Posted by: patriciamar | December 31, 2018

Speaking a few tongues: Kyoto

(Pre)Tldr; In Kyoto, using four different languages, I had a conversation with a retired Japanese man who used to play professional soccer in Brazil.


In Kyoto, I stayed in a little hostel-like guesthouse and had an experience that was almost one of a kind.  I love languages, so learning a new language is not really a chore (though here in Tokyo working on a new program keeps my brain pretty busy and a little tired for memorizing vocabulary, hiragana, katakana, kanji and verb tenses.  I’ll keep trying!)

On the way home from the sento (an indoor public bathhouse and sauna, more or less), I ended up riding left-side shotgun next to the owner of the guesthouse and bathhouse.  The left-side part isn’t really relevant, but it’s always worth mentioning when you find yourself sitting as a passenger on the wrong side of the road.

The driver quickly took the opportunity to mention that for a time he played professional soccer in Brazil.  He was a goalie, he said.  All of this was spoken in pretty low-level English, which was still slightly higher than my Japanese.  It wasn’t a very productive conversation.

However, I do speak Spanish, so I asked him in the little Portuguese that I know if he spoke Portuguese.  Yes, he responded, a little.  The conversation that we had after that, for the rest of the ride back to the hostel, was one of the reasons that I like studying languages and one of the reasons I like travelling. 

We were speaking in four different languages. I was speaking in English, Spanish, a little Portuguese and a little Japanese, and he was speaking in Japanese, English and Portuguese.

It was amazing how we could use all four to get our points across, however insane it sounded to outsiders, and we were definitely able to enjoy the conversation, despite the fact that it was an example of ultimate L1-L2 code switching.  It made me want to study more and inspired me to go home and keep pushing myself to improve my Japanese and continue on with my own personal language plan.*

The moral of the story in my eyes is not that you need to speak a lot of languages, but that you should try, and use whatever you have to create communication.  This is how bonds are really formed.  I think that I will remember this guesthouse owner, and I think he might remember me because of this strange 7-minute conversation we had from the bathhouse to the guesthouse in the northern outskirts of Kyoto one Sunday evening in November.


*If you’re interested, my language plan is that each week I do something related to one language.  These languages are pre-scheduled, so I know what week will be which language.  The action I take related to this language could be anything–depending on the language and what I have access to.  In Dutch, Spanish and Japanese, I have books.  In Spanish, French, Portuguese or Italian, I can read poetry.  I could choose a movie, a book, or a sitcom, or investigate a new company or website. German week, for example, is the perfect opportunity to find out what Der Spiegel thinks of Trump, or investigate the latest Fergus Falls news.  In most languages I have at least a friend or two to message or call.  If nothing else, there’s always YouTube or Duolingo.  My language list currently includes German, French, Italian, Korean, Indonesian, Portuguese, Dutch, Spanish, Chinese, and Japanese of course. 

I could be more dedicated to each language or to one language, but this is fun for me and I look forward to seeing what language is each week in the top square of my weekly calendar. 

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