Sensei Wields the Sword of the Samurai- on Ouiser

And cut me to the quick. For the last 8 months, Sensei has attempted with no results to teach me the building blocks of the Japanese phonics- the 46 Hiragana characters. I have resolutely and with great success blocked her attempts to impart this wisdom which would enable me to read signs, menus and most foreign words written in Japanese for several valid reasons. I hate practicing, I can’t remember the Hiragana for longer than three seconds after I’ve written the same character 50 times as the Hiragana must be exact- not “close”- and finally it’s boring. Jabbering on in a foreign language and finding success in piecing together a sentence with the structure a three-year old might employ is much more to my taste. My sensei, reserved, shy, and customarily willing to accommodate my schedule of tasks for the lesson, recently summarily blocked my move to evade the Hiragana lesson I had postponed for several weeks. Not only did she erect an obstacle, she hurled an insult.

“Ouiser-san- if you don’t learn Hiragana, Japanese people can’t understand your pronunciations. I only understand you because I am your teacher.” WHAT?

Me- “You mean I’ve been babbling for 8 months and no one has any idea what I’m saying?” Maybe that’s why cab drivers understand the Offspring giving directions but not me.

Sensei- “Yes.”

Ouiser- “Well- why didn’t you tell me?”

I’ve become the parent who answers the phone but the Japanese person on the other end asks to speak to the child in order to converse with someone understandable. Rapid fire flashbacks started to pop before my eyes as I recalled the millions of times I spoke the correct word, however, the recipient of my floundering Japanese looked back with sheer confusion or worse- dismay.

Sensei- “I’ve been trying to get you to learn but you won’t.” All teachers share a common characteristic, lazy students attempting to divert their attention with brown-nosing, offers of tea to soak up time, and lulling them into a conversation about non- language topics do not blind an experienced educator to the fact that the student is avoiding the subject to be learned. In a Japanese way- she had told me but I, having the cultural sensitivity of a bull charging through Pamplona, was oblivious to her subtle whacks at imparting the Hiragana wisdom of the ages.

Not to fear, my Sensei was more astute than I and recognized the need for a more juvenile approach to Hiragana edification. How best to teach a 46-year-old “Spirit is willing but flesh is weak” student, who tends to bore easily, is distracted by the smallest noise from the dishwasher, finds difficulty in sitting for an hour, and pretends at least once a month not to be home when Sensei knocks on the door? With this:

Kana Can Be Easy- By Kunihiko Ogawa

I can relate to “Yu” and might actually remember it now:

As would any kindergartener all forms of posterior related humor I find funny, therefore, I will never forget “Te,”

Swine plus posterior make “Su,” especially memorable for me,

Hope for a perfect Japanese accent is within my reach thanks to my insightful Sensei and a new-found interest in Hiragana. Proof, yet again, that no matter what the age, study tricks and a good teacher are still keys to life long learning!

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35 Responses to Sensei Wields the Sword of the Samurai- on Ouiser

  1. Lisa says:

    Those are awesome cards. I love them. And, now, I will be cruel and write がんばって


  2. Lili says:

    It seems so funny and useful
    I don’t know if I could find it in France.. or may be on Internet 🙂


    • amblerangel says:

      Hi Lili- thanks for stopping by! I think you can buy anything on the internet now! When I went to Italy I bought guide books through the UK site since they weren’t available in the US.


  3. I’m afraid I understand too well. I understand so well, it’s sad. When we lived in Vietnam, I ultimately stopped trying, and here is Haiti, my French is PATHETIC. I may have already directed you to this post of mine that was Freshly Pressed back in December called “Tale of Miserable Failure: Moanings of a Second Language Learner.” If not, you might get a laugh out of it– here’s the link:


  4. The Nose says:

    It must be working because after reading this post, I was scrolling thru some of the others and recognized the dog and pig tails on the rice balls. Coincidence? I think not.

    Seriously, during my brief attempt at learning Arabic, I found it impossible because neither the alphabet nor the sounds were remotely like anything in English. And apparently my pronunciation was just as poor as your early attempts at Japanese, because my sweet spouse, who speaks but doesn’t read Arabic, had no idea what I was trying to say (and showing him the words obviously was no help). Thankfully, lessons were cut short when my tutor was arrested for soliciting underage sex on the internet, and I’m not trying too hard to take it up again (I’ll stick with Spanish until I can take lessons in the safety of a classroom!!). You were smart to get a little old lady sensei and an equally respectable Andretti-san!!!
    Love You!!


