Today’s guest post is from my friend Katriel. I asked Katriel to contribute something after our recent discussion on learning Japanese, and how there’s a lot of fandom baggage that can come with it, compared to when you’re learning other languages.
Katriel Paige is a translator, editor, lecturer, and occasional journalist. They love Japanese yokai stories, convention cultures, good conversations, and fox plushes. They also contribute to Study of Anime.
So, you’re finally making the big step. You’ve seen the occasional words or titles in anime or games, but now you want to dive into the “real” stuff.
You want to learn Japanese.
There are plenty of resources to do so. Associations like the Japan Society offer classes, and there are a wealth of online opportunities both beneficial and questionable. But dealing with a Japanese class can sometimes send fans, especially older ones, into a frenzy of fandom-fueled panic.
They want to be taken seriously. So they ask questions like, “Should I take my pins off of my favorite messenger bag or backpack? Speaking of backpacks, is the Survey Corps backpack a no-go? What about my cell phone charms? Do I need to learn kana first—will other students there think I’m silly if I don’t already know it?”
In addition to these questions are others, lurking underneath the surface. The nightmares of becoming the eldritch shambling horror of the Actually Ridiculous Fan Stereotype who haunts other fans’ nightmares with, “Actually, the REAL meaning is…” or “omg kawaii!!” The fears of cultural appropriation, of assuming a meaning that isn’t there. The fears of multiple writing systems to deal with, and doubts of ever having a conversation in Japanese. Of any length.
First, calm down. Breathe. Continued breathing is good for your health.
Once you’re reasonably relaxed, I have three pieces of information for you:
Learning doesn’t make you a weeaboo
No matter your reasons are for learning a language, making it part of your daily life helps you learn it.
It’s the same rationale behind classes putting up sticky notes on blackboards or windows with the words for “the blackboard” or “the window” on them. It’s something you can relate to, something you see in school life.
It’s also why people learn phrases like, “How are you?” a bit easier than isolated words like “airplane” or “alchemy.” Greetings can be used right away. Same with words like, “Thanks”. It sticks. I remember when I was first learning Spanish and the teacher taught us our first words: “No sé” = “I don’t know.” That way, even if we didn’t know the answer, we could at least respond some way in Spanish.
It doesn’t matter what other people think
Most American learners are used to two languages being offered in classes: Spanish and French.
Often, the reason for learning them is a simple “my school required one or the other”, so we don’t think much about our reasons, or what others might assume of us. When I first started learning Japanese, I admit I was listening to songs from Yu Yu Hakusho, trying to do my own translations of the song “Nightmare”. I was reading about the puns in Sailor Moon.
Was I made fun of? Yes.
Did I get defensive? Yes.
Did I feel ridiculous? Still do, in fact.
But the trick to language learning is to not let that stop you.
It’s hard. But how do you get better at anything? You keep doing it. You might mess up, but you get back up and learn and do it all over again.
You’re not the only one
If you’re in a Japanese class, chances are other fans will be there too.
If someone does makes fun of you for your fandoms, you can always say that you’re studying the Japanese language because you want to learn more. Yes, you’re a fan. But learning Japanese language might help with other things as well.
For example, understanding translation choices. Puns. Talking about electronics in DenDen Town or Akihabara, as well as apologizing that you don’t know Japanese fluently. Or asking a friend about their ikebana class, or if you should check out that new karaoke place down the street.
Let me tell you a story.
In November 2013, I spend an evening speaking with my friends in English. My voice does not have a noticeable accent, even here in the city. To another American, I have no accent. I realize I might need to look at Japanese-style resume templates (which are different than American style ones), and so I stop in at Kinokuniya. It is the night before the Japanese Language Proficiency Test and I am hearing English and Japanese spoken from many different people: different accents and dialects all over the place.
Hesitantly, I go to the information desk. I am white, I am very conscious of my weight, I have blue hair—I knew those things obviously but here, in a Japanese bookstore, I worry how I will be seen and how I will sound. My language is not expected. I am taking too much time looking at pens and study books and fiction titles. I fear I will stand out too much. I fear I will be misunderstood, even though I have spent many years studying, even though I hardly speak in Japanese and my speaking is rusty. The forms have their own word— “rirekisho.” I have always had a problem with ‘r’ sounds in any language. I stutter.
I clear my throat anyway. And speak.
“<…Excuse me, but do you have personal history resume forms here?>”
The clerk looks up. “<Personal history forms? Japanese style ones?>”
“<Yes, they are in the stationery section over there. If you are applying to a job, I wish you good luck.>”
All of these fears, and it went more smoothly than expected. I was able to talk with someone and get what I needed.
Yes, I may have sounded awkward. Or used language in unexpected ways. But in the end, I accomplished my goal. I now translate written works, I now do panels, I now teach every now and then. Learning Japanese was difficult at times, but I hope that new learners to Japanese will keep going, and never give up.
Keep going and do your best.
Photo by Danny Choo