When I was in university I took one semester of Japanese. I was interested in the language, sure, but what really prompted me to take it up then was the fact that I was short of language units. I needed two more units to graduate, and I had ran out of English language courses (long story; let’s just say I went in with qualifications a little too high and they couldn’t slot me in anywhere else).
I loved the class straight away. Oh, the sensei was a bit wacky (his major was apparently Japanese lit, and sometimes the examples he used were a bit too poetic and went over our heads) and the syllabus certainly wasn’t very kind to anyone who had no basics in an East Asian language, but the challenge of a new writing system and new sounds was something I enjoyed.
I had some exposure to Japanese before — it had been offered in secondary school but I had chosen French then — mostly in the form of classmates singing Japanese songs. The Sakura, Sakura folk song was one of the first taught, I think; I’m pretty sure the whole school knew the words, in Japanese, whether or not we took Japanese as an elective. Anime wasn’t something easily accessible then; I’m pretty sure Japanese would’ve been a more popular option if it had been.
I took to the writing system easily enough when we started. I found hiragana simple, though I kept confusing “ne” and “re” at first, but somehow katakana just drove me up the wall. They were used mostly for loan words and foreign names, and I remember grinding my teeth in frustration trying to sound out a name during a pop quiz, only to realise that it was James Bond, of all people, and he was waiting for a bus. Our sensei was a bit strange, really.
Kanji was what caused me most trouble, despite all the time I spent looking at the dictionary trying to match the radical and the number of strokes and figure out which reading it should be, and sensei’s sometimes slightly desperate method of matching the picture and the meaning. “It’s a gate, and it’s being pushed open by two hands, see?” It probably would have worked with kindergarteners, but somehow this method wasn’t quite successful with us.
In the end, I did well enough in that class. I definitely passed it, and even now my Japanese vocabulary is better than my French, despite taking French classes for years. (Part of it came from watching too much anime at one point in my life.) To be honest, though, it’s not like I know any functional Japanese. I remember nouns, but I can’t conjugate the verbs correctly, if I remember them at all. The formulaic phrases still stick to mind, so I’d probably be able to introduce myself, and then hastily add that I don’t really speak the language and does anyone here know English, please?
It’s rather embarrassing, actually. I normally don’t go advertising that I know Japanese or French at all, since I can’t really speak or read or write in those languages, but the prompt made me think of it. (Is it odd that Japanese was the first thing I thought of to write for the prompt? Sure, the other, more common meaning of radical registered first, but I didn’t even consider that I might want to write something about being radical. Maybe I’m being radical by not writing about the obvious radical, ha!)