  5. Great post! I laughed all the way through – not at you but at the way your describe things. Especially the “I’ve become the parent who answers the phone but the Japanese person on the other end asks to speak to the child in order to converse with someone understandable.” bit!

    I was listening this weekend to David Sedaris reading from his book “When You Are Engulfed By Flames”. In it he writes about his experiences in Japan, and his failure at learning the language. Which you may find interesting. What occurred to me was that you have a similar sense of humour, and writing style as he does. I mean this as a compliment – he’s one of my favourite authors. Have you ever considered writing a book?


    • amblerangel says:

      I’ll have to find that book! Anyone who makes me feel better about myself I find entertaining! Thanks for your compliments Lisa- for now I’m just writing what comes up as a document for the kids since I never bothered with baby books- this eases my guilt. At the end if other people continue to find it entertaining, I might see what happens…


      • Oh, I think this is so much better than a baby book . . . Although your kids might not want to be reminded later of their teenage years either! 🙂

        The David Sedaris book is especially funny if you hear him reading it, so I’d recommend downloading the audiobook.


  6. annbaloo says:

    Bless your teacher! But WHY did she wait so long to give you this delightful and most helpful book?!


    • amblerangel says:

      Because she thought I would do the RIGHT thing and spend the time to learn it the way all the other adults she’s taught learn it- the old fashioned way- by studying until they get it right! You’re so nice to get on my side!


  7. Emiel says:

    Wow, I wish I had these great Hiragana tricks when I studied Japanese, lol! Love your posts!


  8. Bob says:

    Wow that must be one crazy ass language to learn, and I thought that English was hard.
    Good on ya for trying though, I am sure your studies will pay off eventually.


  9. Dana says:

    Best of luck! Learning any new language is difficult, but especially the ones that don’t have the same alphabet as your native language. (Not to mention an alphabet AT ALL!)

    I am not in any hurry to learn Japanese, but I think those dog and pig symbols will forever be burned into my retinas. Thank you for teaching us all, Sensei! 🙂


  10. Having attempted several times, to learn both French and German, I am in awe of anyone who can learn such a complex and different language as Japanese, no wonder you’ve been struggling but that book looks like fun. Hope it works, my fave was the dog’s tail…


  11. Michi says:

    The “Yu” is a tough one there.

    The fact that your kids are growing up speaking Japanese – awesome!


  12. Lisa Sandy says:

    When I was in Japanese class the entire class lived by: Jim Breen’s WWWJDIC. It’s a fantastically useful English/Japanese dictionary online.

    Also helpful for on the go is “Kotoba!” an English/Japanese dictionary app for the iPhone.

    Some good books for study that I would recommend are:
    Making Sense of Japanese: What the Textbooks Don’t Tell You
    Japanese Core Words and Phrases: Things You Can’t Find in a Dictionary
    All About Particles: A Handbook of Japanese Function Words
    and for Kanji, since you’ve got something like it already for Hiragana…
    Kanji Pict-O-Graphix: Over 1,000 Japanese Kanji and Kana Mnemonics

    Hope it helps!

    ~ Lisa Sandy


    • amblerangel says:

      This message has been SO helpful Lisa! Thanks so much! Or- arigato! I’m on my way to amazon next- my best friend in Japan! You’re so nice to provide the links!


      • Lisa Sandy says:

        🙂 I’m a web developer- links are the least I can do. If you ever need good recommendations on learning the language I have a tone of helpful links/books/etc. (Since I struggled through 5 years of Japanese I learned where all the nice study stuff is.) Just let me know and I’ll send you the flood of info. XD


      • amblerangel says:

        Thanks Lisa! That’s so nice to know! It’s also nice to know who to ask computer questions to….


  13. shashie says:

    try to read manga/magazine, watch anime/TV drama or playing games. it’s better than trying to learn it from text book (^_^) あきらめない, がんばってね! (^^)v


  14. Olga SE says:

    What a nice textbook! It evoked my long forgotten desire to learn Japanese.


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