Tuesday, 03 January, 2006

Learning Japanese

We're nearing the end of our development cycle for the 3D project.  Today we sent a version 1.0 release candidate to the client, and we're working to address any remaining issues.  They'll be using it for the next four weeks, and we'll be heading over there for meetings in February.  Yes, I'm heading to Japan again.

I have a bit more time to prepare for the trip than I did last year, and I'm trying to learn a little bit of the spoken and written language.  Debra was kind enough to buy me some audio CDs and accompanying books to help me with the spoken language, and my friend and business associate David Stafford (who will be going, too) let me borrow a couple of books from which to learn basic written symbols.  I'm back in school.

The spoken Japanese language seems quite approachable.  My understanding is that a Westerner can easily duplicate almost all of the sounds common in Japanese.  That's not so for most other Asian languages, which are tonal--subtle changes in tone result in different (often wildly different) meanings.  Not so with Japanese.  The language also appears to have a much more regular structure than English.  At least, what I'm learning so far sure makes a lot of sense.  It's possible that what I'm learning is simple, abbreviated Japanese.

Some of my friends asked me why I'm going to all the trouble.  "Why would you want to do that?"  Besides being something new and different--always a selling point to me--there are several reasons.  The first time I was in Japan, I was illiterate.  I couldn't read anything other than the English names of businesses.  I might as well have been deaf and mute, too, because I couldn't understand a thing that was being said.  I was 100% dependent on the people with whom I was traveling, and on the kindness of those Japanese who spoke English and were willing to help me out.  It's frustrating and embarrassing when you have to resort to pointing and facial expressions in order to ask where to find a soda vending machine.

It's also incredibly arrogant for me to visit another country on business and expect them to speak my language.  It's one thing to visit a tourist area where the people make a business of catering to Americans who want everything to be "just like home," with perhaps a few little differences to add a little exotic flair.  But I'm not visiting tourist areas.  I was in Tokyo for three or four days before I saw another Westerner other than David.  I should at least attempt to speak Japanese to the shop keepers and others I interact with every day while I'm there.

I've just started the CDs, so I don't have a whole lot of progress to report.  Right now I'm confident that I can ask somebody, in Japanese, if he understands English.  And I understand the words for "Yes" and "No."  I'll make another report in a week or so, after I've made my way through more of the lessons.