I consider fortunate and privileged to have gotten the opportunity to travel to Japan and pursue my higher secondary studies on scholarship in a Japanese medium school. I was barely 15, then. I was less apprehensive about the unknown land and its culture but more skeptical about my abilities to learn the language. In no time, I was consumed by the paranoia wrapped accounts of people who have struggled with Japanese language and how it was important for a scholarship student to prove that he was a worthy selection. I along with my co-scholars from India (who were part of the same International Exchange Programme) were soon integrated into our hostels and the lifestyle that came with it.
Every foreign student was made to go through this rigorous language training process for about six months prior to joining Japanese medium classes in the same year competing with other Japanese students (who had Japanese as their mother tongue). Anybody who has had some exposure of how difficult Japanese language is, would not have given us a chance to pass the exams, let alone score high enough to be in top 5% of the class. My Indian friends did exceed everyone’s expectations at the end of two glorious years. They worked hard memorising every Kanji word (Japanese do not have alphabets instead they use a mix of Chinese pictorial characters and indigenous Japanese characters, which are endless in number) faced abuse from a hostile bunch of bullies, ate beef for breakfast which they are not used to, resisted the urge to take bath in the morning ( Morning baths were were prohibited by our hostel rules), hesitantly adopted a culture that encouraged open bathrooms and staying hungry when hostel rules did not permit anyone to have dinner after 7:00pm. In this juncture, I have to carefully isolate myself from staking claim to have gone through all these hardships since I was not as studious or academically driven as my peers and found ways of smuggling in a noodles packet for a later night dinner every now and then. 😀
As I look back now, it got me thinking. What would have happened in between that 16-somethings achieve the impossible? What would have prompted them to venture into achieving an unknown target? What would have prompted my friends not to go gentle into that good night? (Reference). I believe that it could be a mix of true grit, hard work and the immense belief in one’s abilities. All of my co-scholarship holders from India graduated with distinction and some of them even went on to clear various levels of Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT), which is highly regarded in the academic circles. It was closest to the what one would describe as the triumph of human spirit, as they held their heads high in times of adversity and chose to fight their ways through when nothing was going in their favour. My respect for our group increases multifold when one comes to know that there were times when our not so friendly Japanese native classmates used to abuse us in our faces but we had no option but to maintain poker face and keep our heads down since the colloquial Japanese usage was too hard for us to comprehend.
I don’t know if there is any better way of crushing one’s own false pride and ego than joining a language class. A good teacher and inspired student will have the potential to transform an ordinary class into a fine platform where they are likely to enjoy the little joys of life- a word learned, pronunciation corrected, being able to put together a grammatically correct sentence. I also realised humility is a virtue that dawns when one goes through humbling experience of learning a language. Everyone deserves to experience the same amount of joy that I felt, when I stitched together a bunch of Japanese words into a meaningful sentence for the very first time. Here is a video that reminded of me of those good old days.
I urge all those who are trying to learn a new language successfully or otherwise, to pat themselves on their backs and congratulate themselves for the effort they are taking. Please understand there are people out there who understand your pain and appreciate the effort you are taking to become inevitable cogs of a cultural bridge.