Wednesday, July 09, 2008


A gradually expanding vocabulary and cache of Japanese phrases, coupled with increasing comfort with my surroundings, have prompted me to try speaking to my neighbors, storekeepers, restaurant employees. I have noticed, though, that English speaking Japanese don't always understand my Japanese. I think this is because they are expecting to hear English from my mouth.
This occurs to me today, as I experienced the reverse effect while talking with my neighbor. We had arrived back from swim lessons, and we exchanged greetings with her. She even asked the children genki desu ka (how are you? or are you well?). She always seems delighted when they peek over the brick wall to say konnichiwa. I told her, puru e ikimasu - "we go to the pool". She then said "pemani". I was, as usual, confused. I understand my half of conversations much better than the other half. Well, then she said okane - money.

pemani = PAY MONEY.

She was asking me if we had to pay to go to the pool. So I rattled off the few words I knew that would explain it, ever so brokenly - go ju dollars - $50, ni yobi - two weeks, gakusei - which I think is something like student or study. She gestured a few things and I understood that she thinks it must be crazy for me to watch three children at the pool. So I said iie - no, and motioned that each kid went with a sensei - teacher. She was relieved I think. I had my Japanese dictionary (thanks Sarah S!) with me so I looked up the word for earthquake - jishin, and also remembered the word hajimete - for the first time. So she understood that it was our first earthquake experience. Many times in the past, before my conversational Japanese class, if we were trying to communicate and I said wakarimasen - I don't understand, more than twice, she would motion for me to go get my hon - book. As far as her English goes, I know she has a very few words that she will say out loud (maybe she knows more). I have heard her say: yesterday, May, June, July, 'you stay' (as in you stay in country and you will learn Japanese) , and now... "pay money."

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