It is often difficult when you are trying to communicate with someone, but there is a language barrier preventing you from getting your message across. It is even more frustrating, when you can’t even communicate with someone who speaks your native language. The past week has taught me to be grateful for the small things that many take for granted; one of which is the ability to speak. Last week, I lost my voice due to an infection, and currently, I’m still unable to say a word. Prior to losing my voice, though there were times where there were some confusion, I could at the very least find alternative words to explain a concept or speak basic Japanese to navigate my day to day life. Unable to vocalize anything has made it hard to practice the verbal aspect of Japanese, approach others to socialize or ask for directions, or even speak to people in English because nothing comes out. To handle this situation, I’ve been relying heavily on google translate (although one must be careful with it), typing/writing out what I want to communicate, and a lot of charades.
Thankfully, people are very friendly when you lightly tap them on the shoulder, smile, and hold up a phone with google translate open from English to Japanese asking, “Excuse me, but does this train go to ____?” If it seems as though it might take them more than “Yes,” or a head nod, I have been typing “I lost my voice because I caught a cold!” Luckily that has worked out because there have been some kind individuals who have walked me to places where I need to go, or even try communicating back with me via google translate or speaking in English while I type back my response. Gestures have also been very helpful because although I cannot talk, I can still bow to show my thanks or to attempt to convey “nice to meet you,” and I can still point or play charades to either communicate what I want to communicate, or to attempt to decipher what someone is trying to say to me. Google translate also has a mic option which is helpful if you just have absolutely no clue what someone is trying to say to you. Though frustrating, I have still been able to practice the verbal portion mentally so I don’t fall behind. However, a lot of verbalizing Japanese words is muscle memory, so I’ve also been mouthing out the passages for my assignments, rather than just reading it!
In dealing with unexpected fall backs, I believe the important lesson is to calm down, and think rationally about what one can do. There are many things that are universal, such as facial expressions and gestures. One can type things out, write it out, draw it out, or use either google translate or a phrasebook. In Japan, because people are very approachable and open to helping (most of the time), don’t be afraid to attempt to ask for help! If at first you don’t succeed, try again! It’s frustrating, and it’s easy to feel like you want to give up when you can’t even speak to people in your native language, much less another one – but one setback doesn’t mean you’ll never have fun. I’ve been struggling a lot more, but that hasn’t stopped me from going out there, and seeing what Japan has to offer.