By now, I’d hope that you’ve all have realised that I’ve studied Japanese for half a decade.

There I go again, assuming that there are regular readers

This has been, mostly, on a part time basis, during studying for my degree.

A Little Background

I studied at the University of Hull for 4 years to get my BSc (long story, none of it revolving around me having to re-take a year or anything like that. Think: “bums on seats, too many bums and hardly enough seats”) in Games Development. While I was studying there, I heard about a lady by the name of Tomoko. It turned out that she was offering Japanese lessons to all students; they could even take the course as part of their degree, through a thing called “Free Electives” (you ELECT to take a class in place of a FREE long-thin module on your timetable).

The Venn building, the first building you see when walking onto the campus at Hull (image via Wikipedia)

At the end of the year, those who passed the exam would be awarded an accredited certificate (recognised in Europe, at the very least). This was because the course Tomoko was offering followed the guidelines for the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages [LINK]. This meant that, although the courses were short (typically 26 weeks, or 2 semesters, in length), you’d end up with something other than “I can speak Japanese, you know” at the end of it.

I took 4 years of Tomoko’s courses. The first one being during my 2nd year of University – I wanted to test the waters and see if I could handle a whole year of my degree before I added Japanese on top of it. Learning 3 different computer programming languages/techniques in 1 year (C++, Prolog, OpenGL and Assembly), with a second Human language on top was a little difficult at first, but I got the hang of it. I also like to think that it gave me a better understanding of English, too.

English sentences follow this basic structure: Subject > Verb > Object. For Example “I (subject) watched (verb, past tense) the television (object)

Japanese sentences are a little different. They go Subject > Object > Verb. For example, “I (subject) the television (object) watched (verb, past tense)

During my study of Japanese, I was always boning up on Japanese history (日本の歴史 [Nihon no rekishi]), too. There were two reasons for this: a) I was really interested in how a country could go from all out war (戦国時代 [Sengoku Jidai] [LINK]) to 250 years of peace in one move. And b) I thought that studying the history would help me to better understand the language and culture of 21st century Japan.

I was also very active in language exchanging. The Language Exchange is something that the Language department at Hull Uni organise on a yearly basis (at least they did when I was studying there). They would pair you up with someone who speaks the language that you are learning, and you would teach each other your language. This is a really useful system, as it allows you to learn some more, outside of the class, and you can study informally over a cup of joe.

Incidentally, I have no idea when coffee is sometimes referred to as a “cup of joe”, but I like it a lot more than calling it a “cup of java”. But I have no idea why I like it better.

On top of all that, I’ve been to Japan and had to speak the language while I was there. Conversing with the flight attendants on the way, the security guys at 成田国際空港 (Narita International Airport [LINK]), booking hotels, ordering food (also beer), taking taxi journeys; it was all a lot of fun.

This is pretty much the same view I had when I got off the plane at Narita in 2008 (image via Wikipedia)

That’s why today hurt so much, probably.

What Happened?

Today, I took a trip somewhere.

I’m intentionally going to be quite vague here. I’m not going to mention where I went, or the name of the place.

They were looking for people who could translate recorded telephone conversations from a variety of different languages into English, and it just so happened that one of those languages was Japanese.

I travelled down there and took a seat in a long room, behind one of the 72 computers. I was given a set of headphones

I’m not sure if they were sterilised or not. Note to self: wash out ears

and asked if I could try translating a 2 minute long conversation. Technically the conversation was 146 seconds long, but that’s for the pedants out there.

After 30 minutes, I’d managed to scribble down most of what was being said in the first 25 seconds of the recording. My thoughts were ‘scribble it down in Japanese, then translate the scribbles to English.’ Sounded easy.

Then I hit on a snag. I couldn’t hear the verb the lady was using. Was it つくれる, すくれく, つくれるん or すくれるん? Most of which made no sense to me. I scribbled all four down and moved on.

At the 38 second mark, I hit on another snag. They started using very technical words related to machinery and engineering. I had no idea. I pushed on.

About about an hour and a half of scratching my head while looking at my notes. I went to see the person who’d asked me try translating the call. I told here that I’d gotten about 30 seconds in and couldn’t understand the rest of it; but I’d gladly translate what I had. She said that would be fine, for now.

I translated what I had, but didn’t like the translation. I took it to the lady and told her that was all I’d be able to do. She said that was a perfect starting point for them but that she wouldn’t be able to pay for it, since she only received a budget for complete translations. I told her that it wasn’t a problem, as I didn’t feel as though I’d produced enough for them, anyway.

Then I left.

So it’s not an epic failure, but I still felt as though I’d let myself down. This isn’t a reflection on Tomoko’s teaching, it’s more a reflection on how my brain seems to work. In fact, most people’s brains.

Because I hadn’t used my Japanese skills since early 2010, they’d deteriorated – and quite quickly, too.

What Next?

On the way home, while listening to やっつけ仕事 (Yattsuke Shigoto – “The damned job”) by 椎名林檎 (Shiina Ringo) and texting my friend Simon, I started to feel a little better about myself. Sure, my Japanese skills have deteriorated but that didn’t mean that they where gone completely. I mean, I can still hold a conversation together. It was a case of the words and grammatical constructs that I hadn’t used in a long time fading. Nothing that a little research couldn’t fix.

As my friend Leigh once said, “calling it study makes it hard and boring. Calling it research makes it interesting and, ever so slightly, fun”

So, that was the big thing that happened in my day. I’m going to leave you all with an embed of the song I was listening to, because it’s amazing (at least I think it is). The version I’m going to embed is the full album version, the single version was a little different and the (so called) ROCK version is even more different.

Have fun and enjoy the video/song



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Jamie is a .NET developer specialising in ASP.NET MVC websites and services, with a background in WinForms and Games Development. When not programming using .NET, he is either learning about .NET Core (and usually building something cross platform with it), speaking Japanese to anyone who'll listen, learning about languages, writing for this blog, or writing for a blog about Retro Gaming (which he runs with his brother)