Allow Gaps in your Japanese Knowledge

I bet if I asked you to introduce yourself, regardless of your level, you’d sound pretty damn good. I’d ask you about where you’re from, your hobbies, your likes/dislikes, and you are a pro. Then I’d ask you about fusion (nuclear, not DBZ), and you’d freeze. You have a gap in your knowledge. You don’t know about fusion. Shame on you.

Gaps In Japanese Knowledge

But you are lower level. So that’s okay, right? The higher the level you get, the more these gaps go away right. After all, I did say studying Japanese is like Tetris right.

Of course your gaps will be filled in, one at a time. But not in the order you think.

A Japanese person of your age will have filled in the gaps in a completely different way than you ever have.

There will be Gaps in Your Japanese Knowledge 1

From baby to adult, their knowledge gaps were filled in standard Japanese order.

From the start of your Japanese, to where you are now, your gaps are filled in based on your 1) needs, 2) interests, 3) perceived standards, 4) and complete randomness of what you see.

You never took Math in a Japanese school. Which means that there is a chance that you will never ever run into phrases like Pythagorean theorem (ピタゴラスの定理) or the theory of relativity (相対性理論).

Gaps In Japanese Knowledge 2

I’m pretty good at Japanese… I can talk about advanced subjects like technology, politics, and law. I’m an adult.

But guess what. Put me in the room with a 6 year old. What does that 6 year old like? Dinosaurs. Even at my level, I would be at a lack for a lot of words. I don’t know the name of most of the dinosaurs that you all know in English that you learned as a child.

Yeah, there is a chance that I will see some TV special on dinosaurs in the future. Or maybe a movie will come out about dinosaurs. Maybe I’ll even watch Jurassic park dubbed. But for now I have a gap in knowledge. And I’m fine with that. You can’t learn everything. You can’t catch them all.

Maybe not the best example, as most dinosaur names are similar to their English names...

Maybe not the best example, as most dinosaur names are similar to their English names…

These gaps aren’t just connected because of a foreign language. People grow up in nonstandard environments, in nonstandard ways. People get older and they forget, and stop caring. Memory is finite, and focuses on what you want and need.

So where am I going with this?

You will have gaps in your knowledge, and that’s perfectly fine. Yeah, it sucks when you are in a situation where you are fully fluent in Japanese, having a conversation like a normal Japanese adult, and then suddenly a gap appears that causes you to falter a bit. But, there is a good chance that this will happen even in your own language. Just say you don’t know. There is nothing wrong with not knowing.

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Founder of Jalup. Spends most of his time absorbing and spreading thrilling information about learning Japanese.


Allow Gaps in your Japanese Knowledge — 14 Comments

  1. Yep, I can definitely relate to this, except I DO know a fair amount of basic high school math/physics terms in Japanese by now, e.g.,
    公理- axiom
    重力- gravity
    交差点- intersection point
    万有引力の規則- law of universal gravitation (lit. attraction)
    集合- set (in mathematics)
    電位- electric potential

    In fact, I’ve known all of these for a while now.
    On the other hand, just the other day I was reading a somewhat 日常 manga and found
    補欠- substitute (in a sport’s team)
    and had no idea what it meant :p.

    P.S.: In fact, trying to learn how to read math terms in Japanese without learning them in school is such a pain… It took me forever, for instance, to be sure that 値 is read あたい, since you can’t exactly expect math discussions to come with furigana…

    • Well you just taught me some new words.

      There are surprisingly a number of math-themed J-dramas, anime, and manga out there. You might want to check them out.

      • Wow. There really are dramas about everything. I really want to watch that first one. I don’t have any maths vocab though

        • That’s the great thing about Japanese TV. Everyone can find something that meets whatever wild tastes they have. These shows will help you pick up that math vocabulary.

  2. The one that got me really recently, and that felt particularly inexcusable, was when a Japanese tourist to Seattle asked what I did for a job.

    As it turns out, I’d never needed to say what I do (Software Engineer in Test) in Japanese prior to that point, and it’s not like I was ordering my professional literature in Japanese (rethinking that now!).

    The next random encounter, I called myself a ソフト技師契約者. Imprecise, since there’s no “In Test”, but close enough until the boss fight: interviewing for a Technology role in Japan… which needs keigo more than arcane Tech terms.

  3. At least I’ll know so many legal terms thanks to 逆転裁判…

    Incidentally, for me it was also a source of courtroom-related terms in English. And they say video games don’t teach you anything!

  4. Not exactly a gap, but I struggle a lot with Numbers and Japanese Dates. I have to stare at the page for some time adding X years to 1988 for 平成. Any suggestions? Should I start doing maths and writing dates in Japanese? XD

    • Personally, I’d say if you don’t have a pressing need for it, you can just let it sink in naturally. How often do you run into 平成 dates in the wild? For me it’s pretty much never, but if you’re seeing them a lot, then it might be worth dedicating a bit of time to =)

    • My way of doing it is establishing and remembering one important date for the time period. For example, my birthday is on 昭和60年 which is 1985 so since it is easy to remember my birthday, I can just calculate dates around that date.

      For 平成 I know that this year, 2015 is 平成27. Easy to remember as 2015 sticks to the multiple of 5 I’ve got going with my birthday.

      So basically, that’s my advice.

    • Thanks Matt and Kure
      So for this century I’ll choose 平成25 (something happened…). For last century I’ll go with 昭和25 (1950 mid-century) since I don’t think 昭和 system is used to refer to present dates .
      I also think I should try to stop “translating” dates and numbers to Arabic Numerals. Its like translating Japanese to English.

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