My Arabic: a Progress Report

Having been in Morocco for little over a week now my Arabic is understandably limited. I am always impressed, however, by the aptitude others show for languages. On my second day here my host told me all about a Korean girl who volunteered for a month and how she was speaking Arabic fluently by the last week. “And there was another volunteer from the U.S. who stayed for three months, and by the second month he and I could have conversations in Arabic!” My host was so enthusiastic about these past volunteers and he looked at me expectantly. 

“Wow! Good for them!” I said. What I really should have said is something like “If you’re holding me to that standard then boy howdy are you going to be disappointed.” 

A new volunteer from Canada arrived the other day and of course because he’s Canadian he speaks French and English. That’s impressive enough for me, the man who was taught Spanish from kindergarten to high school but still sometimes forgets how to ask for the bathroom. 

Why stop at two languages though? So while our host family is speaking Arabic to one another this Canadian rummages in his bag and pulls out a notebook filled with Arabic lessons he had written for himself. Oh how the host family gushed. 

Did I say I was impressed by people who pick up on languages quickly? I miss-typed. Those people are invited to keep company with short shorts, skinny jeans, tight t-shirts, probably speedos, and all the other things that make me look bad. 

Counting, Butt Fights, and Sake Bombs

A conversation had with friends recently.

Brianna: You guys just graduated then?

Billy: In May, yeah.

Brianna: So what’s next?

Elliott: We’re actually going to be doing some traveling for a year, or for as long as our money will last.

Brianna: Where are you going first?

Billy: We’re leaving for Japan in August.

Brianna: Oh! I know how to count to ten in Japanese!

Elliott: Do it!

Brianna: Let’s see, it’s いち, に, さん, し, … wait, was し for seven or four?

Billy: Don’t know. Sounded good to me though.

Elliott: We’ve been trying to learn Japanese, but it’s been going pretty slowly.

Brianna: Anyway what will you guys be doing in Japan?

Elliott: We’re going to be working in hostel for a month.

Brianna: That’s cool. Do it while we’re young right?

Billy: That’s the idea.

            The conversation is here interrupted by the parties involved downing sake bombs.

Brianna: Japan is such a cool place to start. The culture shock will be incredible.

Elliott: I feel like it’s just going to be culture shock after culture shock though; maybe past a certain point we’ll become accustom to the shock itself.

Billy: I hope so. It will be great to submerse ourselves in the unfamiliar, after being in such a familiar bubble all our lives.

Author’s note: We were definitely not this eloquent after consuming a few sake bombs, but you get the picture.

Elliott: I’m looking forward to whatever culture Japan shocks me with.

Brianna: That reminds me—have you guys seen anime butt fights yet?

Thirty Days

In my room I have a whiteboard where I jot down notes or ideas when I’m working. At the moment the whiteboard has been consumed with my crappily drawn hiragana characters. Billy came over yesterday to do more planning for the trip, and upon seeing the whiteboard the following conversation ensued.

Billy. You’re writing out hiragana? I bet that’s good practice.

Elliott. It helps. When you’re pronouncing the characters they all seem so easily
drawn—like they’re just a scribble or something. But, as I’ve discovered, they are super hard to write out accurately.

B. I bet.

E. I did nail O (お) though. I drew that character pretty well I think.

B. Yeah. Ha (は) looks pretty good too, but where’s Ho (ほ)?

E. I don’t think I’ve written that one out yet.

B. The Te (て), Ta (た), and To (と) always seem to get me.

E. Ha (は), Ho (ほ), and Ke (け) are usually where I get confused. They all have a similar shape.

B. That’s true. No (の) is pretty easy though, but Nu (ぬ) and Me (め) can be tricky.

E. Yeah.

*Both stare at the whiteboard in silence for a moment*

E. You want some iced tea?

B. That sounds good.

Thirty days left.

Thirty-Two Days

We’re thirty-two days away from our departure date of August 19th. That seems like plenty of time, but the reality is that thirty-two days is not much time at all. We have thirty-two days in which to try and become as prepared as possible for this year-long (or as long as our wallets will last us) trip. Of course, trying to prepare for a whole year of traveling is impossible, that’s why we’re mostly focusing on preparing to live in Japan for a month.

We are going to be living and working in the city of Beppu. Beppu is located on the island of Kyushu, Japan, which I think is the southernmost Island of Japan. Beppu has the most hot springs out of any city in Japan, eight of which have become known as the “Beppu Hells.” In Beppu, Billy and I will be working in a hostel. We’ll mostly be cleaning, making guests feel at home, and working a reception desk, and we’re not worried about any of that; if there’s any cause for concern it’s the language barrier.

We both decided to try and learn as much Japanese as possible on Duolingo before we left. I was lazily holding out on starting when I received this text from Billy:
Billy: You should start duolingo if you haven’t yet.

Elliott: Yeah I haven’t started yet :\

Billy: Japanese is a bitch.

Bitch might be an understatement. Hiragana is a whole new alphabet! My goal has, by degrees, slipped from being able to hold a basic conversation in Japanese to just being able to read signs, and even that is beginning to seem like a stretch. However, I think people will take one look at me and know that I don’t speak Japanese, so perhaps I will be mercifully spared from struggling through some broken pantomime of halting Japanese whenever possible.

Whatever. I’ve got thirty-two days.