Caught in the Throes of More Language Woes

The Offspring learned the first “alphabet” of the two Japanese versions in September while I sit still struggling to pronounce one syllable words with the prekindergarten version at month 8.  I wax on at my Japanese teacher, pointing in her face with a calligraphy felt tip writing utensil,

” Your killin’ me Smalls. Talking- that’s a valuable skill.  I don’t hand over a written list at the grocery store for someone to fetch.”

She doesn’t respond, she never does. She just sits in silence and stares me down, ignores the ink on my face, indifferent to my commentary on her teaching prowess and demands more attention on the correct stroke order for the “Se” sound.  I swear Japanese music is pinging in the background from parts unknown as she gains the upper hand.

After I suffer the humiliation of “Sa, Si, Su, Se, and So,” on writing paper for the 5 and 6 year olds she teaches on Fridays, she graciously offers a retort from on high.

“If you can’t write it, you can’t pronounce it, if you can’t pronounce it, no one can understand it.” Damn Japanese and their logic.

“Well let’s go on to katakana I’m sick of hiragana I’M BORED!” I offer a compromise to which the enemy refuses to engage. Even though I suspect I’m playing this game alone, I attempt another move.

I use a combination of leaning forward to intimidate and the “thin lips” look which scares small children and misbehaving dogs, each showing her I have the power to get a teacher that will bend to my will.

Ahh- this awakens the bear. She likes to fight mano o mano. “You haven’t yet mastered Hiragana.”

“I CAN write- I’m just a slow reader.”

I can read and write well enough. Thus far, I haven’t been entered in to any Spelling B’s, and as far as I know, there aren’t any speed contests for sign or menu reading. The tug of war starts to pull me in her direction.

She puts down the homework assignment being prepared. “You are one of my most queer students.” Which I interpret as,”personality ridden, joyful, intellectually curious on things of interest to you..”

With that, she yanks the rope easily and I find myself on the ground with a mouth full of “Pa, pe and poo.”

When I ask Andretti-san to define “queer” he explains it as “weird.” I’ve been on the receiving end of many terms that would turn a Philly mobster pink; this I construe as a compliment to preserve my dignity.

I might be odd, but I’m all she’s got as many fled after the earthquake never to return for fear of radiation. What would she do without me? It must be the love of our game.

Or- and this is truly an awful thought- could she be one of life’s antagonists forcing me to where I wouldn’t otherwise go for my own benefit?

A few weeks ago, exhausted, avoiding the kitchen, I cheated on the domestic duties and ordered take out for the Clampitt family. I weakly attempted to order in Japanese, the polite Japanese cook fired back in English, suspicious of his skill, yet happy to oblige, I eventually ordered, “fried rice to go.” in English. Eventually, the cook bounced back handing me a bag filled with “five rice.” Five containers of white rice to go. Evil Sensei’s face magically appeared in the bag- looking up at me,”Ouisar-san, read the menu and point to the fried rice if you don’t want to talk. See why you must learn your characters!”  Here’s a picture of Sensei just in case she shows up in a take out bag.

Not too long ago as I dragged the cooler out of the building I told the building receptionist, “My husband and I are going to a track meet.” She nodded reluctantly, a quizzical look on her face immediately indicating to a reader of body language,”You stepped in it.” Later I consulted Andretti-sensei who said,

“Perfect, except for the part where you said,’ My prisoner and I are going to a track meet.'” The receptionist probably thought “he” was chained within the cooler as it was the supersized version. “Husband” and “prisoner” are spelled similarly but pronounced differently. Subtle. Spouse thinks they’re interchangeable regardless of pronunciation.

The final nail in the coffin came from an unexpected source. My corner grocery store. The local place around the corner I walk to every day to get what I need for the day’s supplies. I asked Andretti-san to run by XXXXX  and he fell out laughing. I assumed it was because of my pronunciation and asked for the correction. This happened several more times which is unusual for Andretti-san who normally doesn’t laugh at my Japanese.

