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True Life: The Downfall of a Former Grammar Nazi

September 17, 2010

I am a lover and defender of words.
I always have been and I thought I always would be.

I used to speak and write with confidence and efficiency. Though I am admittedly long-winded and wordy, a grievous annoyance to many a prof with a stack of Freshman Comp I papers to sort through, I was thankful to never have a problem conjuring up artistic and scholarly metaphors, similes, or allusions. I was extremely careful to maintain the proper tense throughout a short story and I never wrote in the first person for an expository essay. Piecing together phrases and allowing the English language freedom to be its original, organic self is as thrilling for me as a chef working with new cutlery. I, too, want to create something delicious, to craft words that melt smoothly in the mouth and settle finely in the mind, layered with flavor, spice, and profundity.

I may seem to be bloviating but I assure you I am merely stating a fact, using every word in my vocabulary to make this shabby blog entry appear better than it really is.

The only semblance of a talent I possess lies along literary lines. I can carefully pluck alliterative strings like any other college graduate who managed to pass Creative Writing 101. I can skillfully satirize, theorize, analyze, and philosophize (haha) along with the best of the wannabe academics my age (thank you Drs. and Professors at university).

I vaguely remember the not-so-distant past, when I was sought after by classmates and professors alike to proofread their papers, power points, and syllabi. I remember winning spelling bees all throughout my early school days and meticulously crafting compound-complex sentences for the speech and debate team. I remember multi-syllabic words with fondness and with pain as they are now so far removed from my daily life.

I am feeling less articulate and intelligent by the minute in a country where I am at the speaking level of a ten year old and the reading/writing level of a six year old. How is a lover of such a weighty, wordy language as English supposed to maintain the accustomed level of intellectual dialogue in a country where the language is minimalist and brief?

When I translate conversations line for line, I continually find how many fewer words the Japanese use to convey meaning. In fact, sometimes they don’t even use words at all. “Ne” and “saa” are merely sounds, able to reiterate an entire statement or convey an atmosphere or feeling without saying anything in particular. Adjectives and verbs are entire sentences unto themselves and if the subject or object is even possibly understood through context then the Japanese omit saying it all together. Somehow learning Japanese transitioned from vocabulary acquisition to an exercise in telepathy.

Sarcasm aside, Japanese is a beautiful language. I am studying it intensely. I am speaking it endlessly. I am writing it painstakingly. With all of my practice I have inevitably become accustomed to the rhythm and cadence of Japanese sounds. I can perfectly recite the syllabary in proper sequence and am picking up more colloquialisms and idioms everyday. The linguist in me thrives on this conquest.


…there is something even more terrifying than being struck with illiteracy lurking around the corners of Japan.

The decay of my own English ability. *Deliberate use of a sentence fragment*

Upon moving to Japan, I have found myself lapsing in coherence when I finally get the chance to converse in English with other native speakers. I find that my intonation and innate sense of inflection have changed. The fluidity and ease with which I always articulated myself has stopped flowing and now ebbs along my tongue, tripping over the quaggy bumps of prepositions and plurality.

When I returned to America for the first time after five months, I found myself mixing Japanese words into my English without realizing it. Blank stares and soft sniggering shook me to the core as I realized not only am I making mistakes when speaking in Japan but now I am having the same problem in my own country, in my own language. How embarrassing!

I rarely get the chance to speak to anyone in English now. If I do have conversations with friends back home I am always writing to them, allowing myself time to think and prepare my words a moment ahead of time. Face to face, fluent conversation is few and far between. I’m quite determined not to start prattling to myself when I’m alone in my apartment just in order to stay sharp. (Don’t you think that would be a little crazy?) So now, my use of singular and plural is inconsistent. My command of conjugation is sluggish. My ever accurate spelling has dwindled down to a pitiful percentage. Last week I spent a solid five minutes trying to decide how to spell “whether.” The first “h” just looked so wrong. I don’t even want to think about how many comma splices I’ve abused in the last month.

How do I climb back up the ladder of language and regain my place among the English majors that are all condescending me from the top rungs? How do I manage to better my Japanese and maintain my grammarian ways? The answer escapes me and I fear I shall forever wallow in the middle ground of the mediocre and the moronic.

Well hey, at least I still have a flair for the dramatic. 😉

(Note: In true spirit of this essay, I have proofread this several times. If you find any grammatical or spelling errors, please comment accordingly. However, do so with caution as I am in a very feeble state of mind and too many errors may in fact lead me to begin talking to myself. Schizophrenia is sure to follow…)

247 Comments leave one →
  1. Corrie permalink
    September 17, 2010 6:07 am

    XD Oh my goodness Jenn, this made me laugh so hard, while also being incredibly sad! As a fellow lover of the English language, I understand your plight, and I hope you can find a way to keep your English sharp! XD

    • September 17, 2010 6:17 am

      XD I’m glad you found it amusing because it’s drenched in sarcasm! haha I was actually hoping you would read it as I know you are a fellow grammar nazi. Honestly, I was being *slightly* hyperbolic. I’m definitely not going to forget how to speak English… but I’m getting ready to start my Master’s soon… and I was thinking about how nervous I am. So this little rant/confession came tumbling out. hehe

    • September 17, 2010 1:53 pm

      Made me laugh too! Lovely post!

      • September 17, 2010 3:25 pm

        Thank you! 😀
        I was really hoping that people would understand my tongue-in-cheek tone and not simply mistake this as a snotty girl complaining. 😉

  2. Gwynnie permalink
    September 17, 2010 6:10 am

    Hey, I can only echo your sentiment, although I fear that my own spelling/grammatical abilities were never that great to begin with. In addition, Hamamatsu provides a great many more English speakers than your town does… the downside is that I rarely speak Japanese, so I imagine that your progress in that direction puts all of us here to shame.
    Talk on Skype with people whenever possible! Keep writing! Trust me, from reading this entry, you have nothing to worry about. Besides, the more that I realise the differences between British and American spelling and grammar, the less convinced I become about the idea of “true” grammar. I am constantly pointing out errors in the English textbooks, only to be told – by Americans – that they are correct. Interesting, indeed.
    Yeah…. there’s only so many times you can say “How many sleeping bags do you have? I have TWO!” before you start to question your sanity, intelligence and purpose in life. I’m starting to think that it’s better to see the job as a part-time hobby, while we spend the rest of our time making sure that our brain stays active.

    • September 17, 2010 6:20 am

      Very true Gwynnie! 😉 Occasionally I get to have conversations with adults in Sapporo who have a basic knowledge of English. They want to learn so much. Eventually I want to be a university professor teaching English literature to Japanese students… so this is a good stepping stone. –But if I have to ask another student what fruit they like one more time, I may just bust! haha Glad you liked the essay! Cheers! x

  3. Hami in Japan permalink
    September 17, 2010 9:16 am

    I’m the complete opposite. I think I’m improving. Why? Because since I’ve moved to Japan my family have finally stopped telling me to slow down when I talk!!!!! Talking to the kids has slowed me down to a normal pace 🙂 But don’t worry Jenn, you’ll be fabulous x x x

  4. September 17, 2010 1:05 pm

    This is a wonderful post. I’ve shied away from learning another language because I just know that I’ll never have the grasp of nuance the way that I do in English. Of course, that’s a horrible, horrible excuse and I deeply admire what you’re doing.

    I’ll bet that this changes your writing style in both languages! I love to read bilingual and multilingual writer’s works. Somehow, the way they write in English is tinged with something exotic.

    Thank you for the post and the tidbits about how Japanese works!

    • September 17, 2010 3:27 pm

      Thanks so much for reading! What language would you like to learn? I say go for it! It’s definitely a long, exhausting process but it’s also very rewarding! Even if you never speak with native fluency, at least it’s fun to know more about another language and culture! 🙂 Best of luck!

  5. September 17, 2010 1:16 pm

    Great Post ! Thanks for sharing this wonderful and beautiful story, it really is inspiring.

  6. September 17, 2010 1:29 pm

    Hi Jennifer,

    As an English teacher (and former debate team member!) living in France, I really appreciated this post. How often I have thought the very same things you have, and how often I have laughed at (as well as lamented) the seeming deterioration of my own native tongue! You hit the nail on the head. Nice reading your blog!

    • September 17, 2010 3:29 pm

      Hello from Japan! It’s nice to know that I have a kindred spirit out there! Cheers!

  7. September 17, 2010 1:56 pm

    Having had a similar experience when I spent a lot of time in Germany speaking nothing but German a long time ago, I say that the experience is totally worth it! If someday you return to the Engligh-speaking world, you’ll soon enough stop inserting Japanese words and eventually regain everything you lost in English. But the rhythm and cadence of Japanese (or, in my case, German) will forever improve the way you think, speak, and write. Even now, twentymumble years later, there are still concepts and feelings that I can express best in German!

    • September 18, 2010 7:19 am

      Thanks for the great comment! 🙂 I’ve always been fascinated by German and have several friends who have studied it extensively. Since English is a Germanic language, I’ve always wanted to study it. I totally agree that once you know another language, it becomes so much easier to express certain things in a different way! I find myself responding to things much easier in Japanese now.

      • September 23, 2010 12:00 pm

        I love German very much and miss speaking it. I find its rhythms and structures to be very human and beautiful. My stepson (age 25) speaks Japanese fluently and when I listen to him, I hear beautiful rhythms in Japanese as well, and it only makes me want to study and learn it. But at my age, with career and young children and personal projects, this isn’t the time. I admire your dedication to languages and hope that nothing keeps you from learning and experiencing everything you dream of.

      • September 24, 2010 1:46 am

        Japanese is a very beautiful language indeed. Because they use a syllabary instead of an alphabet, there is a beautiful balance and rhythm to the language. I hope you are able to find some time for yourself soon! Cheers.

  8. September 17, 2010 2:13 pm

    I’m cheering because you still CARE! I recently read an article in the paper about a group protesting about spelling. They held up signs saying “Enuf is enuf but enough is too much”. It makes my head hurt, just contemplating the idiocy of trying to reduce everything to phonetics. You are amazing for taking on a second language, and if your grip is slipping a little on your native tongue, give yourself a break and relax! It looks as though you were at a dizzyingly high level of facility there anyway.

    • September 18, 2010 7:25 am

      Thank you for reading and commenting! 🙂 It’s greatly appreciated. It makes me shudder to think people would try to reduce English down to phonetics. Writing is truly an artform and reading enriches the mind. How much we would lose if we broken English down to that degree. Cheers!

      • September 18, 2010 4:56 pm

        lol! i found a mistake right there! heehee…

        psst….’broke’, not ‘broken’ 😉

      • September 18, 2010 5:55 pm

        Haha… now that was definitely a typo! 😉

      • September 18, 2010 7:48 pm

        Typos are forgivable in “just dashed off” thingy like these reply bubbles. I have a friend (one of my writing partners, actually) who suffers from ‘knucklespeak’ in personal emails – it looks like he typed with his knuckles, there are so many errors. I hope it’s just because he’s in hurry and not proofreading, as he has a grown up job that requires a lot of written work. God help us all if he spells “potential’ as “potnetnila” for real….

      • September 23, 2010 2:27 am

        @dtrasler — hahaha I love the term knucklespeak! I haven’t heard that one before. I know quite a few people who are rather fluent… it always makes me shudder. 😉

  9. September 17, 2010 2:13 pm

    What a delicious post! Thank you, and congrats on being FP!

