I went to Tijuana, Mexico a few times when I lived in California. Reading signs and communicating with other people was not a problem for me there, because I had a good understanding of the Spanish language.
It was quite a different experience for me in Japan a few weeks ago. I couldn’t read the Japanese characters, I didn’t understand what others around me were saying, and I couldn’t communicate with anyone (unless they spoke English). When people had conversations in Japanese, all that I heard were melodic sounds with no specific meaning. Linguistically challenged, I felt lost without language!
Needless to say, that is why I smiled when I saw this statue of two travelers. I immediately felt an affinity for the little one on the left. Walking with eyes filled with wonder and amazement, mouth open and about to accidentally bump into a tree—this stone image personified my state of mind perfectly. So many wonderful things to see and impossible to take it all in!
Notice that there are words written on a wooden sign hanging next to the statue above. It could be an explanation of the two images or a road sign. I know I was in Kyoto, but I don’t remember the name of the bridge or the river in the background. (I’d be a terrible tour guide, I know).
Anyway, I soon realized that there is another aspect of daily life where language is extremely important: FOOD. At the marketplace in Kyoto, there were many vegetables, fruits, fish, and desserts that I did not recognize. Unable to read things like names, labels, or expiration dates—how would I know what to buy, or how to cook or keep the food stored? My Japanese friends can speak English, but I didn’t want to be like a preschooler driving them crazy with CONSTANT questions. As soon as they could have answered one question, I would have had a gazillion more!
So, instead of buying anything, I decided to take photos of all that I had never seen before (which was clearly marked with large signs that I couldn’t read). The vegetables, whatever they were, looked so fresh and healthy!
In addition to fresh vegetables, there was colorful food wrapped in tight packages that seemed to be attracting a lot of attention. Must be good! People were smiling, talking, and joyfully buying all kinds of edible delights, as I watched with great interest.
In case you haven’t noticed by the tone of my writing, I was quite frustrated with my inability to comprehend the Japanese language. So, it was comforting to occasionally look up and see a store name written in English!
Yes! I was always happy to see something that I was capable of reading, but “Tofu Doughnuts” is a rather disconcerting thought. American doughnuts are deep-fat fried balls of flour dough and tofu is known as a health food, so trying to combine the two words in my mind was difficult. A healthy doughnut? I didn’t buy one that day, but now I wish that I had. I don’t know exactly how a tofu doughnut is made or what is in it, but it would have been interesting to see how it tasted.
By the end of my short stay in Japan, I had come to the conclusion that language is more important than any other academic field of study. The inability to read and/or communicate adequately with others is a huge barrier to any other endeavor.
Truthfully, I have been thinking about the Rosetta Stone language CD courses for quite a while. Has anyone ever studied a language using Rosetta Stone?