Here’s Charlette’s take on the experience:
Japanese Challenge: Day Five
We have come to the end of a five-day working week, but, unlike the ordinary businessman who can probably now put his feet up for a well-earned rest over the weekend, our business is far from over. For the last five days, we have been stretching our brains to the limit, attempting to understand, learn and remember Japanese words, phrases and characters, with the pressure of the speedily approaching Japanese assessment only a few days away. More than once, I have been reminded of the aphorism: ‘The more I study, the more I know, the more I know, the more I forget, the more I forget, the less I know. So why study?’
Why study? After all, this week has shown us to be no more than self-inflicting masochists who enjoy nothing better than metaphorically flagellating ourselves with the nihongo branch of the Japonic family tree for no other reason than… it’s a challenge. We could just as easily time ourselves to see how many kilos of ice cream we can eat in a minute – at least that would be deserving of a potential Guinness World Record. But no, at the end of this week, there will be no prizes, no records, no world recognition… nothing. Indeed, having made a vow to spend the whole of the week in our study chamber, which is essentially what the Universe of Language has become, we find ourselves at the end of the day crawling, exhausted, into our makeshift beds of bean bags, pillows and blankets. However, the fear that by sleeping, we are wasting precious Japanese study time, keeps us in weary insomnia until the early hours of the morning. With only a few hours of sleep, we awake as weary as when we went to bed. Without any shower facilities, we are forced to make do with cold water from the sink, which is far from effective in maintaining satisfactory cleanliness. So, we have degenerated into zombified tramps, who have become squatters in our own establishment, with a murderous addiction to coffee, and who desperately need a bath. So why study? We’re getting nothing but frustration and mental fatigue out of it.
Let’s give you an insight with the example sentence: ‘miruku wa ikaga desu ka?’ (Would you like some milk?). The frustration first comes upon trying to recall the word for ‘milk’ – you know it’s there, you literally learnt it an hour ago, its letters are somewhere playing peek-a-boo in the recesses of your memory; this is followed afterwards by the highly stressful and equally painful ordeal of forming the necessary sentence structure to fit this evasive word in; then comes the final torturous endeavour of connecting brain to vocal tract to stutter out some garbled sequence of sounds not dissimilar to the effortless goo-gaa-ing of a two-year old.
So, why are we doing it? Because every day, we learn something new, and it is this knowledge which is like the door to another world, a new way of thinking, of seeing things not just as brushstrokes on canvas, but as a coded language which can only be deciphered by those who possess the key. Even at this stage, we can already class ourselves as privileged key bearers, who, at every step, unlock new secrets, new nuggets of information, which we can use to continue unlocking new doors and to revisit old ones.
And, above all, it’s good fun. Our ridiculous mnemonics for hiragana (‘the character for the sound ‘ne’ looks like Nessie, the Loch Ness monster’) and Japanese vocabulary (‘kanashii’ – ‘sad’: ‘Scots are sad because they cannae ski’), the wonderful tuition and guidance of our Japanese sensei, Noriko, and, of course, releasing Japanese vibes through The Universe of Language by way of mochi cakes, green tea, sake and seriously fucked-up home-made sushi have all helped us accelerate our learning to a level which has caused a great amount of surprise. And, most importantly, we know how to laugh at ourselves, as thefollowing videos and photos show: