At first I thought it was strange how people here keep speaking at me in Japanese and expecting me to understand if they just say the same things over and over. Then I realized that I do the exact same thing in English. The other day, I was showing my pictures from my Kyoto trip to one of the teachers and I noticed that I kept rambling on and on in English and he just stared blankly, but I just continued explaining things because it just felt natural to me.
|WHAT ARE YOU SAYING??|
Another thing that Japanese people often do when they are trying to get me to understand is they use gestures that perhaps make sense in their minds, but in reality don't help at all. I do the exact same thing. I was trying to explain that a picture was the view out of a window in my friend's apartment building, and I just did a broad movement with my hand while I said "view" and it probably meant absolutely nothing to the teacher with whom I was speaking.
This steel-enforced language barrier in place has taught me that every little gesture matters. I can’t speak Japanese or English with some of the teachers, but that doesn't mean we can’t communicate. One teacher said “Merci” to me after I gave him a candy, and I responded “de rien,” and his face instantly lit up when I spoke the proper French response. Now, that is our method of communication. When he speaks a word of French, I respond in kind. It doesn't seem like much of an interaction, but to me it is.
I also learned some very basic Japanese to use with the teachers and students, and that alone has done wonders to bolster our relationships. I ask the kids the simple question “what movies do you like?” and their faces light up like a baseball stadium after dark. I got sick of the awkward silences in the copy room simply because of an inability to speak to coworkers so I learned to ask how they are and how their weekend was. Simple things like that makes them so cheerful, which in turn makes me cheerful.
And, at least in Japan, sometimes all it takes is a nod.