I have become a regular at two spots in my town.
One of them is a ramen shop where the clientele are mostly older gentlemen who come in alone, sit down 2 or 3 chairs away from me at the bar, and try to talk to me in Japanese. They are rarely put off by my lack of comprehension and will often keep up the one-sided conversation for the duration of their meal. It’s ramen, so it’s usually like 15-30 minutes tops.
It’s not the most lively spot, but the practice is helpful for my language study. I’m now amazing at giving a brief introduction in Japanese. Plus, the owners take pity on my lonely soul and feed me free bread and chocolate and nuts and stuff.
The second is a bar where the owner speaks English.
My typical day consists of using broken Japanese to buy coffee, then using very simple English to talk to my students, and then returning home to an empty apartment. So, as you can imagine, I am instantly smitten when I find someone that I can have a full conversation with.
To be clear, I’m not complaining. Obviously, I knew this was going to happen when I decided to move to Japan without speaking Japanese. I enjoy the opportunity to learn a second language through immersion, and I genuinely LOVE talking to my students.
(Even when they say things that make me feel awkward like “I’m studying English because I want to travel to America, and it would be rude to go there without speaking English.” Oof.)
But I also love the unexpectedly powerful feeling of pure joy that comes with running into a fellow English speaker. I don’t need to know anything else about them. We’re instantly connected.
Anyway, that’s not what this post is about.
At this second bar that I frequent, I met a Flamenco artist. He had married a Japanese woman many years ago and was in town from Spain visiting her (though they had since gotten divorced) and his two daughters.
Since he didn’t speak English very well and I didn’t speak Japanese, our best method of communication was Spanish. Imagine that in this little town!
As I tried to remember how to communicate in this language that I hadn’t used since my short 3 months of studying abroad in 2014, I realized how much of a mess my brain is. Studying a second language was hard enough. Adding a third language to the mix has been an absolute disaster.
Clearly, my brain has been sorting both Japanese and Spanish into the same bucket and labeling it “not English.”
I know so little Japanese that I didn’t expect it to matter, but my brain kept trying to supply prepositions from my piddly Japanese vocabulary bank instead of the Spanish words that I studied for like 8 years in school.
I have nothing but the utmost respect for anyone who can achieve conversational abilities in more than 2 languages. You’re rock stars.