    I can completely relate to your feelings and experience! I spent a year in Israel, and was equally appalled at my very low level of Hebrew as well as the deterioration of my English skills. The only relief I found was that I was at least surrounded by English speakers. Now I spend most of my days with a toddler, so you can imagine what that has done to my language skills. I wish I could proofread your blog post, but my knowledge of grammar and language is so far gone, that, well. Yeah.

    Best wishes on your Japanese adventures!

    • September 18, 2010 7:26 am

      Thank you! What a great adventure you must have had in Israel! Hebrew is such an ancient, fascinating language. I hope you are still able to hold on to pieces of it. 🙂

  10. September 17, 2010 2:25 pm

    This is a really interesting post. My son and I are in Indonesia at the moment, and I’ve noticed how uncomplicated the core vocabulary is — yet how much nuance is conveyed.

    I think throwing in foreign words where you can’t find the right one in your home language — and, let’s face it, there isn’t always one — is a natural response. I do much of my communication here in a sort of heinous 2-way pidgeon mixture. If you and your japanese friends are intuitively doing the same, you’re going to take it with you back to the States.

    I also think freeing up your English is no bad thing. So I’d relax, not draft too much, don’t overwrite, and edit on paper not screen… Thanks for sharing.


    • September 18, 2010 7:31 am

      Thank you for the great advice! Communication often transcends the verbal doesn’t it. I am loving your blog! Safe travels!

  11. September 17, 2010 2:26 pm

    Go ahead and practice when you’re alone. It’s not crazy if you’re doing it on purpose and for a good reason.

    Watching American movies or reading books aloud are a good alternative if you find the other too weird.

    • September 18, 2010 7:32 am

      I’ve taken to mumbling things to myself already! 😉 Is it strange if I answer myself back? haha

  12. Ishana permalink
    September 17, 2010 2:27 pm

    Becoming simultaneously proficient in two very different languages must not be an easy task. Though I think as Japanese becomes easier for you, you’ll be able to focus more on keeping your English up to speed. Judging by this post, I don’t think you have much to worry about.

    As Gwynnie said, Skype could probably help you keep your conversational English skills sharp. You could also try video blogging.

    Good luck with your Master’s, and congrats on getting Freshly Pressed!

    • September 18, 2010 7:35 am

      Thank you so much! I appreciate you reading and commenting. The Master’s is going to be so much work but I am up for the challenging. Recently, I’ve tried to incorporate some vlogs, though I feel much mroe at home working with words on paper/screen. Time to break out of the comfort zone, ne? Cheers!

  13. September 17, 2010 2:28 pm

    Hmm, how about just accepting the fall from grace? Real language is spoken in fragments and half-sentences, and “incorrect” grammar is often arbitrary — and I learned that from a syntactician with a PhD.

    • September 18, 2010 7:39 am

      🙂 I completely agree. Communication and understanding is the main point of writing and conversing isn’t it. So many times words fall short of what we want to express and we must rely on other means to do the job. Spoken language is indeed quite different. So many times I want to just tell a story on here quickly and don’t take the time to really structre my words. My stream of thought writing is much different than when I’m getting ready to turn in something for a grade or review. I was just merely poking fun at myself. 😉

  14. September 17, 2010 2:28 pm

    Great post…I wish I didn’t understand so well. I’ve been living in Macedonia for the past year and speaking (usually, on the level of a 5-year-old) Macedonian and Albanian instead of English. For my first few months here I made an unnerving number of spelling errors when I wrote in English, but now that I’ve solved that problem it’s been replaced by the more worrisome one of summing up whole conversations or personalities with a hand gesture or by saying “le le.” And then the Macedonianisms that I translate into English to the confusion of everyone who knew me before this mental decline…. “How no?”

    • September 18, 2010 7:42 am

      Haha. What a great little anecdote. Macedonia… how exotic! I’m embarrassed to say I have no idea what that language even sounds like!
      Thanks for sharing! In Japanese, I want to say to us both, がんばろうね (ganbarou, ne)!Which doesn’t really translate too well into English. The best I can come up with is, let’s hang in there and do our best! 🙂

  15. September 17, 2010 2:46 pm

    Excellent post! And I’m glad you haven’t heard Indian-English; it’d send you on a killing spree!

  16. schnapper permalink
    September 17, 2010 2:57 pm

    I can empathise, except that it’s my French that’s getting better.

  17. cmege permalink
    September 17, 2010 3:04 pm

    I loved reading about your plight, as I have experienced the same difficulty during many seasons of my life. When I lived in Germany for a year, my now-husband (an engineer whose spelling is not always perfect) noticed that the literacy level of my letters home to him in English deteriorated drastically. My spelling and syntax screamed against the truth that English IS, after all, my native tongue. Years later, when we lived in Norway, he could always discern when I had spent the day speaking Norwegian. He said that my English proved it! When speaking with Russian friends, I often hesitate in conversation while I fall prey to a bevy of sentence fragments in both English and Russian swirling around my muddled brain. It is often hard to decide which language to use to best express myself and which person understands which one. Sometimes I wonder if my facility in English is truly suffering significant erosion! Yes, I was trained as an interpreter and now am a wife and mother with five young adult children,but this phenomenon has plagued me since I was first living overseas at the age of 18. I blame it all on my tendency to over-immerse myself linguistically in conversations, mannerisms, and even accents (my accent and inflection tend to shift in English even when speaking with other English speakers, as I tend to fall into their intonation patterns). At least, that sounds like a plausible excuse! Anyway, it is lovely to know that I am not alone. Perhaps you should start a support group? How would anyone actually converse? 🙂

    • September 18, 2010 7:46 am

      WOW! How envious I am of your amazing grasp of so many languages! It’s wonderful. Would you care sharing with me a little bit about how you became an interpreter? I’m very interested in that field of work!
      Hmmm, a support group would be great! haha Anyone up for a game of gestures? 😉

  18. September 17, 2010 3:06 pm

    As a word and proper grammar lover myself…albeit without all the instruction that you have had…I empathize. I am surrounded quite a bit by people using the wrong verb tense. It drives me crazy! Worse…I notice some of the same things coming out of my own mouth. They are rubbing off on me…oh HORRORS!

    I am coming to the realization that maintaining proper pronunciation and proper grammar is WORK! Either I work harder…or accept that I am changing.

    I really enjoyed reading your piece! It made me smile…a lot!

    • September 18, 2010 7:52 am

      Your comment made me smile…a lot! 😀 I think this is the first time so many people have ever read anything I’ve written. I’m humbled and happy. Isn’t it crazy how easily our speech patterns can change based on what we are hearing? Good luck preserving your words!

  19. September 17, 2010 3:10 pm

    I love what you wrote. This is what happens when you immerse yourself in another culture and language. And don’t worry about those snickers. I am guessing those people are jealous secretly inside. I know I am. Congrats on being freshly pressed.

  20. September 17, 2010 3:14 pm

    I’m really glad I read this. Great stuff! Just keep writing and the English will stick around for ya. I’m a former editor and didn’t find any errors by the way. Glad I found you.

  21. Steve Powell permalink
    September 17, 2010 3:21 pm

    A wonderful post.


  22. September 17, 2010 3:26 pm

    Such a quandary you are in. I remember that feeling of losing my first/main language and that was at age 6! I lived in France but would visit relatives in England for a few weeks. I would return to France unable to convey my thoughts properly to my neighborhood friends, twin boys. And of course they were very kind about it, as young boys are:). I recommend reading english books and maybe using Skype to speak to people back home (that was a statement and a question on purpose)? As for speaking to yourself I truly believe that it is not crazy since I have been doing it at work this morning. I am here by myself. It is completely crazy when I see other people doing it though:) (yes I do enjoy contradicting myself, I’m a gemini it’s in my nature). I want to thank you for the new word , bloviating, I learned something today from someone who is slowly losing their grasp on the english language, be proud:). And finally I thought I would encourage and let you know that you are still very fluent in sarcasm, my favorite language. Good luck to you in your study of japanese while trying to maintain your grip on english.

    • September 23, 2010 2:31 am

      Thanks so much for the reply! I’m sure being confused as a child is even more frustrating that being confused as an adult.
      I’ve been reading so much since I’ve gotten here. I really think it will help. Skype is a genius invention too. The main problem is the time difference though. It’s difficult to skype with many people back home because I am 14 hours ahead of them. >_< Bloviating is such a fun word! Glad you enjoyed the sarcasm! 🙂

  23. joshsuds permalink
    September 17, 2010 3:26 pm

    Although I’m not as meticulous or careful with my English, I can identify with you. I taught English in China for a few years and remember thinking that my English was getting worse while my Chinese was not improving. I look forward to following your blog.

    • September 23, 2010 2:33 am

      Living overseas just does that to you I suppose. I bet China was a great adventure! I’m planning on going there next year. 🙂 Thanks for reading and I hope to see you poking around here again! Cheers.

  24. September 17, 2010 3:41 pm

    If it makes you feel any better, I’m not condescending you from the elevated realm of English Major Proper, but that’s probably because I’m a Writing major and not a Lit major. Writing majors understand that fragments, lack of punctuation, and disregard for grammatical rules can be a well-done stylistic choice when done correctly–that is, by someone who knows the rules and can therefore break them in order to strongly and creatively convey his/her message.

    • September 23, 2010 2:35 am

      Awwwh Tayrawr! You are so sweet! ❤ I remember my writing professors always told me "You can break the rules as long as you understand them." 🙂 Look at authors like Cormac McCarthy– his punctuation is non-existent for a reason. When I was reading "The Road," I had a spasm if I found a comma! hahaha

  25. September 17, 2010 3:59 pm

    I know EXACTLY How you feel: having spent a lifetime (!?) working as a scriptwriter/copywriter, and having lectured in Communications . . . all in English; I now live in Italy and though my spoken Italian is pretty good: there are times when, as I put it, ‘I wake up in English’ and can’t construct the simplest sentence in Italian, (and sometimes not even in English……..) I was thinking about my Blog, this morning and coming to the conclusion that though my Italian will continue to improve (hopefully) I am highly unlikely to achieve the same level of fluency as in my mother tongue. Add to that, the fact that I believe that your memory tends to work principally and best in your mother tongue, and it leaves little hope. But what the hell…..

    • September 23, 2010 2:40 am

      I am so glad to know that happens to you as well! I have “wakaru days” and “wakanai days.” In Japanese, it means “I understand” and “I don’t understand.” I thought I was crazy… haha. Thanks for reading and commenting. 🙂

  26. September 17, 2010 4:19 pm

    1st I envy your experience! I have wanted to teach ESL there also. I am currently taking TESOL classes and tutoring ESL here (USA) to international students. I have visited Japan 4x mostly Kansai region. But the immersion you are speaking of is what many people dream of. It sounds like you are doing it deeper than most!
    So for your love of words I have a poem just for you. I wrote this during an era when I was writing a lot

    Word smith, copyright Mark Anderson 2002

    Words wiggle free
    Cannot be confined
    imprisoned these
    words that escape
    floating freely
    above intellectual
    libraries of doom

    words wiggle free
    when held tightly
    to confine floating
    freely above all
    human entrapment
    singing they float
    above, ascending
    in circles to heights
    where humans cannot

    • September 23, 2010 2:42 am

      I hope you definitely get to teach in Japan someday! It’s a wonderful experience. The immersion I am experiencing comes from being in such a small, rural town. (Less than 5,000 people!) I have only found two people who speak basic conversational English!!!! Thanks for the poem; I really enjoyed it! Cheers!

