Forget How Good or Bad your Japanese/English Is – Do Tackle a Third Language
Akemashite omedetoo gozaimasu and a Happy New Year to all you readers out there. You are a source of great inspiration for me as a regular columnist in the JCCA Bulletin as I strive with each issue to bring you something worth reading. My articles may be judgmental or prejudicial at times, but I do try to make them interesting, relevant and informative. If you have any opinions, the editor and I would be more than happy to hear from you, so please email them to this magazine.
Allow me to start 2017 by discussing one of my favourite subjects –- languages. If I may, I have one advice for readers regarding our linguistic experiences in which, as likely as not, English and Japanese are mixed in varying degrees depending on our backgrounds. Begin by ignoring how high or low you think the level of your English-speaking (or Japanese-speaking) ability is. Then you should have a crack at a third language as well. For example, if you are a native speaker of English, you could tackle French along with Japanese that you are studying. If you are a native speaker of Japanese, you should try, for example, Chinese along with English that you are still working on. Of course, it could be German instead of French or Korean instead of Chinese.
But there is a widely-shared notion that when one is striving to learn a skill, one should not try to learn another skill until the first task has been fulfilled People who think that way might say things like, “Her Japanese is still at the intermediate level, but she says she’s going to try Chinese too.” Or, “His English is still pretty shaky, but I now hear him saying he’s going to take up French.”
Not long after the end of World War II in the early 1950s, my family knew a wealthy family who had a dilettante of a son. He would be really into practicing trumpet for a while. Then he would buy an expensive camera and become an avid photographer, only until he took up ukulele. Then he would be plinking and plonking for hours on end. I would hear grown-ups gossiping that “no matter what he takes up, he’s not able to master it properly.”
Where languages are concerned, I would argue that such a way of thinking is erroneous.
The other day, I heard at a neighborhood Japanese-themed pub a Japanese man who has been in Canada for many years talking to a few Japanese youths who had arrived from Japan only recently. How much he had to struggle with English when he first came here, the man was fairly bragging, and the boys had no choice but to listen to the senpai (an older person, especially from same schools, companies etc.) going on between sips of beer.
But isn’t this something that every new generation of immigrating Japanese men has had to hear ad nauseam from their senpai in Canada or the US for the past century or so? But all too often, it seems such folks, once they’ve learned to speak English, would feel that that is sufficient as far as language knowledge is concerned.
As a practical proposition, it might be unrealistic to tell a Japanese person struggling with English to tackle French as well. It’s like telling a Nikkei person struggling with Nihongo to study Chinese (Mandarin) too. In the case of a Japanese person, he or she would be well put to try Chinese as a third language. It is unfathomable how much the Japanese and Chinese peoples’ common use of Chinese characters (kanji, literally Han Dynasty characters). Many Japanese college graduates have studied kanbun (literally Han writing).
If one can understand, or can at least read Chinese on top of knowing Japanese and English, it would broaden one’s scope. In the case of international businessmen working in the Far East, it is said that the best-equipped ones are those who can handle Chinese on top of English and Japanese.
Back in December during the launch of the English version of the book, Story of the Vancouver Asahi, a Legend in Baseball, by Mr Norio Goto (see also page 5), I had the honor of being presented as its translator. I gave a short speech In which I spoke about how the book was a product of a team effort of everyone concerned from prime movers to volunteers helping with the book launch. Using a baseball analogy, I said I had been like a lead-off batter. I did my bit by hitting a single (or hopefully even a double) and getting on base. But unless a batter or batters after me got a hit or hits, I could not have come home to score a run. It is my hope that ultimately, our team will have scored a win with this project.
I would also thank the “manager” who had enough faith in me to put me in the “line-up.” This English translation is one small way for me to say “thank you” for the ability in languages that my parents, grandparents and ancestors further back have bestowed me with. In closing, I hope as many people as possible would read it in Canada and beyond.