My dog sells hats in Shibuya

In Japanese, this sentence looks a little bit like this: 私の犬は渋谷で帽子を売ります。”Why on earth would anyone need this sentence?”, you may ask yourself. Well, Duolingo says that this is a very important sentence to know. Apparently, the subject of hat-selling dogs is pretty common in Japan – according to the duck, at least; if ducks are adventurous travelers (well, the past few weeks did not look very adventurous, duck, just sayin’) why should dogs not be talented hat salesmen dogs?

Duck-35Why not? Let’s just roll with it and dedicate this little post to the art of Japanese language learning, or rather, the hardships I face when I try to speak Japanese because I am definitely not an artist when it comes to attempting to learn this beautiful language. In order to illustrate my bumpy journey right out of Hobbiton – because that’s how far I’ve come on my quest to destroy my inability to have conversations in Japanese – let me tell you one of two stories:

1. The Japanese language and me (and the duck)

The duck and I have been attempting to learn Japanese for a while now. Because we’re cheap (and also just not very rich) we’ve put all our fictional money on self-studying. Using mainly textbooks (yup, those that are often criticized for teaching you Japanese that’s not completely useful in everyday life) we’ve been trying to at least grasp the basic building blocks of this (for us) rather complicated language. We’re using Anki daily to revise what we’ve already studied, but somehow, despite living in Tokyo now, we seem to be hardly making any progress. Maybe we should revisit our priorities!
In addition to not really learning anything new, there is one other big thing standing in my personal way to Mount Doom fluency: my weird way of using language; I just can’t seem to be able to simplify my sentence structures so that I always find it hard to express what I really mean in a different language (not to mention all those digressions that make it hard, even for me, to remember where I left off). The duck is only slightly better on that – I guess I am the duck’s role model after all, haha (I wish)!
The main reason for my lack of progress, however, is that I’m scared – scared of making mistakes, not being able to express myself perfectly, saying something weird, accidentally insulting someone or just sounding really dumb which I know is stupid. But I’ve always been like that, no matter which language I was trying to learn; even in school I often got worse grades because I was scared to say something wrong or embarrassing in class so I much rather said nothing at all. Living with my teachers thinking I had no clue sounded much better than having the whole class laugh because I said something wrong (yup, because obviously, that’s the standard reaction of teenage kids who all just care so much about the syllabus that someone saying something incorrect would be the main topic at every party for decades to come). The duck, on the other hand, is just plain lazy. But enough of that personal stuff. Let’s get back to the dog and the hats!

Last summer there finally was this new shining star in our revision sky: Duolingo‘s Japanese course! I admit the duck and I were a tad too excited about that – we checked several times a day whether our account was under the lucky ones that got the Japanese course activated. So, when it finally was, we went through half of the course in less than a week and that frenzy was also when we got to screenshot this beautiful sentence which made us take a step back and reconsider our priorities in life.My dog. (Sometimes he sells hats.)

After we finally moved to Tokyo our lovely friend A. (without whose help we would have been utterly lost in our first week here and even more clueless than we are now) did her best to try and help me speak more. We were about to meet her friends, most of whom did not speak English comfortably – perfect victims to try out my Japanese on. So, when I told her about that funny Duolingo sentence that the duck and I had come across she turned it into a game; she asked me several simple questions about my dog and myself, like the dog’s name and reason for selling hats and our favorite food. That way she got me talking and at the same time helped me prepare my act for that glorious moment when I was to proudly declare my first Japanese sentence to strangers: 私の犬は帽子を売ります。My dog sells hats.
You may wonder where the “Shibuya” part fits in. In fact, the dog’s story was so interesting (haha, not, but anyway) that we sometimes, in unrelated conversations, added little facets to his biography. When we were talking about one of her friends – in English (I told you, I’m a tough one to get talking!) – who was running late because he was casually attending a cooking class in Shibuya I proclaimed that that was exactly the place where my dog was selling hats!
Unfortunately, I never got to tell the dog’s extraordinary life story to her friends because, you guessed it, I was too scared. Nonetheless, there is now this little story buried somewhere in the back of my head, occasionally resurfacing when the duck and I come across this marvelous sentence in our daily revision sessions, that I might share with you one day.

So, this was story number one – a quick summary of the duck and my Japanese learning efforts (or non-efforts, really) to date.
And now, the duck and I (and A., without whose clever idea the dog, to us, would still be a weird little sentence in Duolingo’s Japanese course) proudly present a teaser for the second story (which might show up on here at some point. Maybe. Who knows?):*

2. The dog・犬

Once upon a time a dog was living in my house…
昔々、私の家に犬が住んでいました . . .

*And it did! Check it out! Also, for the lazy ones (we’re not judging!), we’ll embed it here, just in case:

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