Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Nice and easy, Japanesy

Te o furenaide kudasai!

Last night was the first of the Level 1 Japanese language classes that I signed up for. I decided to learn some basic Japanese to help when I go there in two months, to give me and my 'chichi' a better chance of getting around. I tried to get on a course entitled 'Japanese for Travel' - which would have been ideal - but it was cancelled due to lack of numbers and I was shunted onto the Japanese Level 1 course instead. Still, this course is broader, and looks at some kanji and writing, so it's just as useful.

The course is run at the University of Wollongong (that being a small city to the South of Sydney), but based at their Sydney campus, right next to Central Station. There are about 15 of us in the group, the usual mix of younger travellers and serial mature students who sit at the front and ask questions. Our teacher is an affable motherly type called Nobuko-san, who has a fun way of getting us to repeat sayings - raising her hands and shouting 'Hai!!' (yes) like we're unruly schoolkids. Which I suppose in a way, we were. I was the only one wearing a tie, for a start.

We learned a few phrases of introduction, listened to a bafflingly fast tape (Nobuko-san gamely tried to work the CD player - what is it with teachers and electrical equipment?), and had a rapid-fire Q&A about Japan. During this I learned that the population of Tokyo is 30million (during the day - it goes down at night), Japan would fit 20 times into Australia (NSW is twice the size of Japan), and one of the basics of Shintoism is that every mountain has a God, every river has a God, etc. A Korean student in the front row found this perplexing. 'And that's the main religion in Japan?' he asked, incredulous.

By far the hardest thing for me was sentence structure - not because of the different way Japanese sentences are constructed, but because I realised I haven't a clue how English sentences are constructed. It took me five minutes just to remember what a verb was, and by the time she explained the Japanese equivalent of past form/present form I was hopelessy lost. Still, I'm not trying to become fluent, or to learn how to construct precise sentences. I just need to be able to communicate and ask for things, so we can get by. Next week, we're doing days of the week and telling the time. And we didn't get any homework!