Monday, January 25, 2010

I would like to embrace the clumsy in me, in everybody.

When your English is still clumsy, and you have a small vocabulary, you have a hard time among the native speakers. The most trying is when you are the single foreigner among the patriots. Worse still, in the English speaking world of the Americas people tend to assume that you are a speaker of their language as a default, regardless of your ethnic origin.

The most difficult task is to carry the conversation in a home party, where nobody pays an extra attention to the fact that you're from a country where English is not the first language. Then you develop a set of skills designed to make life comfortable for you and people around.

For example, you develop a skill in which you divert people's attention and direct the conversation with a short sentence.
It is rather like the technique described by Kurt Vonnegut in his essay "A man without a country." I quote:

As I kid I was the youngest member of my family, and the youngest child in any family is always a jokemaker, because a joke is the only way he can enter into an adult conversation. My sister was five years older than I was, my brother was nine years older than I was, and my parents were both talkers. So at the dinner table when I was very young, I was boring to all those other people. They did not want to hear about the dumb childish news of my days. They wanted to talk about really important stuff that happened in high school or maybe in college or at work. So the only way I could get into a conversation was to say something funny. I think I must have done it accidentally at first, just accidentally made a pun that stopped the conversation, something of that sort. And then I found out that a joke was a way to break into an adult conversation.

Kurt Vonnegut, "A man without a country."

When I was in Vancouver in the summer as I was 15, I tried to get into people's conversation with short jokes or "pointers" that make people take attention and smile. When I look back on my desperate efforts I would like to embrace the clumsy in me, in everybody.


Anonymous said...

making jokes into the adult conversation makes me relucrant too because im not a kid. but if i know good jokes for foreiners, it would be special skill of mine.

Yuzu said...

When I was 24, I went to stay Australia and America for 1year and few month.

>As I kid I was the youngest member of my family, and the youngest child in any family is always a jokemaker, because a joke is the only way he can enter into an adult conversation.

I understand it.

But I also want to make something better signal in each air. It works sometimes only sometimes?
I will think about a decisive speaker with foreigners.

Anonymous said...

Once in a while I can intentionally say or do things that make others laugh out loud, but "once in a while" is as far as I can go. My utmost respect goes to the very talented comedians for their intellectual wisdom and instinctive ability to seize the situation ("reading the air" as we now say here), seize the moment at the exact right timing to say or do the exact right thing with such sophisticated precision in words, tone, expression, perspective, insight, etc. Unlike sports, art or whatever other forms of human expressions and performances, they cannot miss. If they miss, they die instantly. No second shots. No new games.

T.Sadahiro said...

Dear Mr. Mogi.
Understanding was a very interesting article though it was me who had relied on the translation site also today though it was not able to be done all.
Moreover, a nature glad somehow to know the teacher also had the transition machine is done.
It is likely to participate in the home party like the election my.. [tasuki] "Only Japanese can be spoken" because of the defender instinct strong.

砂山鉄夫(Tetsu Sunayama) said...

I read this Vonnegut's essay for the first time in your latest book" Reading, Writing, Talking and Brain".

This book brought me a lot of clues to think about English, Japanese and other linguistic matters.

One of them, you say "That's Okay you are a Impressionist while listening to English. "

This phrase encouraged me, because I am exactly a Impressionist while listening to English and writing English like this. And I must be so even while listening to Japanese and writing Japanese too.

But,I noticed one thing recently. Yes, possibly I might not be a Impressionist but a surrealist...

Anonymous said...

I truly enjoy your phrase "... embrace the clumsy in me, in everybody" because ever since I could remember I have been clumsy at everything. But instead of feeling embarrassed about being clumsy I accept it. Often I wonder why others feel embarrassed about being clumsy because to me the act of feeling embarrassed is like denying one's true self for the sake of convention. Embracing my clumsiness has allowed me to inspire others and accomplish many great things. I think being clumsy is a natural part of life, as it is the basis of learning. Hopefully others will decide to embrace the clumsy in themselves and others too...