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36 (Language karma | 外国語カルマ)

August 6, 2010

Hebrew children books on a table

I have never taken my kikokushijo (帰国子女) status for granted. (Kikokushijo means returnee in Japanese, referring to children that lived overseas and “returned” to Japan). My childhood memories of the six years I spent in the United States still remain warm and fuzzy to this day. (I will save the cultural gains and benefits from those years for another post.) During those years was also when I learned to speak English without any of the hardships that comes with learning a foreign language as an adult. I had picked it up before I knew it.

Back in Japan, I naturally breezed through English classes in junior high and high school and received top grades without much effort. The fluency and American accent of my spoken English was a constant subject of envy. All of this made me think I was good with languages. But now I’m painfully starting to realize that may have just been an illusion. I never really studied English; I simply picked it up as a child, in the way that all children are capable of. Now trying to learn Hebrew at 34 years old, I’m starting to think I actually may be hopeless with languages. I also can’t shake off the feeling that it’s language karma biting me back. You think you can get away with all those easy rides you’ve gotten with English? I don’t think so.

My brain seems to be on a campaign to simply throw every new word that tries to come in back out. I can’t seem to remember anything! But the new vocabulary at the Ulpan continues to grow in a frightening pace, every day.

Actually, I think some of the words stay. But when I’m trying to read something, I am often too occupied with processing the letters that I don’t even recognize the words I know as I read them. After a few tries I may start to recognize some of the words.

Hearing is even worse. It is one thing when the teacher asks me a question using the exact format she wrote up on the board. But when she throws me a question out of nowhere, it’s like a slap in the face and I am paralyzed. After a few repetitions, slower each time, I often realize she was mostly using words I already know. It was the delivery that completely threw me off.

Every person of course has their own unique way of speaking, and that, I am discovering, complicates things even further. With each person I encounter it’s like a different Hebrew. They might as well be speaking to me in another language.

Speaking is above all the biggest of challenge for me. All throughout my life I heard the mantra of having to let go of your pride when learning a new language. You have to be ready to make a fool out of yourself. Shyness is the enemy. The important thing is to speak regardless. I’ve known that all my life, or at least I thought I knew. I’ve watched plenty of Japanese struggle with English both in Japan and overseas, and foreign friends struggle with Japanese in Japan. But I never really struggled myself. I’m starting to get it now and just how hard it is! Often times my brain freezes before I can manage to think up of a few words. Even if I manage to, my shyness takes over, and a blockade goes up over my mouth. Oy oy oy, as they say in Hebrew.

But there are rare moments when I recognize words in overheard conversations or jingles and songs on the radio. (Slow ballads are the most encouraging!) Sometimes I understand the gist of what was said even if I didn’t understand all words. These moments are truly rewarding after a particularly discouraging couple of days in the Ulpan.

Dear Language Karma, I know I have some paying back to do. But please consider being gentle on the doses. I can only take so much at once.







でも一番のチャレンジがしゃべること。外国語を習得するためにはプライドを捨てなくてはならないことは何度も聞いたことがありました。恥をかく覚悟で。恥ずかしがっていたら始まらない。とにかくしゃべることが大事。これはわかっていたつもりですが、実際そのような状況を経験したことがない以上、わかるはずがありません。今まで日本及び海外で日本人が英語で苦労をする姿、また外国人の友達が日本で日本語で苦労する姿はたくさんみてきました。でも自分自身、そのような苦労はしたことがなかったのです。今やっと痛感し始めてます。言葉をいくつか考えつく前に脳みそがフリーズしてしまうのが大半のパターンで、思いついたとしても恥ずかしさに負けてしまい口がまるで封鎖されたようになってしまうのです。ヘブライ語でいう「Oy oy oy(オイヨイヨイ)」、いわゆる「なんてこった」状態です。



Much love,

12 Comments leave one →
  1. August 7, 2010 11:12 pm

    My karma for being proud of my Japanese pronunciation was not being able to hear the difference between ר and ל for a long time. Everyone but me thought it was hilarious.

    • August 8, 2010 2:15 pm

      I think I have a looong way to go before I can tell the difference between those two (and I just realized I don’t know how to type Hebrew on my mac!).
      And believe me if you ever have a chance to hear my limited Hebrew (カタコト以下!) I’m sure I’ll inspire a few giggles from you. 🙂

      • August 9, 2010 5:18 pm

        You can add Hebrew (I use QWERTY rather than the real Hebrew input style, so ל = L, ר = R, etc.) the same way you add any language to a Mac, then switch back and forth between languages by hitting command+space bar.

        I would never giggle at a fellow student engaged in the epic battle it takes to master Hebrew. We have to stick together!

      • August 9, 2010 9:20 pm

        Thanks for the tip, and also nice to know you’re a fellow Mac user!
        And yes, we Hebrew students have to stick together… perhaps we can giggle together at how ridiculously complicated Hebrew is 🙂

  2. Kid Ego permalink
    August 9, 2010 11:38 am






    • August 9, 2010 9:14 pm

      Hi Kid Ego!
      Kid Egoさんの努力も一度身に付けたらKid Egoさんのもの、必ず役立つ時があると思います☆
      お互い頑張りましょうね〜 (でも薬が出たらお互い教え合いましょうね:) )

  3. Miko permalink
    August 10, 2010 3:40 am



    • August 10, 2010 4:45 pm


  4. すみ permalink
    August 10, 2010 5:41 pm





    • August 10, 2010 9:52 pm

      使わないと忘れてしまいがちになるよね、でも習得したものは絶対頭のどこかに残っていると思うから、また使う機会が出てくれば頭の屋根裏部屋のような(?)ところから出てくるよ、きっと :)

  5. Shimi permalink
    August 12, 2010 3:23 am

    Ganbate Kaori. dont be too hard on yourself. you have been studying Hebrew for only 2-3 months in total. if you think about your level of Hebrew when arriving to Israel and now you will see how much prograss you made.

    • August 12, 2010 7:41 pm

      Thank you Shimi! You’re right, I do know much more than when I first came here. Ganbarimasu!

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