I keep trying to speak with the Latino guys at my job who work in the kitchen. I’ve worked in that place for a year and every interaction to this day has been a train wreck when I try to talk to them in Spanish. Over the past couple years, I’ve developed this habit of mixing the Japanese I’ve learned with the Spanish I know. It’s a caliente mess, let me tell you…desu. Omg!


thai sleeping

Heh, anyways, I’ve been studying Japanese for the past two years. I plan on teaching English in Japan for a couple years after I graduate from college, and I would love to become fluent in the language. But I have a long road ahead of me towards full literacy. You know how stupid you feel when you just cannot grasp a concept in school? Well imagine feeling utterly stupid in two different cultures at the same time. That was me in my first Japanese class.

My Japanese professor, Tanaka sensei, was fantastic. He really wanted us to learn Japanese in a manner as similar as possible to how we learned English as babies. So he taught with mostly visual aids, and we rarely used the text because he didn’t want students to try and translate words. Tanaka sensei’s showed us pictures, and acted out situations with a little monkey puppet so we would understand the context of words and phrases. It sounds crazy, and everyone in class exchanged confused glances at each other when he first introduced us to the monkey puppet, but after a couple times trying to translate terms and failing, we grew to appreciate his teaching methods.

Along with not allowing us to directly translate words from Japanese to English, Tanaka sensei also forbade students from speaking English during classtime. To ensure that we didn’t, he would dock points from English speakers. It seemed harsh at the time, but looking back, it really did make a difference. Not only was it a hindrance to the person speaking, but it also threw off the learning process for everyone around them. I only wish I took Tanaka sensei’s warning against this more seriously. I was good about not speaking English in class, but what I failed at was shutting my mouth.

Generally, since we weren’t allowed to speak English, if you didn’t know how to say something in Japanese, the only other option was to shut up. But of course I would be the one to make up a whole new option. I just substituted Spanish for the words I didn’t know. I’ve been out of class for a year so nobody yell at me about my grammatical mistakes and whatnot. There’s a lot I don’t remember. But moments like this would happen in class all the time:


(Ray-san, where did you go for summer vacation?)


(I went to California.)


(What did you do there?)

 家族をあって、あの。。。あのおおおお。。。La playa に行きました。

I met with family, and uh…uhhhhh…went to la playa.

La…playa… la playa って何?日本語じゃありません。

La playa? What’s la playa? That’s not Japanese.


Uhh, no.

During my first semester in the Intermediate Japanese class, I missed my midterm due to some family things going on. For make-up, I had to take my test in the Foreign Language lab at a later date. I go in for my test and walk to this table in the back of the room. My Japanese professor ran the language lab, but it was purposed for all foreign language class students to come and complete their lab assignments. During the time I had to take my test, someone who took Spanish came in to do an audio lab at one of the computers. This lab required him to record himself reading a story in Spanish and sending it to his professor. And he was stationed three feet away from me while I’m taking a Japanese exam. It was the most confusing half hour of my life.

I was sitting there, thinking in English, listening to Spanish, all of which I understood, and reading and trying to write in Japanese. It would have been easy to tune out the guy reading in Spanish if it were basic and redundant. Like if all he was saying was “El gato es negro,” or something Dick and Jane-esque, that would be easy to ignore. But no. It was this long winded story of his family throwing him a birthday party in the mall and there was cake and dancing, good music, and…cousins. I couldn’t focus for the life of me.

I got an A- on that test, but the mistakes I made, oh geez. For one question, I wrote the Spanish word for ‘where’ instead of the Japanese word. It’s donde versus doko, sue me. What was weird was that I actually wrote ‘donde’ in hiragana. And I ended up using ‘de’ incorrectly since it functions completely different in each language.

My mix of Spanish and Japanese has only gotten worse since I’ve been away from a professor that would steer me away from doing so. It’s just become a matter of whatever is easiest to say in either language, that’s what comes out of my mouth.

In my defense, apparently children who are raised in a bilingual home grow up speaking both languages at once. Some parenting guides suggest each parent speaking to the child exclusively in one language each so they can better compartmentalize the two. I’m not a child though. I don’t get the opportunity to botch language while I learn. I’ll get it together in due tiempo though, promise. But bear with me in the meantime.

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