I found this interesting article this morning about Japanese tourists trying to use English on their trips abroad.
However I know that this article can be applied to so many other people. I remember when I first went to Japan a couple years ago and I had just recently started learning Japanese. I knew only of the typical “私の名前はラマタです。あなたのお名前は何ですか。” (My name is Ramata. What is your name? Yes, I even still added the honorific “o” – not saying that I’ve lost all manners and don’t anymore, but my phrasing has slightly changed). I especially remember shopping for an omiyage with my friend, when she just suddenly disappeared! はい…迷子になっちゃたと思った！Panic aside, I thought I would use this opportunity to use my すっげえ日本語 (or so I thought…) So I plucked up the courage to ask a complete stranger “すみません、これは何ですか。” (Excuse me, but what is this object?) To my amazement, I had succeeded in pronouncing the phrase correctly, and best of all… she had understood me! But obviously, I had not thought this through. Because what came next was the most incomprehensible, baffling 5 minutes (maybe even 3 minutes…I don’t know, I was so confused!) of my life. I had come prepared with my 3 amazing Japanese phrases, but still did not understand a single word of what was being said to me. This very kind woman, in typical helpful Japanese fashion, was giving me an in-depth explanation of an object I had randomly picked up, probably even using keigo and what not, and all I could do was nod and say はい every now and then. So I totally understand number 10 of the article “Whenever I ask for directions, I can never understand what the person is saying in English” 分かる分かる！
The same goes for my Spanish. I spent all of middle school and high school learning Spanish, I passed my Spanish exam with nearly perfect scores, and yes during those years I could hold quite a decent conversation. But going to Spain last year, I found myself in the opposite situation of what I had experienced in Japan. I understood everything that was being said to me, but had forgotten how to speak! しまった！Or should I say “aye carramba!” (And actually funnily enough now, I find myself using Japanese words in Spanish rather than Spanish (~_~;) ).
So I guess what I’m trying to say is… learning a new language is tough! It’s one thing to learn in a classroom, but to use in real life situation is a completely different issue altogether!! It takes practice, lots of it! And it also takes courage and confidence. Because, after gaining all that precious knowledge in class, all that’s left to do is to actually use it. And I think that is the hardest part.