はい、いや、 ja: the juggling of words

You might have noticed that my latest post (here) doesn’t feature much German. In fact, it’s more about Japanese. What’s up with that? After coming all this way to Germany to learn German, why do I find myself talking Japanese so often?

That’s a question I’ve been asking myself lately. I’ve been going out with Japanese classmates and chatting with them in Japanese. Last Saturday, the highlight of my day was finding a pair of Japanese books. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with these things, but shouldn’t I be absorbing as much German as possible while I have the opportunity?

I was feeling guilty about this last week.

Then I realized something. A big part of the reason I’ve attained some level of proficiency in Japanese is the fact that I incorporated the language into my daily life. Even when I’m not actively studying it, I still use it when I read novels or listen to music in my free time. So it’s natural that I’m continuing to use the language. And why would I regret making friends with classmates from Japan? Connecting with people from around the world is one of my greatest motivations for learning languages. The opportunity to use both German and Japanese to do so is a bonus, not a drawback.

After thinking about it some more, I also realized that I do use a fair amount of German in my daily routine. I use much of my time outside of class exploring the city, which includes the occasional interaction with strangers on the bus or in the park. I’ve been reading a German graphic novel and watching German television in my down time. And I’ve been attending meetings for German speaking practice multiple times per week. Perhaps I don’t need to be so hard on myself.

On Friday, I was given another reminder that time spent on one language need not exclude my interest in the other. I went to a Japanese-German Stammtisch, or common table, at a cat cafe just a few blocks away from my residence. I had a pleasant conversation – all in German – with a Japanese expat and an older German gentleman who used to live in Japan. We spoke about language learning, Japanese novels, and compared notes on our perceived difficulty levels of English, German, and Japanese. It was especially enjoyable because I wasn’t speaking German just for the sake of practicing. I was having a conversation with people who shared similar interests, and the communication just happened to be in German.

The Halfway Mark

It’s been four weeks in Germany, which means I’m halfway through my stay! I think now is a good time to assess my progress and write down some new goals.

Things I can do that I couldn’t four weeks ago:

  • produce the different declensions of articles and adjectives almost automatically
  • converse more smoothly in German using conversational filler words
  • understand the meaning of certain new-to-me words by understanding their parts
  • read and understand a German graphic novel without a dictionary
  • watch German television and understand a significant amount without a dictionary
  • bag my groceries at Aldi within seconds before the very efficient cashier starts glaring at me
  • use the tram/u-bahn maps and schedules
  • know which side of the road has the correct bus stop
  • transition quickly from speaking German to Japanese and vice versa
  • think/talk to myself spontaneously in German (sometimes)

Goals for the time remaining:

  • read at least half an hour per day in German outside of class
  • 3 or more spontaneous interactions/mini conversations per day in German

Tomorrow I begin my second four-week course at the language school and my last four weeks of summer in Düsseldorf. Here’s to more adventures and language progress!




A search for a notebook turns up something even better


I’m a little bit obsessed with notebooks. I can never have too many, but I am quite picky about the type. Since my Japanese notebook is a few pages away from being full, I thought about looking for a new one on Saturday at the five-story bookstore I’d visited once before with Yuri. So I walked down to Heinrich-Heine-Allee using the route I learned last time I got lost, then quickly found the bookstore. There were notebook sections on three different floors and I took my time browsing through all of them.  They had a gorgeous display of Leuchtturms with dotted pages, my absolute favorite type of notebook, but I could always buy those on Amazon. They also had some hardcover notebooks with elegant patterns on them, but they none of them were quite the right size and they were lined or blank instead of dotted. I decided to try the Japanese bookstore on Immermannstraße instead.

On the way, I strolled through the park. Right off the path were some baby birds with their parents.


On the other side of the park was the big shopping alley. Since I’d walked through the area several times without ever looking in any of the shops, I turned in to one of the clothing stores. After the five-story bookstore, it was pretty boring. But upon walking through the store I discovered that it was part of an indoor mall! Somehow I had never noticed its existence. It had a very pretty central cylinder architecture thingy with elevators and a food court at the bottom. But apart from that, none of the stores had anything to interest me, so I walked back outside.


The smells from the food court had reminded me that I hadn’t had lunch yet, so when I saw a currywurst stand on the corner I decided it was time to finally try my first currywurst. The man took a sausage off the grill, put it into an interesting appliance that cut it into pieces, then laid it in a bed of sauce and sprinkled curry powder on top. It was delicious.

Finally I made it to Immermannstraße. Unlike the times of my previous visits, this time the small bookstore was quite crowded. I heard German, Mandarin, Korean, and Japanese all being spoken within the small space.

There was a selection of cute notebooks, but I didn’t see any that fit my criteria. I edged my way through other customers to walk around the other aisle. Glancing at the selection of Japanese nonfiction books, I realized they had a whole shelf full of books about ビジネス敬語, the infamously complex version of the Japanese language required for business situations. Since I volunteer at a Japanese supplementary school where a subset of this language is often used, I’d been eager to learn more about it, but I hadn’t been able to find a comprehensive source in either the Japanese internet or the Japanese bookstore. I browsed through the shelf and picked the one that seemed most suited to my interest.

Turning to reach the cash register, I noticed a whole a section of Japanese novels I hadn’t seen before. No matter, I thought. I can get inexpensive Japanese novels in San Diego. But wait! A familiar name caught my eye. 東野圭吾 (Higashino Keigo), the bestselling mystery writer and author of 容疑者Xの献身 (The Devotion of Suspect X), my favorite mystery novel. (I owned a copy of the English translation, but knowing how different English and Japanese styles of prose are, I’d been wanting to read the original text. For some reason, Amazon had the English, Mandarin, Korean, and French translations available, but not the original Japanese. )

I dropped to my knees for a better look. Yes, there were two whole shelves of 東野圭吾. But did they have the book I wanted? After scanning all the titles twice, I was about to give up when I spotted an italic X in the title of a small volume in the corner. 容疑者Xの献身. There was exactly one copy.

Japanese novels are read right to left, so the front cover is on what Westerners would consider the “back” side!

I couldn’t help smiling to myself on the tram ride home. I hadn’t found a notebook, but the two books I had found were even better.


P. S. The more adventures I have to write about, the less time I have to write about them. Hence, the posts from the past two weeks have failed to include accounts of several interesting happenings. In the coming days I’d like to come back and highlight certain events from the past two weeks, so for now I’m posting a list so I can get back to them later (maybe):

  • the case of the Kochstudio and the overly complicated burritos
  • my excursion to Amsterdam
  • first trip to the five story bookstore
  • practicing German conversation
  • reflections on language guilt