  27. September 17, 2010 4:29 pm

    great post! i’m also a former grammar nazi, and have actually been contemplating writing a post about what changed. my transition is actually quite sad and sooo telling of the state of american academia. i noticed when my group of friends changed, so did my command of the english language. after college when jobs, careers and grad school allow less and less time for circles of buds to stay connected, it’s often natural that people begin to develop other close associations with those who are more readily available (think coworkers, neighbors, other PTA members, etc.). i’ve noticed, in my new circle of friends, my grammar has waned. it scares me sometimes; i feel dumbed down. and it’s no slight to my circle, they’re incredibly intelligent- some more so than i could ever hope to be- but grammar is not their thing. so i read. a lot. and actively encourage other grammar nazis to call me out when i get lax… i’ll be returning to your blog- for purely selfish reasons 🙂

    • September 17, 2010 8:19 pm


    • September 23, 2010 2:44 am

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting. 🙂 Isn’t is sad when you turn around one day, find ourselves slipping from whatever we used to hold in high esteem (for us it’s grammar), and don’t know when or how it happened? *sigh* Oh well! Ganbarimashou (let’s do our best!)
      Thanks for reading! Hope to see you lurking around here again.

  28. September 17, 2010 4:33 pm

    My first 4 years here in Mexico, I hardly spoke a word of English. When I did, I had to speak slowly.

    Trips back to the States were interesting… I would forget common words and throw in common Spanish transitional phrases.

    Now I’ve made some American and British friends here! It makes my life a lot easier.

    Japanese sounds a bit like Spanish! Here, they also eliminate the subject when it’s implied.

    • September 23, 2010 2:45 am

      I took 6 years of Spanish during school. The vowel sounds are nearly identical in Japanese. They also use the same word for bread. haha Interesting, right? I am thankful for my gaijin friend in Sapporo. I always ramble on endlessly with them. 🙂 Thanks for reading and commenting! Cheers!

  29. September 17, 2010 4:34 pm

    This is a beautiful post, and a wonderful ode to the English language. Thanks for the erudite and literate exposition of your experiences in Japan. I’d love to be learning Japanese – but I’ve French to keep up and Russian to stumble over first…

    I agree that talking in English at home will help, and as will watching English movies and such. I would guess that even Japanese movies have English dubs and English subtitles.

    • September 23, 2010 2:48 am

      Thank you for those kind, encouraging words! I am honored. French and Russian are both beautiful languages! I spent a wonderful summer in Russia, so it’s a language I miss hearing. Good luck with them both. 🙂 You also used one of my favorite words — “erudite.” Thanks for that! 😉 Cheers.

  30. Leslie permalink
    September 17, 2010 4:35 pm

    I taught English Composition at a community college for twelve years, and when I returned to graduate school to pursue doctoral work, I lived in mortal fear of being able to write an above-13th grade-level essay. Jenn, I feel your pain. Keep writing!

    • September 23, 2010 2:49 am

      I am so scared of when I start grad school! Excited but scared. I worked as a teacher’s assistant for a long time. I graded lots of Comp I papers. They made my eyes bleed at times. haha
      I’m going to keep writing, even if it kills me! Cheers!

  31. Garrie Madison Stoutimore permalink
    September 17, 2010 4:41 pm

    Great post, Jenn. Just remember, all you really need to know is how to say, “I love you” and “where’s the bathroom?” The rest is cake.
    Love you,
    Momma G

    • September 23, 2010 2:54 am

      Momma G!!! Did you see that it was featured on the front page?! I was so surprised. I’m totally stoked. 😀 I’m glad you read it!!! Thanks! ❤
      I'm good to go because I've already mastered those phrases! YAY!
      Love you too!!

  32. September 17, 2010 4:43 pm

    Like his 🙂

  33. September 17, 2010 4:44 pm

    I really enjoyed this post! I cannot imagine having to learn a language which isn’t only hard to speak, from what I hear the mere inflection in your tone for different words can be key, but having to learn a new set of characters as well. I totally admire your conviction in figuring it all out. I do remember when I spent a summer in Spain and got so used to thinking and speaking in Spanish that I would answer questions in Spanish that had been posed to me in English. Now, having not been abroad for a while, I’m back to answering Spanish questions in English. (I always was better at understanding than speaking it!) Good luck!

  34. September 17, 2010 5:04 pm


    I love your post. I am not an English first language speaker, but have a passionate love for the language. (And am in fact an English major.) After many years of kicking myself at any and all errors, I have realised that Grammar is not the be all and end all. At least not for me. Otherwise, what would spell check be used for?

    Just love the language for what it is. A tool to express your inner artists.

    Good luck with the Japanese.

  35. September 17, 2010 5:24 pm

    I love this post! So funny. I, too, am a lover of the English language. I remember going to Mexico with my high school Spanish in tow and conversing with people. I was amazed at how my IQ immediately dropped about 50 points. I sounded like Tonto on the old Lone Ranger series on TV (“Me wait here, Kimosabe.”)

  36. Diana Powell permalink
    September 17, 2010 5:24 pm

    Hi Jen,
    I completely understand! I taught in Thailand for five years, and I started saying phrases that my students used to use such as ‘so cool’, without a verb or a demonstrative pronoun in front of it. To make matters worse, I have now lived in England for five years where you go ‘to hospital’ (omitting ‘the’). My tone, speed and emphasis (and spelling) seem to change depending on the country as well. It’s either a marvellous blend of cultures and identities or a horrible mess!
    Thanks for your post!

  37. September 17, 2010 5:34 pm

    Experts in their respective fields need to realize that sitting atop a high horse accomplishes nothing positive. In the modern days of text messaging, twitter, and email, I am thankful when I run across someone that uses a complete sentence. I am a practicalist and a scientist, and I only care if someone conveys their point accurately. Generally, I frown upon inside-lingo and big words, because whether grammatically correct or not, language is about communication and one needs to consider his/her audience. Why be self-conscious about your deteriorating english abilities as long as you can still communicate with your friends, family, and colleagues?

  38. tutoringmatch permalink
    September 17, 2010 5:45 pm

    Grammar :: English as Records :: Music

    When we ask our students how to diagram a sentence, they look at us like we are from another planet.

    Spelling, punctuation all a lost art due to spell check.

    I miss the good old days.

  39. Layla permalink
    September 17, 2010 6:25 pm

    I completely understand, and feel your pain! Though I’ve not lived in a foreign country, I’ve studied both Japanese and French pretty extensively and, when in the thick of it, would often find myself inadvertently saying things like “so desu ne” or taking twenty seconds to decide which word I wanted to use to describe my new favorite ice cream. Along the same lines, while living temporarily in England I found myself picking up the vernacular within about a week and was often (lovingly) snickered at by friends and family back home. It took me a good few months to break the limey habit once returning to the States.

    Language is amazing, n’est-ce pas?

  40. Jesse O. Kurtz permalink
    September 17, 2010 7:33 pm

    What a delightful post! Your struggles confirm the great respect I have for the multi-lingual. Rather than focus on your current difficulty, my question is, “What language will you tackle next?”

  41. N.D. Pendent permalink
    September 17, 2010 7:59 pm

    Well, you asked for it:
    1) . . .and if the subject or object are even possibly understood. . .
    The verb here should be “is.”

    2.) You use the bastard construction “in order to.”
    I’ve never seen an instance in which the simple infinitive wouldn’t suffice.

    3.) . . .determined not to start prattling off to myself . . .
    The “off” is superfluous.

    4.) Face to face, fluent conversation is few and far between.
    Misplaced modifier. Here, “face to face” should be followed by “I.”

    5.) English majors that are all condescending me from the top rungs?
    “condescending” is not a transitive verb.

    6.) Your use of commas is eccentric.
    This, for instance, needs another one: “Well hey, at least I still have a flair for the dramatic.”

    Enough. I still enjoyed your blog. I was surprised to hear that Japanese uses fewer words than English to express the same things. That’s certainly not true of Spanish, which, by actual count, repeatedly uses one-third more syllables than English does to say the same thing.

  42. September 17, 2010 8:10 pm

    A wonderful blog filled with wonderful images! If I had three thumbs I would give you three thumbs up!

  43. September 17, 2010 8:30 pm

    I enjoyed this post very much! Congrats on being freshly pressed!
    I feel for you – I spent most of my university studies speaking other languages. When I finally started using English academically again for my doctorate, I realized it could definitely use some dusting!! Meanwhile, my French and Spanish had become so academic, that people squirmed or even teased when I tried carrying a casual conversation with them outside of school!

  44. September 17, 2010 8:31 pm

    Awesome post! It caught my eye because I just wrote a post about grammar nazis, myself. (Not a particularly favorable one, though, heh.) Perhaps it’s part of that Jungian collective unconscious thing 😉 Also, I’m highly envious of you being in Japan!

  45. September 17, 2010 8:37 pm



    Truly what I needed to Lift My Spirits and Remind me that being quite eloquent and possessing an immense lexicon aren’t everything 😉
    Well, I have to make myself feel better SOMEHOW!

  46. September 17, 2010 8:56 pm

    Hilarious–and totally true!

  47. September 17, 2010 9:05 pm

    I don’t speak Japanese, but it sounds like you do very well. And this is a masterfully crafted piece of writing. I think you’re doing fine =)

  48. September 17, 2010 9:14 pm

    Well written…but, how would I know? I am just a Grammar-Nazi wannabe. I love the idea of doing anything well. My children speak both French and English and whenever my daughter is stumped by how to spell something in English she ‘frenchifies’ it. It doesn’t work. In any case, I will have some sympathy for her now that I’ve read your story!

  49. September 17, 2010 9:34 pm

    I had to laugh too. In my Spanish lesson this morning my teacher and I calculated that Spanish uses 50% more words than English to say the same thing. Like you I love and control the cadences of Engish, but this Spanish thing is driving me bonkers.

    Perhaps I should switch to Japanese.

  50. September 17, 2010 10:15 pm

    Oh dear, what a dilemma! I do hope the good Lord helps you out of your predicament. Whatever God you part-time linguists subscribe to. Oh dear, I ended a sentence with a preposition, I guess I’m headed for the semantic gas chamber.

    As the newest member of WordPress, I was attracted to the title of your post. I often wonder how did a not so euphemistic term for evil ‘Nazi’ get associated with ‘Grammar’. Did a linguist wake up on the wrong side of the bed, had a Eureka moment, and proclaimed ‘I think I found my calling in life. Look Ma, I am an aspiring Grammar Nazi’. Never mind the diatribe that followed on how Uncle Goldbergman survived Auschwitz.

    I may have a remedy for your English amnesia. You may want to add moi and a few English speakers on ‘Skype’ for random conversations, esp. when you feel particularly nostalgic about your former days of Grammar Nazi glory. I do not guarantee, I will tone down my sarcasm, but you may be able to save your fading linguistic abilities.


