grace to learn all that I need to.

Which is ok.

Because I actually really enjoy learning Japanese, love studying (because I am a self-confessed-geek!) and have become well accustomed to the fact that things go a lot better when I lean into the grace of my Father.

And this last week, despite actually being in Japan, the time I have put aside to study has been less than usual because it has been so busy. But I really want to use these next weeks wisely, and I am very aware that my fast-approaching time in Osaka will see me staying with a couple who speak no English, so today, amongst a few other things, I hit the books. 

As you would expect, it’s actually really useful to study Japanese in Japan. There are plenty of people to ask if you don’t understand anything, want sentences checked, or need to know pronunciation (I am fortunately staying with a Japanese lady who speaks fluent English!). I also try and read all the road signs, building signs and random kanji that I see from the train each day. Like ‘I-spy’ but taking a lot more brain power!!

So this morning saw me crack out an epic study session, rewarded by a trip to Starbucks at the middle point. 

This was the bulk of my work:

This is the point where most of my UK living friends nod in an impressed fashion, but my friends reading from Japan give the knowing look of ‘Wow. You’ve got a long way to go! That is beginner!’

Today I was on how to list multiple verbs in sentences. Yep. My verb conjugation knowledge continues to be my weak point 😉

The thing I’m finding as well, is that when ordering in shops, my pronunciation of words written in katakana is tricky. 

Ok, so quick recap for those of you who don’t speak Japanese. This language has two syllabaries (kind of alphabet equivalents) that incorporate all the sounds needed to speak Japanese, hiragana (curvy and used for Japanese words) and katakana (spiky and used for loan words that have come from other countries). Then you have the thousands of kanji, which are the pictorial characters that mean certain words (that you pronounce using the hiragana/katakana sounds). Easy right?! (Haha, I’m kidding… I know that’s about as far different from English as you can get!)

So here’s the issue: most katakana words are loan words that we would kind of recognise in English. Like the word ‘hamburger’. 

In Japanese this in written ハンバ-ガ- . 

It is pronounced ha-n-baa-gaa. 

Almost like we would say it in English. But not quite. Just to keep you on your toes.

Here’s another example:

In fact, spot that second word? Hamburger!! First word? MacDonald’s! Pronounced almost like we would in English. But not quite.

And saying katakana words is tough. Because it isn’t completely new learning. It’s teaching your brain to do something old in a new way. And everything within you wants to say it the way you always have, and everything within you feels absurd pronouncing it in a new way. But to be understood here, you have to to put yourself out there and do it. It’s the same word, it’s the same meaning, but there’s a different way to communicate it.

And I was thinking, that this problem is similar in some ways to how we share the Gospel here. Yep, I know, my brain and it’s connections… Because we know the Gospel message is cross-cultural, relevant, and means the same beautiful Truth to all people. But just like if I walk boldly into a Japanese MacDonald’s and boldly order a hamburger in my broad English accent, no one would know what I was talking about, so if I storm into the lives of my new Japanese friends, and loudly share the Gospel message in the exact same way as I would in the UK, it wouldn’t make sense to them. I need to learn the loan word. That which makes what seems foreign make sense. And that can feel uncomfortable for me. And hear me clearly, I’m not talking about changing the message. The Word is the Word. The meaning stays the same. But the method? That has to be understandable in culture.

There are keys to be learnt here in Japan. And there are spiritual loan words to be discovered. And I am enjoying learning from those far wiser than I from their own experiences here, whilst also praying that God would open the eyes of my heart to see that which He is saying for this season.

Please pray for this, because I think it’s important.

My amusing story of the day is also food related. Check out this ‘only is Japan’ moment:

That was a huge sign outside a coffee shop. Yummy! Only in Japan would tomato flavour ice cream be a good idea!!

I’ve just got off a wonderful and much needed Skype catch up with one of my best friends, and she was also greatly amused that I was considering going and getting a late night snack from ‘Freshness Burger’ downstairs. Funny the things that so quickly become normal names, that are hilarious when you think about them. Thank you Becca, for making me laugh solidly for an hour and for sharing this journey with me from the other side of the world! 🙂

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3 thoughts on “Tackling language, learning loan words.

    1. Love you too! There have been so many moments where I’ve been like, ‘man, I wish Becca was here! She would find this so funny!’ Obviously not the onsen 😉 THAT would be weird! Lol! xx

  1. Wishing you were back in scotland peta… But atleast you are haveing fun 🙂 xxxx missing u and praying

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