“What is so funny about the way I say XXXXX?”

“When you mispronounce it sounds like a very dirty Japanese word!”

Apparently for lady parts.

So my conversations with my Japanese friends and neighbors have gone like this:

“Don’t you love lady parts?”

“Lady parts is so cheap, don’t you think?”

“I could just eat all the good stuff in lady parts”

“More men are eating in lady parts, don’t you think?”

“Do you do your bagging in lady parts?”

Sensei has won this round. But there will be another….

Note: Read Here The Daily Infographic posted a -well- infographic on the major languages and how each ranked in terms of learnability. See how the one your trying to learn- or speak- ranks…..Thanks to Andrea at for tweeting! (Great web site by the way.

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42 Responses to Caught in the Throes of More Language Woes

  1. Peke Penguin says:

    Hey, Peke hears you. He has also been through the “shujin/shuujin” problem.
    Also had a problem for a while with “bento” (lunchbox) & “benjo” (toilet) .. you don’t want to be making a mistake here …


  2. Hmmmmmmmm–eating “lady parts”—–? I am dying laughing–dying!!!!!!!! Didn’t take you for one of those, my friend! (By the way–still coming to Kentucky next month?)


  3. Tar-Buns says:

    Lord only knows how many faux paus I committed while trying my weak to begin with, Japanese language skills, oh so many years ago. Just returned to MI from a trip to Long Island, NY for my nephew’s wedding. What a trip and what a wedding.

    Sure do enjoy your musings on life in Japan. Continue to be yourself, gently, of course, so no one “loses face”. Wonder how the new dress-code for salary-men goes over. Let us know how many salary-men (forgot the term in Nihongo) wear Hawaiian shirts. What a hoot!


    • amblerangel says:

      Going to LI is the same- they speak a different language there- how’d you do?

      Nothing has changed- the poor salary men are still wearing the black suits- no Hawaiin shirts- no grey suits. The women all wear the same black suit and white shirt. Poor things…. the floppy bows aren’t in yet here. I put them at about 1976 in terms of work clothing.


  4. Oh no! With your language skills you could end up with a dinner of prisoners and lady parts!! hehehe


  5. Woman Wielding Words says:

    I’m sorry, but I can’t help laughing at this one! Hang in there. Gambate!


  6. I think I would have hired an interpreter to follow me around by now! I am wondering what Andretti-san tells his friends about you – you certainly provide him with lots of material for funny stories. 😉

    That infographic must make you feel better about your lack of Japanese language skills. Although it’s making me feel bad now. I speak 3 of the “easy” languages, but am still struggling to understand Swedish (another “easy” language). A translator friend sent me “Hagar, the Horrible” comics in Swedish – not even the drawings help.


    • amblerangel says:

      I just find it so hard to pronounce and nearly impossible to understand. Even Spanish spoken rapidly I can understand enough to catch…. oh well.

      I think there may be a blog out there entitled,” Guess what that crazy half baked Gaijin wanted to do today….”by Andretti-san
      Look for a Godzilla statue- this time all she had was a picture with a building in the background to go on… ”

      which is what we did yesterday. He of course found it…


      • LOL Does Andretti-san know about your blog?


      • amblerangel says:

        Hey- Fresh Pressed Loved that post by the way- I WANT one of those fish!!!!! The sculpted ones- not the ones from the fishing trip in the earlier part of the series.

        Yes- I keep telling him to read it so he can fight like a samurai and not hide like a little girl.The relationship I describe in the blog is pretty accurate. He teases me about my sumi-e painting- which he refers to as my “Bone painting.” He is a really good guy and I don’t know how I would survive without him…


      • You seem almost more excited about me getting FPed than I am! (Thanks for the advertising) Not that I’m not excited . . . WordPress “fame” is just so fleeting. My manager/agent (AKA Willie) told me this morning that I better start writing my next post, as my “new audience” will get bored otherwise, and look for entertainment elsewhere! He’s been reading too many marketing books . . .

