This past Friday we had a training session on language learning. We talked about what we needed (i.e. accountability, encouragement…etc…), some strategies (working with language helpers, formal lessons, Kumon etc.) as well as some of our experiences: successes, failures, and fears. The trainer on the call indicated that even with his language skills (which are high-level intermediate or advanced) he still fears talking on the phone. We all agreed that the phone is by far the scariest of all interactions.

With the phone people cannot see the expression of complete lostness that one has when entering a conversation. They cannot see the frantic actions of reaching for the electronic dictionary or the complete dismay when one cannot find the word they are saying. You can’t simply hand the dictionary to them to have them enter the word in for you. On the phone, silence often is simply filled with repetition – yet generally speaking silence is a great helper when trying to figure out all the words in a sentence. The phone – right now – is very scary.

I have (on occasion) simply let the phone go to voicemail when it is a phone number I do not know. I figure that if it is important they will leave a message, and a phone number. I can have someone listen to it – and try to explain to me what the message was for and whether I need to call back. There are days when the phone is my nemesis, my greatest fear and the bain of my existance… but then, hey, it’s just a phone right?

I am still very novice when it comes to conversation. In fact I had never had a full conversation in Japanese… until today. Who knew that the verse “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (ESV) would be so true today? I really don’t think that Paul had my circumstances in mind, but I am encouraged today because of the flu! You see I have the flu. I don’t like the flu. I was hoping that it would go away and I could go to church today. But alas I still have it. So I had to use my enemy today: the phone. Last night, as I struggled to sleep, I rehearsed my lines…

“Ohio gozaimas, Pi-ta des” (“Good morning, this is Peter speaking.”)

“Watashi-wa byouki des.” (I am sick.)

“Watashi-wa influenza des.” (“I am flu.” – I didn’t know how to say “I have the flu” but I thought this would get the message across.)

“Watashi-ga kyokai ni ikimasen.” (I cannot come to church.)

I got on the phone to the pastor’s wife and started to say my lines… I forgot the word for church… I panicked… I started using English filler… (“um”… “ah”… ) then Val said the word I needed from the other room (as well as a few grammar tips which I couldn’t process nearly quickly enough) and I finished what I needed to say. Then she asked about Val whether she was sick, and I was able to convey that yes, we are both sick. She laughed (maybe at my Japanese?), and said OK. They use “OK” in Japan… so that doesn’t technically count for English. She said other things which I didn’t understand. She said she understood several times, and then we parted ways.

This, my friends, is my FIRST all-Japanese conversation – and on the phone, no less! It wasn’t long, and had only one topic. It used simple sentences, some of which were grammatically incorrect, but it was all in Japanese and she understood me – and I understood some of what she said! Now that, my friends… that’s success! Now as a reward… I’m going back to bed.

(Picture source)