    P.S: I love your ego-maniacal verbal diarrhea, as you can tell, it is contagious.

  51. September 17, 2010 10:17 pm

    After a few years in Japan, my intonation, accent, and word choice in English eventually morphed into a utilitarian, generic, preposition-less, Japanese-infected creole with little resemblance to my heavily nuanced native tongue, but it’s not the end of the world — your English will bounce back when you’re surrounded by it for more than a few weeks, but the Japanese skills you pick up will be invaluable forever. Speak English only when strictly necessary without fear of losing it (because you won’t, I promise!) and keep up the hard work.

  52. September 17, 2010 10:33 pm

    Dear Jennifer,
    This is a hilarious post! I live in Okinawa, and I am also studying Japanese.

    I find that reading literature helps me maintain fluent and creative language. Oh, and listening to interesting radio programs.

  53. September 17, 2010 11:20 pm

    Loved this post! Just don’t visit my blog … I am full of fragments, incorrect comma use (but in my defense, I leave the last comma in a series before “and” out because that is the standard in my profession), ending sentences with prepositions and beginning sentences purposefully with “And” or “But.” I think these intricacies in the way our language has developed in the age of the Internet, however, add to the conversationality (is that even a word) of our writing. That’s my defense, anyway.

  54. theprestidigitator permalink
    September 18, 2010 1:26 am

    I am a lover of words, and a linguistics major. I have thought about this impending fate many times. The love of language propells us forward into the loss of language! Ah! It is a perplexingly elegant thing.

  55. September 18, 2010 1:26 am

    Hey there,
    I totally sympathisize with your situation…I understand what it is to love and speak a certain language and then be somewhere where you must get accustomed (did i even write that RIGHT???) to another….anyway….good luck preserving your english….i know it can be VERY hard…
    Optiluiz out…

  56. September 18, 2010 2:14 am

    quite interesting.

  57. Pia Mercado permalink
    September 18, 2010 3:38 am

    This is so funny, Jenn! I’m sharing this! I know exactly how you feel and I can actually relate being a gaijin myself here in Japan!… Good luck!

  58. beautifulflaw permalink
    September 18, 2010 4:04 am

    This. is. awesome. (note deliberate use of periods for emphasis 🙂 annoying, I know, but effective! Or is it affective??)

  59. September 18, 2010 6:02 am

    If you’re so good at language, Jenn, then where is ‘gojira’?
    where is ‘whale’??
    The Japanese may be cutesy (butter wouldn’t melt..) teddy bears but they have an viciously anti-foreigner (1600-1870) history and refuse to acknowledge hundreds of thousands of WW2 ‘Comfort Women’.

    Rising Sunners don’t mess with the world when people tell them to stop slaughtering whales and dolphins. The Japanese seem to think they have first purchasing rights to nearly EVERYTHING in the seas. A National Geographic article once said they buy 10% of the global commercial fish catch! Whales are humble, peaceful, intelligent animals. Most dolphins are too. (The Orca or Killer Whale is actually a dolphin.) Do you tell your students/readers about Taijin and the dolphin hunts and the intense power of Japanese imperialist propoganda? Thank you

    • September 23, 2010 3:00 am

      Based on this comment, I’m not sure you even read my post. This has absolutely nothing to do with what I wrote about. Also, if you managed to look at any other part of my page, you would have seen that I’m a vegetarian. In fact, I was a vegan for years in the States. Japan has problems like any other country. Almost everyone I have met has been welcoming and friendly to this gaijin. Before you make such agressively hateful remarks about anything or anyone, I suggest you dig into your own country’s glorified history. I’m sure that wherever you are from, you will find horrors. People are flawed and make terrible mistakes. Despite our ability to hurt each other and fail, humanity fascinates me.

      Also, I used to want to be a whale trainer. So there. 😛

    • September 23, 2010 12:41 pm

      @Eco – Did you just see the word Japanese and decide to go on a rant? Forgive me if I’m wrong but the post was about language not an examination on Japanese culture. It actually reminds me of a poem I read in school. Took me a while to find it but here it is –

  60. September 18, 2010 6:26 am

    I’ll say what I always say in these situations:
    Please do not use the term Nazi to describe something so trivial. It’s more than a bit offensive. Thank you and good luck with your endeavors.

  61. September 18, 2010 6:50 am

    Thanks for writing this. It reminded me of my time in Japan and how we saw our English slowly eradicating into an abyss of loss. Truly learning a differently language like Japanese makes you appreciate that you know English and never had to learn it as a second language, but also how little we do know because people who learn Japanese fast understand grammer and I think for me at least it taught me how much I don’t really have a grasp of grammer and that elementary school and junior high here in the states failed to teach me and by high school they expect you to know, but you don’t really you just get by. Isn’t that how it is sometimes? I guess it depends on the education you received, but I really wish the US would offer better education and language courses to the little kids who learn faster. Again, though, good post.

  62. September 18, 2010 6:53 am

    I did not read all the replies, but my trick it to think in both languages. English is my first language, but I find myself surrounded by Spanish all the time. I have taught myself to think in the new language as well as the old. This keeps you from confusing the two. At least for me! The way I did this is to hon my instinct by replying automatically in the language spoken to me. It is not easy at first, but I found if I did that it starts to come a lot more naturally than trying to force it in either language. I hope this helps and have fun in all language. Jessica

  63. Jeremy permalink
    September 18, 2010 7:49 am

    This was a pretty awesome read and congrats on making Freshly Pressed! As an English major, I love talking about nerdy, grammar stuff, and punctuation. I tend to enjoy argument more, though, and the power of the words we use, but sometimes they’ve blended together; like arguments about grammar. Just a week ago, I had an hour-long conversation with the valedictorian from my high school about the Oxford comma and how it is stylistically optional and not – as he argued – mandatory. I admitted that it’s probably best to use a comma just before the “and” in the list, but it’s not absolutely necessary, especially when one is trying to deliver a message via style (like writing a novel with no capital letters at the beginning of sentences).
    Long story short, I’m glad there are other nerdy people like me 😎

  64. September 18, 2010 8:18 am

    Love your blog. Love Japan. Love teaching. Love language. What’s not to like here?! Living in France right now, I find the same thing happening with me. English has so many words! I can go germanic Anglo-Saxon, or highbrow Latin via French in English, but I struggle to find the same complexity in French. : /

    My Japanese stays strictly oral. I’ve yet to read a word of it. How I miss those conversations that finish with a thoughtful ‘hmmmmmm’ – how do you convey that in English?! I find myself ‘hmmmmming’ with contemplation after I say anything significant.

    • September 18, 2010 9:07 am

      You’re not alone, I assure you. I’m a grammarian and writer who spent nearly 11 years in Japan. I too love the language and understand intimately the references you made to it and the attachments. And yet I was rattled by a certain decline in my fluency in my native language as a result of life in Japan (with only very minimal reconnections to the States during that duration).

      When I re-entered the States, I found that my brain was so filled with things Japanese that I had to regain my English-language footing, not to mention fill in some of the pieces of a vast cultural void caused by my total U.S. disconnect, only to find that Americans had become so damn dumbed down that even with my reduced fluency, I was still light years more literate and well spoken than my alleged compatriots.

      So fear not, whatever decline you experience in your native tongue, there are millions of Americans* who still can’t tell you the difference between “lay” and “lie.”

      *And that’s not counting the 20 millions illegals.

      • September 19, 2010 8:32 pm

        Hi Jenn, I completely agree with allycatadventures.

        I, too, was a conversational English instructor in Japan and have suffered from the same problem you are going through. For me, it was quite difficult to maintain my English level/vocabulary when I’m surrounded by and only using very basic sentences. What others would tell me is to continue reading to maintain the vocabulary, and I think that is a good technique, but it’s still not speaking. I believe there is a big difference between reading and speaking. I’ve been really picky about grammar, spelling and writing in general, but I’ve also become more open to accepting misspellings and bad grammar. This is why:

        Living overseas in Japan, I was teaching conversational English. There is a big difference (I think) between teaching English language and conversational English. Although you had to take basic grammar tests for the company, when you’re teaching you don’t correct students as much for pronouncing or using words wrongly. Yes, you point it out, but at the same time, you’re there to encourage them to speak, so you don’t want to knock them on ever grammar nuance. This got me to thinking, what is language? It’s a form of communicating, and with that in mind, if the student is able to communicate his/her idea, thought, concept, even with bad grammar (spelling in this case doesn’t really apply), successfully, then what more can you ask for? This does apply differently for the written language, however.

        Similar to allycatadventures, something that really reinforced this was when I returned to the USA. My vocabulary was really bad, but when you actually look at what’s being written and spoken in this country, it’s not any better, whether it’s newspapers, magazines, online articles. To be honest, I’ve found it’s many of the non-native English speakers who are more concerned with proper grammar and spelling. (And with immigrant parents, you become a little more forgiving because you don’t want to be that ass that always corrects every little nuance. Actually, I know someone who’s always trying to correct me when I say things, and I get upset because rather than focusing on the point I’m trying to make, he focuses on, “you said ‘was,’ it’s supposed to be ‘were'”, or “You mean HE not SHE”, some crap like that, which actually ends up killing a conversation. And the worst part is, you ask that person to write a paragraph, and he can’t punctuate at all. And he prides himself from being part of the 2nd Puritan movement–aka, he’s American and has no grasp of his own language.)

        In some ways, I’m starting to see language more as, if you can get your point across then what’s the problem? (However, that applies to speaking the language.) I am picky about grammar, but have lightened up because I’ve seen so many errors, yet can understand the point being made. There’s also the difference in the type of writing. In college and universities, you get accustomed to the academic writing style, which can be very wordy. But the truth is, even native English speakers (at least here in America) barely know how to use grammar or spell correctly, and the worst part is, they don’t care. I also think we’re in a time where language is changing, especially English as it’s becoming the more global language. Think of old English compared to today’s English. I think we’re in a shifting moment like that, and you can either embrace the changes or be a stickler. I don’t mind being a stickler, but I also accept that things are always bound to change.

        (I had a really bad case of culture shock–and am still getting over it. I don’t like American culture that much and it’s taking me a long time to accept this is where I live now. So, I can understand about the vast cultural void allycat was talking about.)

  65. September 18, 2010 8:45 am

    Language supposed to be fun! Don’t worry, i don’t think anyone here a ‘grammar-police’. English is my 2nd language but i realised that i used it more than my main language. All the best to you! Japan is a fun place!

  66. September 18, 2010 8:56 am

    i have the same problem.
    between english n my mother tongue..

  67. September 18, 2010 9:21 am

    I too used consider myself a grammar Nazi, continuously correcting people when they spoke. However, years of teaching elementary English has made me an expert in sign language and incomplete sentences! My friends have got used to me constantly putting my hand behind my back instead of saying yesterday and pointing instead of saying tomorrow! I’m envious of you being in Japan though – it’s one of my dreams! keep up the blog!

