The Semantics of A “Student of Japanese”

I typically think that one should make big goals with regards to Japanese, but also be flexable in how they reach them. One central goal of my life has been lately to learn the vast difficult language of Japanese on a level par to the native population of Japan. It’s a rather large goal and at the moment I’m doing little to attain any ‘speaking/reading/writing ability’ other then writing kanji.

Yet, these past two and a half months of doing just kanji have been a much welcome reprieve from the daunting drudgery of Japanese study. It’s given me some *new* perspectives on what I might do now to attain Japanese literacy then later on fluency- yet none of this really answers the broader, albeit haunting, overall question often posed by others… “Just What is it with Japanese?” “What’s your purpose for studying Japanese?”

To tell you the truth I used to have a strikingly good answer. Something along the lines of Translation Opportunities or Government Embassy work… Then when my major in College changed to “East Asian Studies” I said the reason was to ‘advance my knowledge of Japan’ through reading native texts and talking to Japanese natives.

However, I’ve realized lately that my pursuit of Japanese doesn’t need to be for some central obvious purpose– rather the pursuit can be just for the sake of pursuing something that’s rather large, vast, useful, lasting, & challenging. I.e. A challenge for the sake of having an awesome challenge to pursue in life.

I compare it to getting my Eagle Scout Award. Getting one’s Eagle is a long term process. If you start at age 11, it takes between 5-7 years to get a *legitimate Eagle Scout. (* Legitimate Eagle Scouts know what I mean by that). When one pursues Eagle Scout in Boy Scouts their goal is to get the award… Later on, it becomes valuable for getting a job or boosting one’s reputation. On occasion I’ve heard boys say they want to get their Eagle for the sole purpose of it looking good on a Resume, but more often or not they either don’t get their Eagle or they just “Eagle out” and split (sometimes turning into blemishes on the “Eagle Scout” reputation).

The essence of an “Eagle pursuing” Boy Scout then is that he is pursuing something based upon the merits of the award and not for any other secondary purpose. So I believe this should also be the essence of learning Japanese. You pursue Japanese literacy and fluency based upon the merits and abilities Japanese Fluency and not for any other secondary purpose. Later on, like the Eagle Scout, having Japanese literacy and fluency will enhance your profile and your welbeing. This concept should be much more charming and open to all sorts of possibilities then any other view that’s been held in the past. Let me explain:

By making your goal to study Japanese for the merit of what Japanese literacy and fluency represents– You set your bar higher and plan your objectives with new awesome feats and abilities you want to attain. It makes any other reason to study Japanese rather limiting in scope.

Take common reasons for Learning Japanese and apply it to this idea to understand what I mean:
*”I want to learn Japanese so that I can speak to A-san, B-san, and C-san about X-desu, Y-desu, and Z-desu”
*”I want to learn Japanese so that I can read signs, posters, manga, or books”
*”I want to learn Japanese so that I can watch Anime w/o subtitles and get the jokes/plots/’real story’ before others do.”
*”I want to learn Japanese so that I know the exact meaning of a Tattoo I want to get”
*”I want to learn Japanese for business reasons and cust. relations”
*”I want to learn Japanese for some quick easy phrases to get around Tokyo- They say a little Japanese in Japan goes a long way”
*”I want to learn Japanese for my job as a Government liaison/Military liaison/Diplomat.

and so on and so on….

All these reasons very fine and dandy, but all imply that each reason in the list inhibits or limits students of Japanese to a certain vernacular spectrum. For example: Kanji knowledge required for Tattooing is so that you don’t look like an idiot…However, for Anime reasons kanji knowledge isn’t as important as listening to the dialog. And for travelers– you basically learn “Where is?” “How much” or “How do I?” but the answer is often baffling.

Now take a look at a student who practices and studies Japanese for the sole purpose of mastering it on it’s merits. in context:

“I want to learn Japanese because I desire full Japanese literacy & fluency”

Their range of focus and pursuit of knowledge encompasses all of that list plus a whole lot more. This student over roughly a same period as a regular student whose limited their goal to a specific goal knows more because they didn’t limit themselves. In the end they’re able to complete all the tasks required of them and be functional in Japanese society proficently. Later on, someone who is litgitmately proficient is of a higher caliber of knowledge then one who has a limited vernacular.

At the root of this– it simply comes down to “semantics” or “the meaning or the interpretation of a word, sentence, or other language form.” One who calls themselves “a student of Japanese Language Study” should mean that they’re studying Japanese for the pursuit of Japanese literacy and fluency. Otherwise they  should revise that to be more like “a student of the JLPT”, or “a student of commonly used Japanese phrases”, “A student of the most frequently used Kanji Characters”… etc, not “a student of the Japanese language.” That’s because it gives off the wrong connotation. By telling a native you’ve studied Japanese for 10 years you are not telling them what “you know”– So they assume you know 10 years worth of what a japanese student from high school might know.

So my advice is two fold. Either re-evaluate your reason for studying Japanese and revise it to be “the general pursuit of language for fluency & literacy sake” or be honest in what you are really ‘a student of.’ It’s not a matter of right and wrong or bad or good, but a matter of simple semantics.

How about that as food for thought? ね〜?

~J out


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