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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. 

     It can get irritating for everyone involved, and for students still trying to figure themselves out, is as far as they’ll go, in terms of character(which I’ve heard said of many young Japanese-Americans-often referred to by the general word for Japanese born outside the country: 日系(にっけい)-unwilling to consider that the wisdom they were born with about Japanese might be off the mark). That said, when they’re less reliant on what they know needing validation, they rise up the next phase of language learning: consciousness of the issues that have shaped and continue to shape the society of Japan

     Example dialogue of the Smart Ass: Did you know that Pac-man’s name comes from the Japanese word for eating, ぱく? (note: the exact word referred to here is the onomatopoeia[words imitating sounds, like Bang and Zoom] for the sounds our mouth makes when we chew on something, ぱくぱく. You can see the info in action in this scene from the Scott Pilgrim movie)

(Next Time: A discussion of the next phase of learning: the Issue Minded Prick phase)

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