  68. September 18, 2010 9:23 am

    Nice post, and a few years into my second immigration I can totally relate.
    It seems to me that with the achievement of eloquence in one language, we have to accept to lose some fluidity in the other, at least for as long as it’s no more the one that dominates our environment. There are many ways to remedy to that today (more than the internet, i recommend also expat friends) but I can tell you from experience that you will not actually regress in the mastery of your mother tongue just because you have learned and excel in one or more foreign languages. It’s a bit like skying, you just have to get up on the mountain again and it will all come back to you, you’ll see.
    This all said, while your post is a refreshing and interesting read, especially after a few obviously not proof-read posts made it into ‘freshly pressed’ (congratulations for that!), I just wished you would have found another title for your little essay on languages.
    The casual use of ‘Nazi’ for a pedantic person by English speakers shocked me a little bit when I first came across it (“breastfeeding nazi” is another example). You have cleverly paired it with ‘downfall’ for a an even better effect – and I believe in the force of a good headline to attract readers, but was that really necessary ?
    So passionate about languages, so respectful and eloquent in your own and and what more is, an expatriate too, maybe take some time to consider if learning languages does also have to do with immersing into foreign cultures, history and always, being alert to the sensitivity of the ones you are talking to. This is a public blog, English is the accepted universal language of the internet, but have you thought that while your polished vocabulary and style and the reverence you make to the, as you say, beautiful Japanese language will put a smile on the faces of many lovers and defenders of the English language, you may actually offend (yes still today) – with your catchy title – people from many other countries, including Germany, who will associate with the word Nazi things so much more terrible than the decay of your native language… Languages evolve, of course, but there is a limit to that.
    Call me pedantic, if you want. But calling yourself a Nazi is something that transpires a lot of ignorance and immaturity in my eyes. And I think you’re better than that.

  69. September 18, 2010 9:56 am

    A wonderful essay! Being an Indian living in the UK, I often find myself slipping Hindi colloquialisms into conversations. As soon as I realise it I quickly fumble about and explain its meaning or flash a cocky smile as if to say I did it intentionally just to confuse them.

    ‘Tis a hard life for the English type. (See ‘English August’ by Upamanyu Chatterjee for definition of ‘English Type’) (Oh never mind, I’ll just explain it right here. The English Type is a person who can speak English better than his own native tongue. You lived in the US and therefore are justified in being one. I, on the other hand, have lived in India my whole life and still ended up being one.)

    You do have a delightful flair for writing though. I look forward to reading more.

  70. Panic permalink
    September 18, 2010 10:04 am

    Well written 🙂 Although in my experience I think that the sacrifices you are making with regards to english are well worth it. A year back in an english speaking country will put you right back up there.

    The thing I love about learning new languages is the point where you’re able to understand and play with accents and you start “getting” the plays on words etc. in the language. For me it’s the banter and the sarcastic play on words in a language that I love hearing and playing with.

    (I am not a native english speaker so please forgive any mistakes in the above)

    • September 18, 2010 4:27 pm

      Thanks for the comment! I’ve begun to acclimate to certain dialects here in Japan now. I spent my summer in Osaka which is very famous for its distinct dialect. I’ve also learned some Hokkaido-ben, the dialect of the prefecture I’m living in. It’s definitely interesting and amusing! Thanks for reading!

  71. September 18, 2010 1:04 pm

    I have made very similar experiences (moving from Sweden to Germany). The funny thing with me was that it was not only a matter of deterioration: I often have problems switching languages. It is as if there is a switch somewhere in my brain which has to be moved to the right position—and which I cannot control manually. On the one hand, I have had occasions when I visited relatives in Sweden and needed several days to regain consistent fluency; on the other, I have often picked up the phone and gone immediately into perfect Swedish.

    The good news concerning the deterioration is that it is relatively easy to regain the lost skill—and that keeping it need not involve much effort. (With reservations for both individual variation and the very different character of Japanese.)

    Since you ask for feedback to the text (sorry, no remarks to the grammar):

    1. “Grammar Nazi” to me implies a certain mentality of perfectionism and intolerance towards grammatical errors (or language errors in general). Being one, then, does not necessarily entail great ability—nor does everyone with great ability automatically become and remain a grammar nazi.

    2. We seem to share a particular weakness.

  72. September 18, 2010 1:39 pm

    Holla, English teacher! It’s pretty amusing that even someone of your profession can find herself lost when it comes to something like language fluidity. (No, this isn’t an insult or whatsoever! ) And I thought I was the only one. Ever since my friend whom I converse in English with has left, I hardly speak in English as much as I used to.. and guess what, I found myself in the exact situation as you did. In a way, it feels funnily terrible. So, good luck! 😀

    • September 18, 2010 4:24 pm

      Having a conversation partner is so helpful isn’t it! Yes, even someone in my profession can be at a loss for words. I’ve seen some of the most brilliant teachers make the most human mistakes before. Isn’t that life? 😉

  73. September 18, 2010 2:15 pm

    Oh, how I understand your pain. I lived in Japan and taught English for a few years waay back in the day. I loved learning Japanese, but I had enough interaction with English speakers that I never had the problem you have. Now, however, I’m a stay-at-home mom, and I feel like my communication skills have never been worse! I live in the U.S. and I can’t think of words I want to say on an almost daily basis. 🙂

    • September 18, 2010 4:23 pm

      How long were you in Japan? What part were you in? Did you go through the JET Program? Maybe you need an exercise in telepathy too! 😀

  74. September 18, 2010 2:56 pm

    Lovely post. I fit in the same category as you; English is not my mother tongue, and I’ve been trying to master it since years now. Good to know you. Stay in touch, and don’t forget to visit my blog. I’ll appreciate your comments on my way of writing 🙂 ❤

    • September 18, 2010 4:21 pm

      You seem to be doing a great job of mastering English! I certainly applaud your efforts. English is such a difficult language to learn but it is very rewarding as well. Thanks for the comment! I’ll check out your blog too!

  75. ekundayo permalink
    September 18, 2010 3:27 pm

    I understand your pain. I too am a tri-lingual casualty. It started with Spanish when I was 2 years old and then escalated from there into Argentinian castellano, then morphed into fluent Portuguese and now is stuttering on Yoruba. My English has basically been flushed down the toilet. Awkward lapses and pauses in my rants and responses keep me fidgeting as my brain formulates what I want to say into Portuguese first, English second, problem being I’m talking to an English speaker. Other times I’m left stammering saying “well, uh, you know, that thingy, with a handle you know…um its “mala” in Portuguese but… uhhh” . Yeah. I too used to grace the pages of literary review booklets. Shaking head…it’s not going to get any better my dear.

    • September 18, 2010 4:18 pm

      It’s such a struggle finding the right word to define things when you’re translating everything you say in your own mind! It can be so frustrating! The other day, I forgot the word for cash register in English. I was skyping with a friend back in the States and I stammered on say “uuuh, ya know the place you go to like, check out… uhhh pay for things…” *oh bother!*

  76. September 18, 2010 4:03 pm

    Hmm, I take it that you don’t believe in being concise, succinct, or terse – while writing? Ha-ha! Nice post… 😉

    • September 18, 2010 4:13 pm

      Haha! I definitely DO believe in it… I just have never been able to master it. Once in a creative writing class, I was assigned a 5-8 page short story to write. It ended up being twenty eight pages long. My professor was not impressed. I need to learn the art of brevity. I’m definitely still a messy work in progress. 🙂

  77. September 18, 2010 4:07 pm

    I like your photos.
    Visit Thailand if you have a chance.
    We welcome.

    • September 18, 2010 4:14 pm

      Thanks for checking out my blog! I definitely want to visit Thailand someday soon!

  78. thesocratesofsnails permalink
    September 18, 2010 4:10 pm

    I know that my only exposure to Japanese comes through watching too much anime, and yet even I feel tempted to say, “Saa” instead of “Who knows?” from time to time. I remember, too, that when I was reading Cicero or Seneca (I was a Latin minor), I would find myself using paragraph-long sentences with about four or five semicolons a piece in my regular writing. Languages really are infectious like that.

    • September 18, 2010 4:15 pm

      Language truly is infectious! I think that is what makes it so much fun. Expressions and trend words come and go. Saa is so useful for so many different things. I use it way too much.

  79. September 18, 2010 4:20 pm

    Great Essay! After taking Russian I could no longer write in cursive without trying to use a Russian “H” for a English “N.” Russian actually helped my English Major plight. The grammar in Russian was HARD, but it helped me better understand English grammar.
    Though, if I became fluent in it, I’m sure there’ll be problems. Alas, my poor cursive.

    • September 18, 2010 4:32 pm

      I spent a wonderful summer in Russia several years ago and have always wanted to go back and study the language. It’s truly beautiful. Alas for your cursive indeed. Not enough people write in it anymore. I’m quite a stickler for promoting its use! Thanks for the comment!

  80. Modern Funk permalink
    September 18, 2010 4:23 pm


    The fact that you moved there (bold) and are willing to embrace the culture and truly learn the language — which is incredibly difficult — (even bolder) makes you a very brave woman. I noticed in your short bio that you are an introvert (as am I.) That tells me that you have amazing grit, spunk and character — and basically, are a badass…kudos to you!

    I laughed at the term, ‘grammar Nazi.’ It really pisses me off when people end sentences with prepositions…’Where you at?’ .

    Come visit me at my blog, and drop me a line…I think we might have more than a couple of things in common.

    Thanks for sharing. This is really inspirational.

  81. September 18, 2010 4:45 pm

    As someone who grew up trilingual (English, Arabic and French), I’ve come to the conclusion that I will never be 100% spontaneously fluent in any of my three mother tongues. I think when your brain’s storing a couple of languages, well, it’s taking up some of the synapses that could be used to make one language the richest, most nuanced, and most spontaneous it could be.
    Great, well crafted, well though post.

    • September 19, 2010 2:37 pm

      And even when a foreign-born speaks perfect grammar there will always be the intonation of the native tongue that remains. 🙂

  82. September 18, 2010 5:09 pm

    Perfect! I’ve just discovered your blog and I’m bookmarking it now due to this entry alone!

  83. September 18, 2010 5:21 pm

    The English language should be put on an island and protected by armed guards. The youth of today have little respect for grammer and punctuation, hence the proliferation of abbreviations, numbers, and mispronunciations in text messages and emails. Did I say youth? Sorry, I meant the whole world!

  84. A Wanderer permalink
    September 18, 2010 5:28 pm

    Nice entry. I am starting to learn Japanese now again.

  85. September 18, 2010 5:47 pm

    Without being too wordy…I hear you girl! 😀 great post! totally get it!

  86. aepowell permalink
    September 18, 2010 5:51 pm

    I enjoyed your essay. It is quirky and funny. Obviously, your sarcastic tone was appropriate for the piece. I am going to direct my high school students to your site to read this piece and reflect on their own writing. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  87. September 18, 2010 6:51 pm

    Japanese is indeed beautiful…until Toshirō Mifune speaks it.

  88. September 18, 2010 8:01 pm

    As a former English major who now teaches preschool, I appreciate this so much! Most people don’t think that two-year-olds speak a completely different language, but they do. Their language is also minimalistic (obviously), and I’m speaking it more every day. Thankfully, I still have my husband to converse with, although he sometimes has to look at me and say, “I’m not 5 years old…” Bless him for his patience! And bless you for expressing this and making me smile! 🙂

  89. September 18, 2010 9:09 pm

    Hi JennInJapan,

    I’m Jess in Phoenix. I loved reading your blog! I’m an editor and freelance writer, and nope…found no errors. I actually enjoyed the use of your fragment, and wonder why we can’t all write that way.

