Happy Holidays and All That

It’s Christmas back home, which means it was Christmas yesterday here. What did I do for Christmas? I worked. Then I went home and had a very normal evening alone. Finally, I decided to have a Merry Christmos and had some hamburgers for dinner.

Mos Burger is the name of burger chain in Japan. It’s kind of like the Chipotle of the hamburger world, I suppose. It’s still fast food, but it at least tries to disguise itself as something more. Every Christmas they run a promotion explaining why you should have a good “Christmos”. See what they did there?

I also had some chicken from them because I’m in Japan and it’s Christmas.

Every Christmas in Japan, KFC sales explode. Pre-orders for some good Kentucky cookin’ go through the roof and I’ve heard about month long reservations in some of the more populated areas of the country. I’ve enjoyed it the past two years but was alone this year, so I forewent the pleasure. Maybe in a few days when we celebrate our make up Christmas I will convince the girl to get some KFC.

In other news I have decided on a new 30 day challenge for January. Every day I will make one blog entry and watch at least one drama episode in Japanese. It will help me concentrate a little more on Japanese study.

Both of my graduate school applications were accepted and now I just have to await decisions. Unfortunately, after crafting a great essay (the 4 professionals to whom I showed it all used words like “amazing” “terrific” “awesome” etc. I was feeling good about it) one of the programs had a wonky system in place and jeopardized everything. On the main page it gave the prompt for what to write in a personal statement. If you do a Google search for personal statements for graduate school applications you will likely find the typical length is 1 1/2 – 2 pages. My length was just short of 2 pages, about 2,100 words. There was no mention of length in the prompt.

Then, in the application itself when it comes time to upload the document (near the very end, to add) there is suddenly a word limit. 1,000 words. 1,000!!!!  That means I had to cut my beautifully crafted essay by more than 50%. On the spot! I was hot. I hope what I ended up submitting to that program will be sufficient.

In the mean time I’ve picked back up studying Latin and Greek. It’s been fun. I’ve also added/re-added German to the mix. I spend every day studying 4 languages, each to a varying degree. At least I get a feeling of accomplishment, which can be a difficult thing to find living as an ALT in Japan.

The funny thing is that my Japanese studies have propelled my Latin. Despite not looking at Latin for over a year, I’m only very slightly below the level I was at in college (4 years ago). In fact, in some aspects I’ve gotten better. When one learns Latin they tend to learn an approach based mostly on explaining the grammar of each individual sentence (or word) and focused heavily on translation. I was fortunate enough to go through a program that tried to explain Latin was once the most spoken language on the planet, and if it worked for them it should work for us. So, I was able to take a conversational Latin class as an elective. My instructor for my Cicero and Caesar class routinely taught entire class periods strictly in Latin (she is a fluent speaker).

The point of this was to cultivate the ability to read Latin like we would read English. Basically, to teach us what to do with Latin what ALTs try to teach Japanese students to do with English: don’t read every word individually but try to look at the paragraph as a whole. Well, sometime during all this Japanese studying this all clicked in my brain. My Latin isn’t good enough that I can do this entirely, but I have noticed my brain doing the “understanding” stuff rather than the “translating” stuff.

If you’ve studied a foreign language you will know what I’m talking about. It’s that time when your brain stops interpreting conversations as they happen and just shuts up and accepts the foreign language in. You just understand it without really thinking. In Latin you do this with your reading. I seem to have developed this skill reading Latin without reading Latin but through studying Japanese. It’s an odd, positive twist.

For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about I will try to explain it briefly. Let’s take this sentence:

パンを食べてから運動しました。

pan wo tabete kara undou shimashita

In English we can translate this as “I worked out after I ate some bread” or any similar idea.

What language learners between beginner and advanced-intermediate will tend to do is translate this as they hear it.  “Bread.. wo.. wo.. oh ok that’s the object marker. Eat… from?.. maybe from.. well probably from.. work out.. ok that was a past tense, long form verb. So it must be working out in the past tense. Ok.. Got it. Wait.. what was the first word again?”

Maybe you know how these thoughts feel. They are perfectly normal!! If you feel this way don’t despair. Everyone in the history of the world who has ever learned a foreign language has gone through this. I promise.

The problem is you are usually lost by the time you get to the later parts of the sentence. A long sentence or a paragraph? Forget about it.

Eventually, however, your brain quits thinking about each individual part. It will hear the sentence as a whole and then spit it back out at you in English. Stick with that for long enough and you reach what all language learners strive for: your brain will hear/see the sentence, understand it, and then stop. There will be no English, no grammar breakdown, no deeper wondering, just acceptance of input like it was your native tongue.

Somehow my Latin jumped from the first to somewhere approaching the second without ever looking at it. In a year of a rather underwhelming Christmas it was a really great treat.

Have a safe, happy Christmas!