I am meeting several people at the moment, partly to teach, and partly to be taught myself.

Drawing of Confucius, chinese scholar.First, there are my German – Japanese exchange classes with a young man who seems very Japanese on the surface, but who is everything but, once you look a bit deeper. Besides his mother tongue he speaks three European languages: English, Italian, and French, all of them very well indeed, and now he is endeavouring to study German. His German is already so much better than my Japanese I have to admit, so I am always a bit worried I may take too much advantage of his time, and most of all, of his patience. So far, we are each writing a very short story, just a few sentences, which the other one then corrects, and then we’ll talk a little afterwards. I still have the feeling I cannot talk, so I have to force myself not to switch to German, or English. I have had some very interesting conversations with him already, and he is teaching me lots of interesting pieces of Japanese culture I may have heard of, but never understood.

Then there is a lovely woman who wants me to teach her German, well, actually she was asking me to teach her Austrian. How do you teach a language that is only spoken? We have agreed that I’ll teach her “proper” German for now, because otherwise the Germans will not understand her at all if she starts speaking Austrian dialect. She has been to Austria before, so she knows some of the words that are only used in Austria. However, I think she only spoke to educated people either in English or to those who were able to speak “proper” German, because when I tried to teach her how to say a few common phrases in dialect, she could hardly believe it was indeed so far from the written word. I guess it may be a good compromise at this point to see that she can understand dialect, rather than speak it herself. As she is doing research on tourism and agriculture, we are reading and translating some of the papers she is using for her work, and in turn, I also learn a lot about Austria I have not known before. She is putting in a lot of energy, and in a sense we have a similar type of studying: We both hate making mistakes…

Finally, my youngest student is a 17 year old boy, the son of a friend of mine. He is what the Japanese call a “half”, half Japanese, half Canadian, and he is lovely albeit a bit shy. He grew up in Kyoto, and although his spoken English is just fine, his mother is a bit worried about his English reading and writing skills, as he had little exposure to the language here in Japan. He is mostly interested in computer games and sports, so I will try to find some reading material that touches those interests and is also age appropriate. As a return I have requested that he’ll teach me how to write nice Kanji. I can write the Hiragana and Katakana, but I scrawl like a five year old (no offense to five year old Japanese kids here!) and there must be a way to learn those properly. The goal is not to become a master calligrapher, but to be able to write like an adult.

I’ve always enjoyed learning something new. Doing this is not always easy, but it’s nice to have something you know that you can trade for something you don’t know…

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