    I had a similar experience, so you’re not alone. Spanish was my first language until the age of five. School administrators in the U.S. identified quickly that my English was bad and getting worse…I was copying my mother. Oops. The rule of the house became, English with Dad, Spanish with mom, so both languages were practiced and learned correctly.

    To this day, when I attempt to speak Spanish, it dribbles out with a ‘heavy’ tongue. I actually trip over my own tongue! So I feel your pain. Drop yourself in an English-only environment for a week and the ease of your English-tongue will come flooding back.

    In the meantime, I’ll keep enjoying your writing style, wit, charm and humor.
    Good luck!
    or “Buena suerte”

    • September 20, 2010 1:02 am

      > jessparsons1 “I’m an editor and freelance writer, and nope…found no errors.” Better hone them editing skills, there are some but none worth a threaded dialogue. Or perhaps I’m just not in the mood. 😉

      • September 20, 2010 1:07 pm

        I’m sure there are loads of errors. That was the whole point of me writing the article in the first place. I’ve hit a brick with with detecting them. haha Oh well!

  90. Mike permalink
    September 18, 2010 9:10 pm

    “Somehow learning Japanese transitioned from vocabulary acquisition to an exercise in telepathy.”

    A comma is needed in that particular sentence. I believe it would follow the word ‘somehow’. Please correct me if I am wrong, however. It just seems like the sentence would flow better if there was one there. Beyond that, great read! Learning a new language can be quite infectious. I remember taking French a few years back. Flow, rhythm, rhyming, and practicing were all very contagious. It sure was an experience though. It really opens up your mind to more people, ideas, and possibilites. I can’t wait to learn it again.

    • September 20, 2010 12:51 am

      Mike – You asked to be told if you’re wrong; you’re wrong. A comment there is not needed.

      • September 20, 2010 1:12 am

        Depends on whom you ask: Many old-schoolers would require “Somehow, […]”.

    • September 20, 2010 1:07 am

      Correction: Aa *comma* there is not needed. (Comments were on the brain for the many here.)

  91. Rain Gwenzen permalink
    September 18, 2010 9:32 pm

    Thank you for this piece. I too have fallen from grammar grace. My affliction has me so concerned in fact, that I have considered seeking medical help. Sadly though, I blame living in Montana, being too far removed from my academic roots, and of course the modern texting culture with their abbreviations and acronyms and kitschy shorthand. Let me know if you find a cure…

  92. Rain Gwenzen permalink
    September 18, 2010 9:45 pm

    p.s. thanks for caring! It doesn’t seem that anyone cares anymore…The current propensity for the destruction of language and linguistic apathy just twists me up inside. *Physically sickening* (intentional sentence fragment). It really chokes me up and makes me want to cry. I love language. It is so hard to see modern culture destroying something you love!

  93. September 18, 2010 9:56 pm

    Excellent post! Very well written (of course it is, haha). You caught my attention and made me laugh at all the right moments. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed! ^.^

  94. ratzlav permalink
    September 19, 2010 12:04 am

    A great essay, Jen. And I can completely identify, as I am an American expat living in Israel. My profession is based on marketing writing in English, so for me the issue is one of absolute necessity. My only advice is get some English-language books and READ, READ and READ some more. I have dusted off some old classics and come to appreciate the mastery of language in them even more than the narratives…..

  95. September 19, 2010 12:24 am

    I enjoyed reading this post. As someone whose native language is Spanish, I can appreciate your comments and relate to your experiences when interjecting Japanese into your English conversations; it happens to me every now and then. I keep telling my children that I am sure I will revert to speaking Spanish only when I get older, so they better get to learning it from now so we will be able get to communicate when I am old and gray (ha ha). Keep up the good work!

  96. September 19, 2010 1:12 am

    I really enjoyed reading your post! Entertaining and a little educational as well.

    Thank you for sharing and good luck. I tried learning some conversational Japanese from CD’s and other books. I’m not sure if this is a worthwhile approach, but … it’s interesting to say the least.

    I can most certainly appreciate the nuances of language and the “unspoken” implications that defy words.

    Thanks for sharing.

  97. September 19, 2010 1:18 am

    Interesting post. English is not my native tongue, but I understand what you mean.
    I’m surprised also with your favourites books’ list, many of them are my favourites too (but most of them were read by me in spanish). Well, I don’t know how Iim daring to comment to a grammar nazi. It’s very difficult for me to write in english without my text-book.

  98. September 19, 2010 1:36 am

    This was too funny! Your mind is just trying to absorb a new language – you’ll be fluent in both again eventually. Once you have reached a comfortable mastery level with the Japanese your English will bounce right back. As a word-lover myself, I understand the fear!

  99. rabbiadar permalink
    September 19, 2010 2:04 am

    I loved reading your post: I have vivid memories of struggling to master Modern Hebrew during a year in Jerusalem. I was 48 and hard of hearing, so it wasn’t going very well, but I came unglued when I noticed what was happening to my command of English. For a while I worried that I was going to be left with no language at all!

    I am sure you will find what I did: it will be there when you need it, you may just have to dust it off a bit.

  100. Ken permalink
    September 19, 2010 3:56 am

    Any contained sarcasm aside, this post really struck a chord with me. I’ve lived in Japan for the past two years and my primary operational language for that time period has been Japanese, not English. I really have started noticing a decay in my own ability to speak, read, write, etc. the English language. Lately I’ve actually been having to go back in text messages and forum/blog posts and add subjects, objects, and topics to them because I just omit them as a matter of course now. I wish you luck in your attempts to maintain your own ability.

  101. September 19, 2010 4:43 am

    I’m really doing my best to get less “offended” in life. It’s not a terribly productive emotion in most cases.

    But when I logged onto WordPress just now and saw your headline, I must say I was offended. You seem to pay careful attention to your writing and be culturally sensitive, given your respones to other posters. But given that 6 million Jews perished under Nazis, as did millions of other people, your use of this term in a seemingly lighthearted manner displays unbelievable insensitivity. I therefore challenge you to come up with a better term and replace your headline accordingly. For example, would “zealot” be such a bad word to use instead?

    Or you can ignore this post and other similar criticisms. But if you do so willingly, then that really doesn’t say too much about you.

    • Hami in Japan permalink
      September 20, 2010 1:32 pm

      Whilst I can understand your comments regarding the use of the word Nazi in the title of this blog, I suggest a) read Jenns thank you blog which explains why she has used this term.
      b) before you make comments judging Jenn, as you have done in your post, I suggest you meet her or get to know her because this is someone who would never intentionally hurt anyone. I’ve only known her for a short time but in that time I have realised that she is one of the most caring and sensitive people I’ve met.

      I can understand your reaction to the use of the word, but I think you should think again before judging Jenn as you have done.

  102. harboursinvanuatu permalink
    September 19, 2010 4:54 am

    Jenn, I understand 100% We are Missioanries in Vanuatu, we teach in the Bible College and work out in the many islands. like you our English has deterioriated, our grammar poor, becoming this way when we attempt to simplify the English and because we speak the local Pigin, the grammer of which to say the least is very poor. For example, there is no her, only “him” for both sexes, trousers, is now trouser, the phrase “no more” a positive statement. “i strat no mor” I am straight no more, to us English speakers would mean I am Gay, to the ni-van it means you are very straight, a person of integrity. And so it goes on, we don’t notice it much until we go back to Australia, and people are horrified at our grammer, and like you the Bislama words sneak into our everyday conversation. It takes a few weeks speaking “proper english” to get back to normal. But then what a positive experience to work in another culture.

  103. September 19, 2010 5:10 am

    Hey Jennifer,

    I emphathise with your situation completely for as a lover of the english language myself…..I can understand where you’re coming from. But I think you’ve solved your own problem yourself. Blogging and writing will keep you in touch…..besides something which is innate to your very personality never really goes away…it just gets tucked away in a corner of your brain..only to reappear when needed.

    I must say that you managed to pepper your article with enough big words to really sound articulate !!

  104. September 19, 2010 5:14 am

    This is very interesting. I know how you feel. I studied Japanese too for awhile but I don’t get to practice my skills and I’m afraid I’m losing my touch with the language. And I unconsciously mix different languages in everyday conversations too but then again, that’s normal in our country. haha. 😀 Anyway, good luck on mastering the Japanese language. 😉

  105. Bible Reader permalink
    September 19, 2010 6:17 am

    I am refreshed to know there are so many concerned with the use of proper English. Under the best circumstances communication is a frail thing. Often, I find myself listening to others talk and it can be best compared to two children having a “conversation” whilst both speak of different topics!

    By the way, do you know the source of the micro-smiley face in the lower left portion of your page?

  106. September 19, 2010 8:15 am

    I really enjoyed your post. If it is any consolation, it’s apparent that you’ve lost none of your linguistic prowess. Your writing is evidence of a finely honed talent. I had a similar experience when I tried to learn Russian, only the other way around. I realised that a fluent, highly articulate and literate Russian writer can construct thoughts and subtleties of meaning that are only coarsely translatable into English. We just don’t have the tenses. Our vocabulary does not have the beauty of Russian’s derivative lineage. We don’t render the shadings as well. I think you should regard Japanese and it’s linguistic twists and turns as just another colour on your palette.

  107. September 19, 2010 9:29 am

    I am also a lover of the English language, but not really a grammar nazi because I do like to indulge in experimentation. I think anything that is intentional/clever which is not necessarily grammatically correct is worthwhile. I guess I’ve read too much William Faulker, haha.

    But I also want to learn from other cultures. I’ve been thinking a lot about studying abroad in Tokyo this summer. This is a facet of the experience that I haven’t even been aware of. So I can definitely sympathize with your detachment from the English language as that appears to be part of my future. I guess this post can serve as mental preparation for me.

    As for the brevity of the Japanese language, maybe you can think of one Japanese word having much more meaning than one word of English – which can hopefully serve as consolation. I’m not really basing that on any knowledge of the Japanese language, just as a response to your post. If you think of the wordiness of the English language, though, does that make for much more shallow meanings?

    Lastly, I liked the subtle sarcasm (my favorite mode of humor) of your post. Great post!

  108. September 19, 2010 11:32 am

    What a great read! I love the way you write. English is not my first language and though I don’t have that much of a difficult time writing in English, it’s different when in an actual conversation. I still have a long way to go. I would also love to learn a new language but not until I am confident enough with my English. =)

  109. hddfjgfghj permalink
    September 19, 2010 11:56 am

    welcome to our website === w w w (www.Ccshopping ) – u s === ..The new update, a large hot ..

  110. September 19, 2010 12:29 pm

    I love your post, your blog, your sense of humor. I have a friend in Kyoto who is also a native English speaker teaching English. I think he gets to practice speaking more often than you, though, so he probably isn’t facing decisions about the strangeness of talking to oneself to maintain a mastery of the language! Write on. You are more articulate than most people I know, hear, or read. Love it.

    • September 20, 2010 3:53 pm

      Thank you so much! 🙂 I jsut went to Kyoto for the summer. It’s beautiful there. The Kansai area of Japan has many more foreigners (gaijin) than Hokkaido, the are where I live. Very rarely do I get the opportunity to speak English with others. It’s a blessing for learning Japanese but awful for maintaining my vocabulary. 😉

  111. September 19, 2010 12:41 pm

    This is a beautiful telling! Thank you for your honesty and humility.

