So let me get this clear. I’ve only been here for 6 months and I’m expected to make a speech? In front of all classes, most of whose Japanese is so good I don’t understand it? As well as in front of all of the teachers, including the tannin (lead) ones? As a World Cup pundit might put it, that’s a big ask. And, as a sayonara and arigatou, this may not be the most confidence-enhancing of experiences for my Japanese.
Writing this final blog in Shizuoka, building up to England v Germany, slowly forgetting a speech which I consider a debacle, I actually think I’m speaking reasonable Japanese for the first time. This weekend, most of the time, I can express what I want to express. It’s a satisfying way to end six months here.
But it won’t have seemed that way last Friday, at the end-of-course ceremony. My Japanese then will have seemed anything but natural.
Over the previous few weeks, my brain had been fed like the liver of a foie gras goose: stuffed daily beyond its limits with new grammar, which I have little opportunity to use, the learning had been congested. I couldn’t breathe for new words and structures. Again, not a criticism: the Yamasa course lays the grammatical foundations, but you’re going to have to find the free-time (and Japanese friends) somehow if you want to use it as well as pass those exams. I always took a long-term view: follow the course, stick to the essentials, and every so often – as well as maybe in the long term - you’ll be able to ‘activate’ this knowledge through interaction with Japanese in the real world, outside the classroom and away from its role plays and not entirely authentic exchanges. On days like this Sunday in Shizuoka, for example.
Of course there are different ways of making speeches. One is to adlib: neither my Japanese, nor confidence, permit me to attempt this, although I was rather envious and impressed to see one or two in the class above me seemingly manage it. That’s a goal for the future, if I can find a stress counsellor.
(Students in the class above always seem like strutting gods in their command of Japanese, but – then again – I thought the same watching the last end-of-course ceremony three months ago. It only takes three months further study to realise that, well, actually, they’re just three months ahead .. and mere mortals.)
Another is to write a speech and read it. That seems like a bit of cop-out to me.
So I really prepared mine, even if the audience will not have noticed. Oratory has its specific ways and means in most languages – and I suspected the same in Japanese. So, taking care to produce a speech that incorporated words and structures that - for the most part - I knew (what’s the point in reading out someone else’s speech?), I sought assistance from one of my private language teachers and the ever-obliging Snow-chan. I wanted to speak my own Japanese, however clumsy, after all. And then, in the few days before, I did my normal teacher (and once, best man) trick of turning this into prompt cards with key words / bullet points written large. Which I then practised reading, each time looking down a little less.
I didn’t care too much if it would be slow – as we say in English, it’s better not to hurry through a speech - although I’m not sure the Japanese think the same.
When the big moment arrived, it was – I feel – a 'bit of’ a car crash. I felt pretty haunted by it even before I had finished. This in the land of saving face. In front of teachers, past as well as possibly future. And the entire student body. Yikes. I started off by forgetting to collect my graduation certificate. I finished by omitting to collect flowers which my stunningly kind and supportive classmates gave me. I held a mike throughout the speech which I didn’t use. (Or want to use, for that matter. With my cue cards, some of which I dropped as my speech ‘progressed’, I would have needed three hands.) And the lecturn, which I also would have preferred not to have, was so low that it reminded me of standing at my kitchen surfaces. The latter are a convenient excuse for my lack of inspiring cooking in Japan, and it has occurred to me since that this might be a fitting analogy (and, equally, convenient excuse) for my speech too. I also confused one or two teachers’ names before correcting myself, adlibbed once or twice in inappropriate Japanese when I lost my place (as my cue cards started slipping down the lecturn, to pelvic level).
Anyway, my friends – well, some of them - said they enjoyed it. Some even said it was ‘good’. I guess they were in a good mood, having passed their exams. None of this is false modesty. I repeat: it was a 'bit of a' car crash. And the support from my class was second to none.
I got a few laughs, but as much at my expense as where I might have hoped to hear them. If it was funny, it was, I suppose, Mr Bean-funny. So much so that my deliberate mistakes – such as when I pretended to call my tannin-sensei Nie-sensei 'kibishi' (strict) before correcting it to 'kireina' (beautiful) – may well have been taken for slip-ups too. Yes, as my dear private lesson tannin Matsuyama sensei, listening in secret from the floor above, asked me afterwards, I was nervous. Very. (As well as sleep-deprived.)
So, in short, good reason to walk around Okazaki with a paper bag over my head for the rest of the weekend. But I didn’t, and had a great final 24 hours (apart from the interminable packing). My classmates I will miss greatly, my teachers too, Okazaki itself, well.. that’s a different story.
Good bye, le Velociste. Au revoir, le Fromage. (For those who have read this from Day 1.) And thank you to everyone for their good wishes. Especially Carla, Sandra, Miffy and Sharon (all san) for their card, and Y-san, my first friend here and the last to say farewell too.
For those who enjoy J-Horror, I gather that my speech has been recorded and may find its way onto Youtube sooner or later. In the spirit of free and open access to information, I will copy the link here, but I will watch it alone, with my head and a large whisky in my hands.
Until then, I have copied below how the speech was meant to come across. (There’s few kanji for ease of reading.) Nie-sensei, if ever you happen to read it: remember, if I didn’t quite succeed in conveying the message, I’ll say it again: you’re a model and a legend. Thank you.
私は YAMASA で ６ヶ月 べんきょう しました。
日本に 来る 前は、イギリス で きょうし を して いました が、今は また 学生 に なりました。
たのしい 六ヶ月 でした。 先生だちもういちど 学生 に なるの は いかが です か。
ほんとう に すばらし けいけん が できました ので YAMASA に また もどって きたい と 思っています。
でも これから 私の もくひょう は ワールドカップ を 見ること です。 (がんばれ イングランド！)
この ６かげつ いろいろな かた に とても おせわ に なりました。
はじめに、 わたし の クラスメイト に おれい を いいたい です。 「ありがとう」
イギリス で みんな の こと を おもいだします。
つぎ に、 いま まで おしえて くれた せんせいがた、 ありがとうございました。
プライベート レッスン の
おしえること は たいへんです ね。
きょうし を おしえる こと は とても たいへん だった でしょう。
さいご に、 ふたり の せんせい に とくべつ な かんしゃ の きもち を つたえたい と おもいます。
ひとりめ は、 プライベート レッスン の たんにん の まつやませんせい.
たのしい じゅぎょう を ありがとうございました。
いつも わたしの じゅぎょう の ために じゅんび を たくさん して くれましたね。
わたし は イギリス に かえります ので、これ から は ゆっくり して ください ね。
きびしい、いいえ、 きれいな たんにん の にえせんせい。
にえせんせい に ずっと おしえて もらえて とてもうれしかった です。
にえせんせい の じゅぎょう を うけて、 日本語 だけ じゃなくて、きょうし と いう しごと の しかた を おしえて もらえました。
ほんとう に にえせんせい は きょうし の おてほん だ と おもいます。
みなさん、いま まで ありがとうございました。