Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Japanese is incredibly difficult to learn.

The main problem is that it’s so completely alien. I took French for three years, and at least French is structured similar to English. Japanese is wildly different; the words are arranged in patterns that continue to confound me.

Which means that it can’t be approached like a typical learning experience.

What do I mean by that? Well, most educational programs try to teach you by relating their subjects to things you know. Things are presented as extensions (“Calculus builds on trigonometry and algebra by…”) or comparisons (my Calculus textbook states, “My educational philosophy was strongly influenced by attending the lectures of [two professors who] consistently introduced a topic by relating it to something concrete or familiar.” — James Stewart, Calculus: Early Transcendentals, Third Edition). It’s assumed you’ll be able to build on your current knowledge.

But Japanese isn’t like that. It doesn’t build on any language I know, and it’s not like any language or communication system I know (though I do detect the faint odor of a programming language). I can’t relate it to my current knowledge.

The solution I’ve found is repetition. I don’t worry about learning each lesson when I read it, but I read it again and again over the course of a week or so. The lesson sinks in on its own.

I’ve discovered that my comprehension of Japanese has increased dramatically since I’ve taken this approach to learning it. I pick out those Japanese words that I’ve read in recent lessons while watching anime in Japanese. It appears to be working.

Of course, the real test will come about four months from now, when I’ve reached the end of my Japanese language book (assuming I maintain my current pace). How much Japanese will I know then?

And now, more VR story.

Trouble was, Doodlehopper was in way over her head. She just knew what her Mum would say if she were here. “Why’d I have to raise a daughter who risks her life and limb to earn a dollar? Are you a hooker now? Selling your body for a few measly bucks?” All rational explanations were useless.

But no, she said to herself, she wasn’t going to think about Mum right now. Too many other things. Like this damn stupid Thomas. She’d met some pretty thick guys in her time—had dated a few—but Thomas took top prize. Strutting around like he was suddenly Sherlock bleeping Holmes. She was glad to be rid of him. And back to less dangerous jobs.

Which was just when she noticed two very large men in trench coats standing on a street corner, their attempts to blend in to their surroundings making them stick out like an Uzi in a garden. She slowed, and cursed herself for not seeing them more quickly. She was way too distracted.

She had no trouble recognizing the two thugs. Her hands reached into her jacket automatically, but stopped halfway to the smooth handles of the tazers. The thugs were facing her, their hands were empty and outside their pockets, and they looked…hangdog. Like they wanted to apologize.

She approached them with the caution of two junkyard dogs meeting for the first time. They didn’t move until she stopped moving, about twenty feet from them. One of them opened his mouth.

“We’re sorry we tried to hurt you.”

Doodlehopper didn’t exactly decide to stay still; she was too shocked to do anything else.

“We were just following orders. Nothing personal.”

She remained still, wondering if she was being taped for some TV joke show.

“Will you forgive us?”

This was the enemy. She may have been young, but Doodlehopper had been trained hard and well. This was the enemy, waving a flag of truce, and history showed that many times this was the most dangerous thing for an enemy to do. But…well…she tried to think of a reason not to accept their apology, and couldn’t think of a thing.

“Okay,” she said, trying to sound cool.

Both massive men visibly relaxed, the speaker especially. “I’m really, really glad you said that,” he said. “Because, uh, we kind of have a problem.”

It was the third most awkward cup of coffee Doodlehopper had ever had. The first was the one where her mother had suddenly asked if she was a virgin. The second was with a boyfriend who was not only eyeing every other girl in the place, but also commenting on how good they’d be in the sack. This one, sitting in front of two men who were acting like little kids in the Principal’s office, wasn’t nearly as bad. But the hairs on the back of her neck refused to go down. Her mind was screaming that these were enemies, not to be trusted, and what was she doing sitting here carefully sipping a bad cup of coffee listening to them?

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