  112. September 19, 2010 12:42 pm

    Well said! Oh, how I long to be able to speak at least 2 international languages at the same time. 🙂

  113. September 19, 2010 12:43 pm

    Oh, how I long to be able to speak at least 2 international languages! Unfortunately, my native language doesn’t count. Well said! Kudos on being freshly pressed! 🙂

  114. luminousimprudence permalink
    September 19, 2010 1:57 pm

    I really relate to this nice post! Juggling 3 languages on a daily basis, all that comes out at certain moments of utter confusion is an inarticulate squeak. My native English is still mostly intact on paper, but I often waggle my jaw, searching for words, when face to face with people I should be speaking clearly and eloquently to. There’s a price to pay for learning new things.

  115. Delorfinde permalink
    September 19, 2010 2:01 pm

    A blog is such a great way to meet people who have exactly the same experiences as you! Looking at the comments, I can see you’ve run into a lot of like-minded people.

    I’ve always wished that I was bilingual. What I would have loved would be to have been (woah, messed up tenses) brought up that way, so that it seemed natural. Perhaps I should marry someone who’s bilingual so that my children can have that advantage…

  116. September 19, 2010 2:29 pm

    Are you also a song lover? Or a movie addict? They say a song lover and another song lover communicate much with too little words used. 🙂

  117. thebuttonsblog permalink
    September 19, 2010 3:25 pm

    ‘Last week I spent a solid five minutes trying to decide how to spell “whether.” The first “h” just looked so wrong’.

    So very funny, witty and full of bittersweet atmosphere. Thanks, Jenn. As a fellow wordsmith, I lapped up every line. And no, I couldn’t spot a single mistake. That said, the replace a ‘z’ for a ‘s’ American-English conundrum has always struck a rather raw, quintessentially British nerve.

    A quick question if I may? Which language do you dream in?

  118. Anand Benegal permalink
    September 19, 2010 3:32 pm

    My friends call me wordy too! How peculiar. By the way, you should come and stay in Mumbai for a week! Your English will have been to hell and back!
    (I live in Mumbai)

  119. Anand Benegal permalink
    September 19, 2010 3:37 pm

    My English is good because my parents correct me approx. 472 times a week!

  120. September 19, 2010 3:42 pm

    Smashing piece!

    I found that my standard of written English shot up once I’d learned Latin – probably because the education system in England doesn’t exactly promote proper grammar use, or indeed teach it at all. It’s interesting to see how moving completely outside your language family (as opposed to somewhere else with an Anglo-Saxon or Romantic connection) has changed the way you say you speak, even if not the way you write.

    @Kate (on bi/multi-lingual authors) – I agree. Ever read Vikram Seth’s “A Suitable Boy”? English novel, by an Indian, living in America – wonderful melting-pot of words and sentences.

  121. September 19, 2010 4:10 pm

    I have a friends studying in Osaka right now. I’m definitely going to share this with her. 🙂

  122. September 19, 2010 4:21 pm

    I found myself dealing with this same problem when I was working for a Latin American distribution company. My creative writing wasn’t based in English anymore, but Spanish syntax instead…

  123. September 19, 2010 4:37 pm

    nice blog

  124. September 19, 2010 5:09 pm

    I think this English language blog is a good way to keep your English edge. And also, don’t be afraid to talk to yourself – everyone does it, even a lot of it. As long as you’re not hearing anyone talking back to you you’re probably ok, and remember – if you think you might be crazy then you probably aren’t. Good luck!

  125. September 19, 2010 5:18 pm

    You’re right, you’re wordy, but smart and cute and you love to craft with words so you’re forgiven.

    For short thoughts in English and written in America, by a fellow word-crafter, check out my blog!
    Thanks and have a happy, wordy day.

  126. September 19, 2010 6:20 pm

    I enjoyed reading your blog! It is good to see that there are still people around who care about precision in communication at a time, when simplification in languages is the order of the day. I know exactly what you are going through in both senses, your temporary alienation from your native tongue and the level of language you are currently operating at. After my return from South Africa to my native Germany, I “picked” up German pretty fast again.

    A wider issue is the problem with simplification in that, although desirable in itself, it tends to render language ambiguous or incomprehensible. And following this, the next problem is when people ignore this issue. I have known “conversationalists” who obviously did not understand what was being said and in many cases, people just nod their approval or say “yes” in the right places while trying to guess what is being said. In doing so, one reduces a meaningful conversation to a social function where the gap between intended and interpreted meaning becomes unimportant.

  127. September 19, 2010 7:03 pm

    I can completely empathize with you. Since I am Taiwanese, my parents travel to Taiwan every two years, dragging me along in the process. Taiwanese has traditional and simplified forms of Chinese, as well as a native Cantonese language to deal with, which is additionally aggravating because Cantonese uses the same characters as Chinese uses.

    Relaying all this information is terribly debilitating, and trying to process all the translation while speaking the language can reduce anyone to a blithering mess on the ground. People also comment on my American accent.

    Any situation with language barriers is understandably uncomfortable, so rest assured that you have my condolences.

  128. September 19, 2010 7:42 pm

    Well, the interesting thing is how cultural shocks shock beyond the mundane issues of customs and forms, and go so much deeper into our language and our previous, and very loved, selves.

    I too love my mother tongue, Spanish. After years out of Mexico, I feel like I might have lost all of those little details that made my spoken and written words so enjoyable (at least to myself). Losing words, along with the possibility of giving my words a sense of humor by phrasing my thoughts a bit equivocally, a bit misguidedly. The worst part of it is that anytime I try to do this in English, my interlocutors assume it must be a mistake because I am not a native speaker. 🙂

    I have the great fortune of having a family with me, and we all speak Spanish at home. However, we all feel like our Spanish is deriving into a very localized five-member dialect.

    Interesting Jenn, that you found in Japanese, what I found in English, a language that uses fewer words than mine.


  129. September 19, 2010 7:56 pm

    Hello Jennifer!

    I found this entry via “Freshly Pressed”. I hope you don’t mind my sudden intrusion!

    Your entry is really amusing to read. Here, have my own experience that somehow echoes yours, but in a decidedly different way:

    See, I’m German, living in Germany (for another ten days and a few hours, then I’m off to Japan), but I spend so much of my time reading and writing English (the former both for uni and during my free time, the latter mostly in my free time) that my German has been degenerating hopelessly. Oftentimes I find myself unable to form coherent sentences, especially in front of people I admire (that is, my teachers at university) and/or when there are many people listening to what I’m saying. What happens is that I confuse masculine, feminine and neuter articles, mess up the grammatically correct sentence structure, misue prepositions and much more. And sometimes, I can’t think of a word in German, but of the English/Japanese/French equivalent. I have actually been asked whether I am really an English native speaker because of that! It’s a bit frustrating – I totally feel you there!


  130. September 19, 2010 8:56 pm

    Beautiful. I sympathize with you (for although i am not a grammar nazi i hate it when people use words improperly) when i moved to central america i was surrouded by people that spoke an english creole (i gwen a de maket fi get so fish fi dinna, i am going to the market to get some fish to eat for dinner)i started to use many of the words myself when speaking with my american and canadian friends and they woud lauph and grammar nazi me. found that after 4 straight weeks of speaking with these friends concious not only of m words but of my pronounciation i started to straighten out, but it truly is a scary expieriance to lose the ability to communicate properly in your native language.
    good luck!

  131. September 19, 2010 9:12 pm

    Funny posting!

    In my experience, you don’t mix languages you did not learn subsequently. Maybe a new language takes the place of an old language in your brain, if this place seems empty because you don’t use the old language in your actual environment. I constantly mix French and Russian because whenever I was in a French speaking environment, I had not had to speak Russian for some time and vice versa.

  132. September 19, 2010 9:41 pm

    You are not alone! I am living in Portugal and studying the language and I find myself mixing up my sentence structure when I speak in English too… Plus I have found that i’m losing my second language (Afrikaans) even faster. It seems that for every word I learn in Portuguese I lose one in Afrikaans. I spent several hours the other day trying to remember what a “shop” was in Afrikaans. I knew it in Portuguese but couldn’t for the life of me remember it in the (other) language I had spoken almost all of my life… scary stuff!

  133. September 19, 2010 11:39 pm

    I spent a year in Austria two years ago, and even though I spoke a ridiculous amount of English while also speaking plenty of German, my English still faltered immensely. I work with the English language daily, as I am a copy editor at a newspaper, but even so, and even after two years, I still have problems spelling words I never would have questioned before. I entirely understand and feel your pain.

  134. September 20, 2010 3:09 am

    “Face to face, fluent conversation is few and far between”

    does not sound correct or complete to me.

    “Face to face, examples of fluent conversation are few and far between”

    sounds better to me.

    Congratulations on learning a second language! Such an achievement is beyond my level of ability. I admire and envy it. There is everything positive in your original inclination to speak and write to a high standard of comprehensive and precise expression, so as to convey your intended meaning, rather than a vague and confused approximation of it.

    Unless individuals of the academic and scientific professions, responsible for making choices which affect human society, continue to have the ability to define meaning as precisely as your piece above does, decline would seem to be inevitable.

    We need to see exactly what is faulty with any given law or practice before we can fix it. Fewer accurate words rather than thousands of sloppy words are needed in regulatory legislation, for example.

    Is Western Democracy declining in the business of putting into practice its stated principles as they affect people’s rights and responsibilities? Are the individuals in power, in the management of both countries and companies, of a lower level of intelligence and abilty than before, or is it that I am growing more demanding as I grow older?

    Certainly, the BBC, now, permits minimally-educated, inarticulate, working class individuals who revel in their self-perceived cleverness as they flash a local dialect in our face. Before the 1960s de-throned the product of private schools and Oxbridge from BBC government and mic-side, it was an undemanding experience to listen to BBC radio, or TV, talk. Now one often has to switch off or become profoundly depressed.

    I have climbed, since oikish adolescence, the slope of abilty in articulating meaning, and in sophistication of perception, to arrive presently, at age 70, at perhaps 10% of your position on the heights above me. Your self-doubt is admirable, but you still have a long way to fall before I see you rolling down past me.

    Rightly have you gained the honour of being included in Freshly Pressed. Well done.

    • September 20, 2010 6:21 am

      Cy Quick – “Face to face, fluent conversation is few and far between” does not sound correct or complete to me.

      “Face to face, examples of fluent conversation are few and far between” sounds better to me.

      An emphatic no. Not only is it grammatically incorrect but the author’s intended meaning has been altered.

      Correct is: “Face-to-face and fluent conversations are few and far between.”

      I’d have written: “Fluent conversations in person are few and far between” (or “infrequent” in lieu of “few and far between”) but that’s just me.

  135. September 20, 2010 3:39 am

    Lovely post! Made me laugh a lot 🙂

  136. September 20, 2010 4:57 am

    michaeleriksson – I adhere to the definitive dictionary by American standards, M.-Webster, which is no comma. (To further illustrate: Would you write, ” They somehow managed to pay the bills or “They, somehow, managed to pay the bills”?) (Sorry to respond in a new rather than threaded comment, Jenn’s threaded-comments capacity maxed out.)

