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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Take a Bow: Understanding How the Bow Works in Japanese Culture(the beginning of the Circle in the Square series)

They say people would rather croak than speak in public (and by ‘they’, I refer to the mountains of polls and studies pointing to this), but imagine you had to do that in the language of a culture seems like a fun-house mirror image of your own. That round peg in square hole conception is what I see in a lot of language learners, whether they’ve studied for 1 week or 1 decade. Contributing to this misunderstanding are those teaching the language as two separate things with minimal relation to each other. 

     While I give credit to those who’ve put in their time with the language and teach this way, I respectfully disagree with it, as I view each one to be vital to knowing the other. This is mind, I will now offer the knowledge I’ve gained so our circles can better fit in the so-called squares of Japanese culture, starting with an element closely tied to Japan: the bow.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Global Perception and You(part 4): The Worldly Curmudgeon

When you see the world through the eyes of a Worldly Curmudgeon, you’re letting everything this world has to offer come into you; all the joy, all the sorrow, all the pain, all the pleasure and all the points of view present in different ways of life. Each becomes worth equal consideration as they gain equal weight in our judgment, bringing our view full circle so we can see the complexity all of us are capable of the more we see how perception changes interpretation. How complex can people get? Let’s start with the people we meet in the city. 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Global Perception and You(part 3): The Issue Minded Prick

Have you ever met people who spit out stuff like this? ‘Bullfighting is Barbaric!’, ‘Our jobs are being shipped overseas!’, ‘The Gov’t spends as much on the military a day as they do on our libraries each year!’ and so on. Those are the people aware of the events driving cultures across the globe, and they’ve entered the teenage stage of subject study, people I refer to as ‘Issue Minded Pricks’. 

With Issue Minded Pricks, it’s not out of the ordinary for them to be seasoned students of both the language and culture. With more than a few years of study under their belt, they’ve had to establish what they wanna say, how they wanna say it and the process of keeping their skills sharp. They’ve seen beyond commonplace Japanese history and have learned things that would make your stomach do flips. These are what they refuse to be silent about, taking every viable chance to voice their stance. In fact, this has a strong presence within language studies due to the simple fact that every country has a deep history filled with bright times and dark days, Japan included.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Global Perception and You(Part 2): The Smart-Ass Phase

The Smart Ass phase is where we start getting cocky about our language skills, thinking that our knowledge will impress people, even when it’s limited to stuff like ‘I like turtles’. This happens because many instructional books and classes coddle their students and stick to a less harsh learning environment. Why would this be preferred when these skills will be subjected to the fast pace of reality? 

Well, let’s face facts: No one is expected to get it right the first time in anything, including how we speak a language; doing so will only lead to finely crushed aspirations. As kids we got encouraged to keep at it by being rewarded or praised for each little thing we did right building towards the end goal, like if someone wanted their kid to pack their own lunch, they’d reward the initiative, then packing good ingredients, then crafting, wrapping and arranging the meal in a bag or lunch pail, then when they consecutively repeat the act on their own. 

     This is known as Shaping, a process that builds us up to seek out skills and knowledge in anticipation of showing it off and getting this kind of validation; this carries over into our language studies the more we find out about cultural nuances, word puns and so on-for example, that the word 絶倫(ぜつりん) is much like the English word Professional, which can refer to both someone proficient at what they do and someone proficient in the sack. 

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Global Perception and You: The 4 Initial Stages of Growth in Subject Study(Part 1)

When we’re young, dumb and full of gumption, we learn something solid by doing something stupid; can’t learn to walk without a few falls, after all. That’s the way we gain experience, and the stages of life we all go through to gain it-baby, kid, teen and adult-repeat themselves with everything we pick up, especially when we learn a new language. In fact, it’s the stuff we do during and after all the growing that shapes us down to the core and-much like growing up-can be as confusing as visiting L.A., N.Y.C. or Tokyo for the first time and getting plopped into the city chaos head first. I know if I had someone there to smack some sense into my young punk skull, I would’ve had a solid grasp of the language and culture a whole lot sooner, instead of the elitist, “Japan is superior!” attitude that followed me around. 

    Now, because things worth our time are seldom easy, learning Japanese likely won’t be for you, so I’d like to offer my own experiences to help you track where you are as a student of a language (though-as is the preface for all the more subjective things I’ll be writing about here-you probably won’t like what I have to say) We’ll start this at the stage all of us start on at the outset: the Baby stage-or Newbie, if you prefer.