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Leading up to our trip to Japan I was pretty certain that the three years of Japanese I did in high school would put me in good stead once we hit Tokyo. I have since come to realise this was not entirely true.

I can put this down to three things:

  1. High school was a while ago and I have forgotten some things.
  2. I wasn’t an exemplary student so I might have missed bits and pieces.
  3. The curriculum was a bit odd and not entirely useful.

Now I will admit the first two are highly likely… but I think the third is true too.

Speaking: A lot of things did come back to me as I thought through my vocabulary in the lead up to our departure.  I remembered a lot of basics like “hello”, “thank-you”, and “excuse me”.  All very useful.  But then it occurred to me (even more so once we arrived) that I couldn’t really say anything useful.

While I could say “I am going for a shower” or “I like chocolate”, or tell you my name and where I’m from, none of that is particularly helpful when trying to get a table for two and order dinner and a couple of beers.

Now, we do have the trusty phrasebook, so we try our best and have done ok. But I wonder (again, I acknowledge the likelihood of the first two scenarios) if the curriculum for high school Japanese has been changed so that students learn things useful for day to day scenarios.

Reading: Now this one is on me.  I chose not to keep going with Japanese past the 10th grade. I know I had more to learn (I guess that applies to speaking too).  I could read Hiragana and a little Katakana and would have learnt more Kanji in following years.  It would have been helpful.  While there is Hiragana and Katakana around, Kanji is everywhere.  I would say I am good for about 20% of what is written. If only I had stuck with it.

Ahh! How do we choose our beers??!

Between deficiencies in speaking and reading there have been a few pointing and nodding moments. I also definitely know how to ask for an English menu. My confidence as a world traveller has been diminished and frankly I just feel rude. But, we’ll always have the phrasebook of whatever country we are in on hand (and the trusty smart phone as a last resort), so I guess just having a go is the first step.

I can’t wait for Germany to see how Melissa’s high school language choice pays off.

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