    • September 22, 2010 2:07 am

      Even assuming that M.-Webster is the standard for American English in some set of contexts, it is not automatically The Standard. Different people have different standards and different takes on right and wrong, with variations arising from age, country of origin, and own insights—The Standard does not exist (except, possibly, as a news paper).

      • September 22, 2010 8:53 am

        michaelericksson – Mmmm, I detect the scent of debate brewing. However, this being neither the time nor forum, I propose agreeing to disagree – or at the least letting the topic go – hokey dokey? (no relation to pokey)

  137. September 20, 2010 6:53 am

    Loverly article. Enjoinable read.

    Don’t panic. The English language is morphing into a quasi-pictographic lexicon and we’ll all have to learn to speak again. Enjoyed.

    Or as the youth of today say ‘Wow that’s acceptional’

    • September 23, 2010 2:25 am

      I’m glad you enjoyed reading it! I have fun writing it. 🙂 Your comment made me laugh! “Acceptional” *rolls eyes* Heaven help us!

  138. September 20, 2010 7:14 am

    Hi there, I would like to keep in touch with you. I wonder how you could survive this summer in Osaka. I’m saying this not only because of the heat this summer but also for the strong dialect. I heard that it is so hot that banana is growing in Japan. Also hundreds of people died because of the heat, right? Japan is a beautiful country. Japanese is an interesting language.
    I learned more than 5 languages because I like foreign languages. It doesn’t mean I’m good at it. At early stage I found I was mixing up languages but now it doesn’t happen.
    I recall sometimes I was speaking to an Italian in English and to an English in Italian when there were more than 2 nationalities. As far as it is not about a serious matter it would be just funny.

  139. September 20, 2010 8:12 am

    Hello Jenn,

    I loved your post. Very funny.

    Years ago, I went to Japan on an AIESEC traineeship. It was wonderful!

    Recently, I wrote about some thing at the Design Expo I saw then:

    And the TV series from NHK, Summer For Bureaucrats, which I saw this summer:

    Do try to become fluently bilingual while you are there. One friend of mine did become bilingual, and married a Japanese lady. Actually, I’m convinced that you really learn another language and culture well, when your boyfriend/girlfriend is from another culture. He returned to the USA and got a number of really senior jobs because he could speak Japanese. Good for him!

    Enjoy your time there!

  140. September 20, 2010 9:03 am

    Ah the maintenance of an academic ego far from the libraries where one cultivated it can be quite the shock indeed.

    Congratulations on getting pressed by the way, the article was certainly worth it and it’s always nice to read the stuff of someone else out here in Japan. Helps to put my own experiences of this weird and wonderful place in context.

  141. September 20, 2010 9:29 am

    Quite poignant! I am also learning a language and as I speak with beginning English speakers, I realize how deteriorated my own language is becoming. I converse on the phone with my family and I can’t express all the things I used to be able to express. I hope my ability will return upon going back home… But I still have 8 more months in Kosovo! Yikes!

  142. September 20, 2010 9:40 am

    Hi Jenn. Really enjoyed reading yr post and many of the responses you’ve gotten. I’ve a very keen interest in linguistic phenomena. My BA thesis was on glossolalia – a form of religious expression, commonly called “speaking in tongues”.

    There’s much I’d like to ask of and say to you, but time will not permit me now. Perhaps in the future…

    For now, I just want to say that if you are happiest being a “grammar Nazi” you might find some comfort in the suggestion that there is a hint of fascism in your (and dtrasler’s) comments about phonetic reductions.

  143. September 20, 2010 9:49 am

    I have been living and working in Luxembourg for the last 25 years and speak a number of foreign languages, some less well than others. Working in a multi-cultural and multi-lingual environment wrecked my English as I was obliged to reduce my English to pidgin level. My attempts at translating into English (my mother tongue) produced English that was unintelligble to an English person as my husband was quick to point out. I recently began to learn Turkish, whose nearest relative linguistically-speaking is Finnish, which is proving a complete nightmare as the grammar is extremely sophisticated and the vocabulary rich. However, it keeps those little grey cells active and is a challenge.
    I visited Japan many years ago when my sister and her husband were living there and had a wonderful time. Lucky you to be living and working there and good luck with your Masters.

  144. September 20, 2010 12:32 pm

    Well I think that happens to everyone who is leaving their native land to live in a foreign speaking one.

  145. September 20, 2010 12:37 pm

    Using sentence fragments can be very effective. Give dramatic effect. Especially after the use of the over used 16th ans 17th Century’s literary infatuation with the compound-complex sentence. So there. See? Be real. Also gives resounding echo chorus in speeches. “Who loved his county more? No one. Who could eat so much spaghetti? No one. “

    • September 22, 2010 2:11 am

      Dramatic effect, because it is a break in the rythm. Using sentence fragments all the time does not give a dramatic effect—just a text that is hard to read. Unfortunately, those who do use sentence fragements tend to over-use them. (I shudder in horror when I think of some newspaper articles I have read.)

  146. September 20, 2010 1:04 pm

    Your tittles made me laugh, and I wished humans would start to understand that the more profound language underlining each descent communication is the language of the heart.
    It often does not required word sophistication, but the willingness for authenticity&mutual care.I often feel a lot of compassion for people on the internet who obviously have even less skills as me(few enough!) but try their honest best.What a courage worth respect.

  147. zgustavo1979 permalink
    September 20, 2010 1:24 pm

    A wonderful post.

  148. September 20, 2010 1:33 pm

    Loved ur Post!

  149. September 20, 2010 1:34 pm

    I guess you can’t have it all in life.

  150. Rob permalink
    September 20, 2010 2:13 pm

    Great post.

  151. September 20, 2010 3:00 pm

    Great post, and congratulations on being Freshly Pressed! As a retired English teacher, I have to be careful not to go about correcting people, so I hesitate to mention this, but since you asked, in your sentence, “am picking up more colloquialisms and idioms everyday,” everyday should be every day.
    Please don’t throw things.

    • September 20, 2010 3:22 pm

      Haha! Have no fear. I’m a pacifist! 😉 I’m certainly not perfect at English, which is why I wrote the piece in the first place. I’m also prone to typos, which I believe that was. haha Thanks for reading and for being my extra set of eyes! 😀

    • September 21, 2010 8:44 am

      @Coming East – “am picking up more colloquialisms and idioms everyday,” everyday should be every day.” — Exactement. “Everyday” is an adjective, “every day” a time reference. In view of that error and others, my restraint of hand and tongue was an act of grace (though the tongue is bruised for the biting).

      Purely as a grammar-nazi general, I appreciate that you and others noticed these little things. It’s a brief respite in the exhausting and endless confrontations with “they’re” instead of “their” and “it’s instead of “its” and “your” instead of “you’re.”

      And on it goes as our Dumbing Down approaches g-force.

  152. September 20, 2010 3:32 pm

    lovely. Love it. And don’t worry. Once you get to the intentional “misuse” of language you do absolutely have it mastered. This from a writer, an instructor of high school and college composition, an English Teacher-
    Moreover, this very manipulation-in the same way I imagine an ecstatic mathematician thrills at the prospect of discovering uncharted relationships between quadratic equations- elevates your relationship with the word to a passionate, creative endeavor!
    And that’s from someone who eats grammar for a treat! 🙂

  153. September 21, 2010 1:36 am

    Nice post! I like to think I am good with vocabulary and grammar, although I have much work to do! All the more reason to keep reading, etc. At least I do practise good grammar and vocabulary to the best of my ability!

  154. September 21, 2010 2:49 am

    I love this post! 😀

  155. September 21, 2010 5:00 am

    Don’t worry about some grammatical errors because it is manageable, and one should have a teachable heart every time he/she wanted to learn. I’m of the same idea that English is a very rich language a person can afford to learn. Sincerity is always the best ingredient in every writings. Keep it up. I do hope that you can have more meaningful blogging to share with us through the years. God Bless!

  156. September 21, 2010 1:42 pm

    I love that you used “bloviate” in a sentence. As an educator at the community college level, that is not a word that I see often.

    I think language is changing all over the world with the advent of text messaging, etc.

    Having lived abroad for a while, I remember the horrifying stumblingly awkward moments when I just could not think of the right word. And even though you say you wrote this piece sarcastically, I do think it speaks to the bi-lingual experience, as people who speak two languages really are negotiating two worlds with their worlds. It isn’t always easy.

    I am really glad you were “Freshly Pressed.” This is truly a great read.

    Come and visit me at:

    This morning I’m complaining about summer being over.

    • September 21, 2010 10:01 pm

      Renee S.J. – “As an educator at the community college level, that is not a word that I see often.” — As an educator, you will recognize that that cannot be, unless you mean that the (rarely seen) word is an educator. Note the impossible relationship you’ve established between “as” and its parallel noun.

      You’d be correct to say: “As an educator at the community college level, I do not often see that word” or “I do not often see that word as an educator at the community college level.”

      For many students, their learning is only as good as the teachers’ command of the subject. 🙂

  157. September 21, 2010 3:03 pm

    Great move to recognize word to sentence.
    Love this is a excellent move.

    We have to go with confidence and learn more.

  158. September 21, 2010 3:10 pm

    Hi every one

    No live without language, nothing new every one knows it.
    More important is to know who develop word to sentence.

    Who is sitting in side to develop word to sentence and come out from your mouth as a language speech.

    Is languare important ?

    Yes, to develop home, city nation to maintain standard world wide.

    We have to understand one another due to own language.

    Language is our identity and moral support to grow world wide.

  159. September 21, 2010 4:57 pm

    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed! It’s amazing that you are learning a language that is so different from English. And from the looks of it, you have nothing to worry about. This post is so very well written!

  160. September 21, 2010 9:48 pm

    This was actually a really good read. I enjoyed the extended vocabulary that I [sadly] rarely find in conversations with many of my friends or acquaintances [I’d actually forgot the word acquaintance as I was typing which was rather embarrassing]. I will definitely be subscribing to this blog.

  161. September 22, 2010 7:56 pm

    Loved your post, here is a link to a recent article in the Washington Post:

    Keep up the good work!

    • September 23, 2010 2:21 am

      Excellent article! 🙂 I enjoyed it very much. Thanks for sharing and commenting.

  162. October 7, 2010 10:42 pm

    As cliche as it is, “Use it or lose it” is probably the best advice I’d have for you. Being in an English speaking country trying to learn German myself, I suffer your issue in reverse.

    It seems to me to become truly fluent in another language something more than storage of basic sentence structures, grammar, and tongue manipulations has to change in one’s brain.

    Perhaps it is true the brain can only hold so much, and has to move the less used stuff to the archives in the basement where they cannot be so readily retrieved?

  163. Alice permalink
    November 19, 2010 8:08 pm

    I really like your blog, I’ve been interested in Japan for a long time and am hoping to start learning the language soon myself, your description of the country makes it sound so interesting and makes the prospect of learning the language so much more exciting.

  164. April 27, 2011 10:36 am

    thought you might get a tickle from this

  165. June 30, 2011 7:32 am

    “As long as you understand what is it I’m trying to say then that’s enough. We need not waste our precious time with formalities, cosmetics or grammar beauties. The point and the wisdom is more valuable than system or tradition.” ~ excerpt from my treatise. What you mean is more valuable that how you meant it. So sayeth, the Old Youth.


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