Japanese in Czech.
This may have been the most linguistically confusing morning I’ve ever had, and its only 9:20 in the morning… here we go:
I’m texting my [Czech – okay actually, she’s Slovak, but we speak Czech with each other (thank God!)] friend, Martina, about meeting at the library to work on our papers. We are texting half in Czech, half in English. Primarily in Czech, but in English every so often to make sure I am actually properly comprehending what we are planning.
I get on the bus to meet her at Dejvicka, along with about a dozen other people. The four women that got on and sat down across the aisle for me look a little out of place in this country – I mean, everyone here is white and these women are definitely Asian. I assume they’re Vietnamese (there is a huge – though mostly invisible – Vietnamese minority here, after all). And then they start speaking Japanese.
And the part of me that understands them freaks out in excitement. Just yesterday I was lamenting the amount of Japanese I’m not remembering, as my brain replaces it with Czech. Just yesterday, I was thinking about researching places where I could take a Japanese class next semester. Literally, just yesterday.
And then there was the part of me thinking about how much of what they were talking about I didn’t understand. And how much of it I would have understood just a few short months ago. And that part of me was very, very sad.
So I spent a few minutes thinking – formulating in my head what I wanted to say, remembering words and grammar points and things like that. And I told myself if we got off at the same stop, I was going to ask them about somewhere to study Japanese here in Prague. And then I spent the next ten minutes on the bus absentmindedly listening to their conversation and kind of, not really, understanding what they were talking about. And trying to ignore the butterflies steadily strengthening in my stomach.
(Can we talk about that for a minute? I have been studying Japanese for basically 8 years. I know a lot of Japanese, and just a few months ago, I wrote this post about how I felt basically fluent. And here I am, tummy tingling like it did when I was in eighth grade and in Japan for the first time. I don’t get this nervous when I speak Czech, even when I speak Czech with complete strangers. If anyone has an explanation for why I am totally fine trying out my Czech, even when it sucks in comparison to my Japanese, but I get nervous about using my Japanese, please enlighten me.)
Anyways, long story short, we got off at the same stop, so I did what I told myself I would do, in spite of my butterflies. The four ladies were very nice, seemed impressed that I spoke Japanese (perhaps a little confused too; who expects a white girl in the Czech Republic to speak Japanese?), and more than willing to help me. We stood in the cold for a few minutes and they asked me where I went to school and why I was in Prague and what I was studying. They told me the name of a place, which I’ve never heard of, where they thought I could take Japanese classes. Since I clearly had no idea where that was, two of them gave me their email addresses and told me to email them and they’d send me the address. Maybe I’ll meet them again – maybe I’ll even pursue a tandem-esque experience where I meet one or more of them for coffee and try to practice my Japanese. That would serve the purpose, I suppose.
There were a few things about or conversation, though, that really struck me as surprising and worth mentioning.
1. I have not succeeded in keeping the Japanese language and Czech language really and truly separated in my mind. I was constantly trying to think of a word and thinking of it in Czech instead of Japanese, just as I’ve often come up with words in Japanese when I want them in Czech. Over and over again, I said “yes” or “no” in Czech instead of Japanese.
2. This didn’t hinder our conversation in the least. At least two or three times, I realized that I’d spoken in Czech instead of Japanese and corrected myself, but it was a delayed and unnecessary correction. Clearly, all four of them spoke not only Japanese but also Czech. (Or at least, a bit of Czech.) When we parted ways, one of them said さよなら, and another said Na shledanou. Speaking “Japanglish,” as my friends and I call it (a combination of Japanese and English) is never a problem when everyone involved speaks both Japanese and English. Similarly, I speak “Czechglish” with some of the Czech buddies – like Martina, mentioned above – because they speak both Czech and English. So why shouldn’t “Czechanese” work for people who speak both Czech and Japanese?
3. As far as I can tell, they didn’t speak a lick of English. If I was having trouble coming up with a word in Japanese and said it in English instead, there was absolutely no glimmer of recognition in any of their eyes. I’m used to Japanese speakers with a bit of English abilities, one of whom in a group will inevitably recognize a word and translate it into Japanese, but that did not happen this time. This surprised me the most – why would someone know Japanese and Czech but not English? But then again, why should they know English? They’re from Japan and they live here, and they know the two languages they need to know.
So. Japanese in Czech. I do think it is interesting that there are Japanese people living near where I live, and I did enjoy the opportunity to try to use my Japanese again. Even if all it did is really cement for me the fact that I need to figure out a way to keep practicing my Japanese for the remainder of my time in this country. Perhaps I’ll have another experience along these lines in the future, and perhaps I won’t.