Japanese class stereotypes

There’s an essay online about learning Japanese and, in part, the people who take classes like that. It’s from the early ages of the Internet, but it’s still wholly relevant. I currently take Japanese classes here in New York (at a fairly advanced level) but there are still stereotypes, so I thought I’d write about them. Keep in mind that the average person in the class is somewhere between 20 and 35.

  • The recent repatriate. This is the person who just got back from spending somewhere between several months and one hundred years in Japan, so they know everything about everything in Japanese culture, both past and present. Their answers are always overly verbose and end up going on tangents about that one time they were in that one place and saw some really crazy thing. Also, despite having recently gotten back from Japan, they’re still not as fluent as they think.
  • The future expatriate. This person is ready to get out of the U.S. and go to Glorious Nippon, where they will undoubtedly immediately be given a job, a beautiful apartment, and a Japanese girlfriend. These classes are just a way for them to get up to the level where they’ll be perfectly fluent and can then go over.
  • Still Otaku. Despite easier classes usually weeding out the otaku who realize that they can’t take one session’s worth of classes and translate manga, some still manage to make it through, and their geekdom becomes concentrated at higher levels. They know all the weird aspects of Japanese subcultures and are not afraid to let you and everyone else know it. The Still Otaku archetype often spends half an hour describing the awkward subject they’ve brought up, and are immune to your facepalming.
  • The Engrish Master. Despite being in a class to learn Japanese, there are still people who insist on speaking English. These people often raise their hands to answer a question, but then go totally blank, get frustrated because they can’t really elucidate their point, and then have to ask in English for that one word that means something really obscure. Or they’ll try to speak some hybrid of Japanese and English, where most of the words that have actual meaning are English.
  • The Know-it-all. In earlier levels there are people who think they really have a grasp on the language but don’t; in the higher levels, there are people who really do know everything. When you pause to think of a word, they’ll jump right in and explain what you’re trying to say, much to your chagrin. These people also have a level of smugness where they know that they’re at the top of the class, having clearly understood the Japanese concept of humility.
  • Captain Overshare. We’re often asked to describe situations, and they can be personal stories. But Captain Overshare has no problem telling that one really awkward story about how they had a walk of shame back from the Upper East Side or something. There can be overlap between this group and the otaku guy class.
  • The deer in headlights. They’ve somehow made it (read: paid) through the levels, but they’re still lost in the discussions. “What are some examples where you feel rushed?” “Um, er, well.. yes. If you were… yes, that’s right.” This sort of person usually doesn’t speak up unless specifically called on, and then your class will drag while they putter around.
  • The old guy. Sort of a subclass of the recent repatriate, the old guy spent a bit of time in Japan some time ago and has more or less forgotten everything, but they’re trying to work their way back up. Admirable, maybe, but they can also end up being deer in headlights.

Now obviously there are regular people who took the language in school and want to maintain their comprehension, or maybe they use Japanese for work. But they’re usually few and far between.

Sunday, October 3rd, 2010 10:35 pm - essays, japanese

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