Saturday, June 6, 2009

Broken Barriers

It's hard to say exactly how long I've been studying Japanese now. I'm pretty sure I'm approaching ten years; I'd have to look at my college transcript to tell for sure. I'd be interested in finding out how my vocabulary compares to that of an average 10 year old native speaker.

I've been translating song lyrics for most of those ten years, as my only real translation practice. I did once translate Yu-Gi-Oh! as I watched it with my husband (I'd seen it twice all the way through and there was a great deal of repetition in the dialogue), but my first actual attempt at translating a complete episode of anything was a disappointment. There were words I'd never heard before, spoken so quickly I didn't have a chance at looking them up, even if they'd been in the dictionary. My speed was nothing impressive - more than a week for a single episode - and the group I was translating for quickly decided to go looking someplace else.

It's probably been 4 years since then, and despite the lack of any real practice in between, my Japanese has somehow improved so much from simply watching anime that I can now finish the translation of an entire episode of Pandora Hearts in less than 10 hours. Granted this last one was a little shorter on dialogue than the one before it, and I've read ahead in the manga (and also have the raw to use for reference), but that's still an amazing leap for me.

The real surprise, however, came this morning as I was opening up the shop. I'm one of those people who thinks aloud when I'm alone, and I frequently do this in Japanese as it's my only speaking practice. I've long attempted to perfect my accent when, after saying something aloud, I'll realize that my inflection is completely off. But this time, my tongue took over and filled in the gap that even my conscious mind has never been able to bridge. My inflection was perfect. Because I'd heard the phrase so many times my subconscious took over.

Now, I realize that my vocabulary is far from complete, and even familiar words are nearly incomprehensible to me when Alice speaks them as B. Rabbit. But I've finally broken a barrier I've been banging my head against for ten years. That's a greater accomplishment to me than any number of overnight translations.

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