Watashi wa nihongo ga mada heta desu

For illustration purposes only. I recommend 'Japanese for Busy People' insteadWatashi wa nihongo ga mada heta desu” means “I’m still bad at Japanese.” And although that’s a demonstrably true statement, the correct response is supposedly 「いいえ、そんなことは ありませんよ」, “No, that’s not true!”

I’ve been taking classes for the past ten weeks at a local school, and last night was the nerve-wracking final. It’s actually a pretty laid-back environment, but seeing as how this is the third time I’ve taken the same class (I had to drop out of the first two before the halfway point, because of various crunch modes at work) and whether I can go on to the next one depends solely on the final exam, it was on the stressful side of pleasant. If I had just had the forethought to go wearing only my underwear, I could’ve relived one of my standard recurring adult nightmares.

It doesn’t help that I have Teflon-coated synapses where Japanese is involved. Proper names are the worst — you can tell me a Japanese family name, then immediately ask me to repeat it back to you, and I just can’t. Except for Akira Kurosawa, Beat Takeshi, and a couple of my friends with Japanese surnames, I’m hopeless. We were given a list of family words (father, grandmother, older brother, etc) to memorize, and that thing’s been the bane of my existence for two months now. I can stare at it, reciting the words over and over, and just can’t retain it.

And it says a lot that one of the key phrases we’re supposed to retain is “My Japanese isn’t very good.” That total lack of optimism extends to the title of our textbook (Basic Functional Japanese). It’s a shade better than the “particles are incomprehensibly confusing” and “you are doomed to failure” attitude surrounding the language, but it’s still hard to be enthusiastic with the mantra “The best you can possibly hope for is the most basic level of competence.”

I really have no idea how I did on the final exam; it seemed straightforward enough, but I know I made tons of little (and likely not-so-little) errors throughout. My key motivator was not having to pay to take the class for a fourth time, but when I started my panic-studying, I was reminded of this long-forgotten fact:

The head of Japanese studies at the University of Georgia is a total dick. (At least, the guy who was in charge in 1992). I was a year from graduating, and I wanted to take beginning-level classes to get a start in the language, and then go on studying on my own. JPN 101 was one of the few courses at UGA that required you to get approval from the department head before you could take it. It seemed odd, but at the time I just assumed it was a way to personalize the classes or something; inconvenient, but no big deal. When I was finally able to meet with the guy, he brusquely told me that unless I was majoring or minoring in the language, I couldn’t take the course at all. Asinine, yes, and a real drag, sure, but still not anything worth remembering 15 years later.

The kicker was this: when I asked why I couldn’t just take a few quarters of classes, he went on to say, “We have a much heavier course load than the other classes at the University. We even have students from Harvard who fail the class.” That smug disdain bugged me for years afterwards; obviously, I’m still holding a grudge. Apparently the desire to voluntarily take on classes for no relevant credit, in a language classified as “superhard” by the state department, isn’t a reliable indicator of intelligence or dedication. What really matters is whether or not my parents had enough money to send me to Harvard. How could a dumb-ass in some public state-run university possibly understand the language of ninja cartoons and videogame RPGs?

So I really want to pass that test, if only to stick it to that guy. And if I don’t, well, I’m very skeptical that I’m going to try to take the class yet again. So I’ll have to pick up what I can from comic books and weekend nights on Channel 26. But I can still say that I would’ve passed, if only I’d gone to Harvard, so it’s still a win-win situation for me. Yatta!

Update: Apparently Windows fonts don’t have the kana characters in them, resulting in a string of question marks on non-Macs for this post. I changed it to romanji and continued my smug condemnation of all things Windows.

Update 2: I got a 99%, which seems to me to be a total lie, but I’m not complaining. Take that, nameless, faceless University of GA pessimistic too-cool-for-public-school guy who for all I know might even be dead at this point! Yatta indeed.