        Andretti-san sounds like a good guy and an excellent guide/interpreter. You’re lucky to have him!


      • amblerangel says:

        No more comments- get back to writing! More material! More material! Stat…


  7. Oh my goodness! This is great! I give you and your family a lot of credit. Language by immersion can be a humiliating experience. You and your prisoner, I mean husband, are very brave to take on a new language, and culture…Kudos to you! (And please keep us updated on your progress)


  8. lexy3587 says:

    lol… i love the tiny differences in pronunciation that really screw you over trying to learn a language. One woman I know pointed out while learning english that if the k in know were really silent, it would be pronounced like the word ‘now’ instead of like ‘no’
    funny post!


  9. I was reading this post to Willie (trying not to laugh too much!). He says that Spouse is right: “husband” and “prisoner” are synonymous in any language, and that in South Africa the marriage vows boil down to “anything you say can and will be held against you”!

    His take on it, not mine . . .


  10. jacquelincangro says:

    I’m laughing over here. I’ve had some close calls in Italian also. Fico = fig. Fica = lady parts. Is this on purpose to ruin the confidence of people trying to learn a new language? 🙂


    • amblerangel says:

      I sure hope not! Hopefully we all realize that you just hang in there and keep trying right? Keep your sense of humor and know that no body died because you said something wrong! I actually find a lot of people won’t learn Japanese because they’re so afraid of the difficulty level, fear of failure and are embarrassed to make mistakes…. Which I think actually happens no matter what language one tries to learn…


  11. Michi says:

    Ahahahahaha! 🙂

    When my co-workers and I first arrived at our assigned itty bitty Spanish town, we went about town buying necessities the first week. One of my co-workers walked into a beauty supply store and tried asking for a “peine” (hair comb) but instead said manly parts. Another went into a bike shop and tried buying a helmet, or “casco”, but instead said dirty word also involving manly parts. Needless to say, we had a very confusing first week! Though people throughout town were constantly amused by our unintentionally dirty language…


  12. Olga SE says:

    Their letters look so funny to me. Each of your posts about the language warms up my desire to learn Japanese. Maybe one day I will. 😉


    • amblerangel says:

      YOU would be great at it! Did you look at the infographic? I’d be interested on your take on that…


      • Olga SE says:

        Yes, I did. English is listed among easy languages to learn, Russian among medium – I agree with both categorizations (though I can’t agree that French is easy). The fact that Japanese is pronounced difficult was exactly what aroused my interest in the first place. I like challenges, don’t you? 😉


      • amblerangel says:

        I actually love learning a new language. I actually read your language interviews etc and learn a lot. I got your other comment and will keep that between us!


  13. sweffling says:

    I had always been told that Czech and Finnish are the hardest languages to learn: Japanese makes me feel infantile looking at what you are going through. Good luck, keep ploughing on. I cannot begin to tell you my inadequacy levels now, after reading this post!


    • amblerangel says:

      Thank you dear! You are so sweet! I was whining yesterday to Andretti-san – feeling so frustrated. He made a great point. He said to just get the words out there- don’t worry about the right grammar, the right order- just talk. People can figure out what you’re saying as you learn – the important thing is to talk. And I think he’s right. So when the police came up the illegally parked car and I said, “I am a car” instead of “This is my car” – because I didn’t have it exactly right, and they smiled and walked off, they figured had it out! In the end, learning any language is hard right? Good for your for doing it. Two at that! I’ve also read that knowing a lot of nouns helps in language learning.


  14. Thank you for my evening giggle, Emily…I would starve if I lived in Japan, because my foreign language skills suck!



  15. Piper Bayard says:

    Oh, how funny! Makes me think of my good friend from Mexico City who pronounces “focus” like “f*** us.”


  16. Pingback: A Japanese perspective | Notes from Africa

  17. staff says:

    I found your adventure with hiragana very entertaining. For a thorough treatment of this Japanese alphabet, I suggest the helpful post at


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