While my host family and coworkers always says that my Japanese is very good, my inability to read a book without picking up a dictionary every five seconds makes me disagree. I’ve completed Intermediate Japanese II at Main Campus so I was pretty confident in my ability, but upon arriving in Japan, I discovered that I still had a long way to go.
I honestly thought keigo (honorific language) would be the most difficult for me to use while in Japan since it was a difficult chapter for me in the past. Instead, I found it easier to talk to adults and cashiers in comparison to talking to my peers! Since in class, we would always use masu form (formal language) with our professor, short form (informal language) had slipped from my mind.
Yearning for the opportunity to practice and review short form, I signed up for Temple’s Language Partner Program. Unfortunately, my partner was unable to meet at the originally designated time and I ended up without a partner. Fortunately, Meiji University was looking for Temple students to participate in its language partner program. Unlike Temple’s Language Partner Program, this program is held online, so while it was a little less personal, you could have as many language partners as you want. I certainly was in for a surprise! After typing up my self-introduction in Japanese, I ended up having four language partners! And their fluency in English really surprised me! Everyone from Meiji University seems to have almost completely mastered English already! Some of my partners have been studying English since middle school! They all seem very surprised to find out that I’ve only been studying Japanese for two years, and told me that they thought I had been studying it for much longer (but I’m starting to have a feeling that this is something everyone in Japan tells you no matter how terrible you are at Japanese). Honestly, I am really embarrassed that my Japanese isn’t at the same level of their fluency in English, but I will certainly do my best to catch up to them. An icebreaker I found fun to ask my partners was what the kanji in their name meant. My parents gave my sister and me Chinese names but never taught us how to write it. However, they did tell use the meaning. I know that my Chinese name means “spring water.” And my little sister’s Chinese name means “spring flower.” My parents told me that since water is necessary for life, the origin of my name is “to support others,” especially my little sister.
I sure got a lot of interesting responses! For instance, the kanji in Keiko’s name (慶子) means “happy child.” Incidentally, the kanji in Rika’s name (莉加) means “child that gives kindness to everyone.” I thought Tsubasa’s name was pretty cool too (翼). His name means “wings.” And Emi’s name was also quite interesting (宇田川 瑛実). Her last name uses the kanji for space, rice field, and river (so we think it means galaxy), while her first name means “faith crystal.”
Anyway, I really love talking my with language partners. It feels more like having pen-pals who love talking to you instead of practicing. I’ve made it a goal to reply to them at least once or twice a day, without using the aid of Google translate to write a response back. Using a dictionary takes much longer, but I don’t want to take shortcuts on the learning process. I definitely would love to meet them in person if the opportunity pops up.