Takashi, as the year went on, grew more and more fluent in English. But he still struggled with certain phonetic sounds. I want to preface this story, so that you don't think I'm ridiculing our Japanese "son." Here's what you need to know. After Takashi left us and went back home to Japan, I began taking lessons in the Japanese language. I studied for six years, and, although I became moderately-fluent, there were still Japanese phonetic sounds that I had not perfected. The Japanese "R" was the most difficult. It is sort of a combination R-L-D sound, and very difficult for English speakers to master. And the Japanese "F" sound is a mixture of an English F and H. So the famous Mt. Fuji is something between Fuji and Huji (try saying the "F" in "Fuji" without letting your front teeth quite touch your bottom lip). It's no wonder, then, that native Japanese speakers have problems with these same sounds, only in reverse! I totally empathize. None the less, some of those phonetic faux pas are humorous, whether they are made by an English speaker attempting Japanese, or by a Japanese speaker attempting English.
One time Takashi met a young girl at a church youth rally. She lived in Portland, rather than in our small town of Newberg. Takashi took a shine to her, asked for her phone number, and a couple weeks later worked up his nerve to call and ask her on a weekend date. He went back to the bedroom that he shared with Chris to make his call. Talking in a second language on the phone is even harder than in person, and I knew he was extremely nervous about this call. Not long after he had dialed her number, he came stomping down the hall (he was often a "drama king"), with a look of frustration on his face. "MOM," he demanded, "Talk to her. She can't understand my words."
So I went down the hall, to the bedroom, picked up the receiver and said, "Hi, Tina, I'm Linda, Takashi's host-mom. Can I help out here?" She sounded almost as frustrated as Takashi was. "Well, he wants to make a 'pran' with me, and I don't even know what a 'pran' is." I had to laugh. Making a "pran" (otherwise known as a "plan") was one of Takashi's often-used expressions. I stayed by his side as he finished making his "prans," and that weekend he successfully met up with Tina and spent an enjoyable Saturday afternoon with her in downtown Portland.
Another time, on a fall morning, we awoke to a heavy blanket of fog covering our peaceful Oregon valley. Takashi looked outside, while we were all at the breakfast table, and declared, "Oh, look, 'hog' is outside." And in response to our puzzled looks he tried to clarify by rewording his sentence: "It's a 'hoggy' day!" Although, by then, we all understood his intent, the kids couldn't erase from their minds the picture of hogs (or pigs) falling from the sky. They really did know better than to laugh, but couldn't completely hide their amusement. I think it may have been Chris who first responded in jest, "Yeah, look! It's 'piggy' outside, Mom!" Luckily, Takashi was in a good mood that day, and after an explanation, he, too, saw the humor in what he had said. From that day to this, on those mornings when the mist lies low to the ground, someone in our family is sure to remark, with fond memories of Takashi, "Sure is piggy out today."
[Note: For those who may be wondering -- because I haven't used the language in the past ten years, I am no longer fluent in Japanese. Use it or lose it, they say. Sadly, I've lost most of it.]
3 weeks ago