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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.
    The Baby stage is marked by the same things babies go through as they grow up and learn about the world for the first time. Everything is fresh, new and interesting, and they seek to soak up what they can, wherever and however they can. The foundation for how they approach their world is laid down by the first things that grab their attention, the same occurs for when we approach a language and the culture powering it for the first time. 

     The first time something from the Japanese culture grabs our attention, whether it’s ninjas, Sushi or Hello Kitty, we use it as our springboard to the world and language that powers it and inevitably sound out the Japanese stuff we learn the same way we sound out our native language. Why is this? 

     Short version: It’s how we’re mentally wired when we learn our first language. 

     Long version: the parts of our gray matter dealing with language, Broca’s Area-which handles the stuff giving our thoughts a voice-and Wernicke’s Area-which handles the stuff we hear every day-, have only had to process the sounds and  grammar we’ve soaked up since birth(More thorough analysis here, if you want some more). As we begin building our grammar and vocabulary, the way we say it has to take root in something, and until we hear it spoken by someone more familiar with the sounds unique to the language, we fall back on what we know; same with the cultural aspects, which makes the media’s eyes our eyes until we start seeking knowledge on our own. The more we search, the more likely we are to find things not seen in normal lessons, including info on Japan’s various subcultures. When this takes place, we enter the next phase of language learning, which I like to call the Smart Ass phase.

     Example dialogue of the newbie: Do Japanese people eat ramen every day? (Answer: Do Americans eat hamburgers every day? If they do, they probably don’t have a very quality diet)

     (Next time: A discussion of the Smart Ass Phase)

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