Universal Languages






A concert at my school

Apart from getting general sentence structure down pat, I’m enjoying learning the more casual ways to say things. I often think about how I might being coming across super formal when having conversations with Japanese friends. I try to imagine how we would sound in English, and have been realizing the amount of English slang/phrases/idioms/colloquiums/whatever that come without a second thought and how much of them definitely wouldn’t translate over into Japanese. 

There’s a way of speaking that’s native to Osaka called “Kansaiban”. It’s kind of like Osaka slang. For example, another way to say “very” is 

Meccha めっちゃ! 

I’ve honestly been using めっちゃ for everything, it’s like my go-to to spice things up. 

The more I’ve been studying and learning, the more I have been reflecting on the immigrant experience as a whole. Although, I’ve always empathized with this experience since my parents and grandparents are immigrants and Chinese was my first language, it hasn’t been until now that I’ve seriously began to learn a new language. I think the Chinese-American immigrant experience is highly specific as well and something that I want to expand more in my art practice. I learned English when I was in pre-school/Kindergarten, and quickly picked it up, however, with the caveat of losing a lot of my Chinese speaking abilities. (I hope that after learning Japanese, I can study Chinese again!) 

I’ve been thinking about the experience that my parents and grandparents faced when they moved to a totally unfamiliar and new country. On top of a million other worries they had, they were also tasked with learning a new language. My experience here comes with the privilege of being in a language based program that has Japanese classes and having a network of Japanese students to practice with. A privilege that not many immigrants can say they have had. 

Something I have come to appreciate is that despite not sharing the same language, there are other ways that I can connect with people. I think a universal language is humor. Before coming here I believed that so much of humor is based in communication and delivery but honestly, I find myself laughing with friends over simple life things that we both have just experienced that are just really, really funny, no words needed. Sometimes the fact that we find the same thing funny is enough for me to feel like we bonded over our shared experience of living life, being students, etc. I’m realizing how much you typically can gauge someone’s personality from the way they talk and how recently I’ve been trying to do the same but it of course isn’t the same but that’s okay! I can take the opportunity to really get to know someone. 

I also believe a universal language is empathy. The ability to feel what someone is feeling even if you haven’t experienced the situation firsthand. I’ve noticed moments where even though I don’t have the words to explain exactly what I’m feeling, the context is enough to have someone feel what I’m feeling and the moment is still shared and is still important.