25 April, 2009

How flexible are you?

The other night at Curves (my gym) one of the trainers was giving out slips of paper detailing some changes during the next month in opening times. Just a simple slip of white paper, covered in black type, all in Japanese. They are very kind to me at the gym and knowing my reading isn't so good, so she attempted to convey to me verbally the essence of the message, to be sure that I understood it. She then apologised for any inconvenience, but I replied trying to say that my schedule is a bit flexible. Unfortunately I couldn't remember the word for "flexible". So I did what any foreigner with a bit of Japanese knowledge will do, and I Japanized the English word. To understand this you have to know that Japanese is a syllabic language. That means that they don't construct words with single letters like in English, they construct words with syllables. This works fine, it really does, until they try to import foreign words. Just like when we try to read Welsh words which have not enough vowels, the Japanese panic a little when they see two consonants together. Then they insert vowels in the middle and on the end in most cases! So McDonalds becomes an unweildy "Macudonarudo". An easier example would be "beetle" becomes "beetoru". They also have only five vowel sounds and some English consonants don't have an equivalent (for example "r" and "l" come out the same). However, once you put a word through this filter, they can actually pronounce it and remember it. Many, many English (and other language) words appear in Japanese and make foreigners' lives easier. They are even so kind as to use a different alphabet to distinguish between Japanese words and foreign-originated words. The problem comes when you cannot remember which words have been adopted and which have not. Occasionally you get a surprise when you use the Japanese word and they come out with an English-type equivalent. A long explanation, I'm sorry. I guess this story is not so easy to understand, after all! Anyway, they didn't know what "furekishiburu" was - and neither would you, unless you read the above or have a knowledge of Japanese. After some explanation and gestures, they figured out what I meant and someone immediately said, "ahh, furekishiburu taimu". Can you translate? Yes - "flexible time". They had a phrase including the word, but not the adjective itself! Ah, the fun time we have living in a non-English speaking country. It sure makes you "furekishiburu"!

4 comments:

Mrs Q said...

Yes it's interesting to look at how other languages work. I like French idioms like "to be with the angels is the French equivalent of "being on cloud nine". And RYC if you want to do more of those tagging things consider yourself tagged adn do this one:
http://sinksmummy.blogspot.com/2008/04/tagged.html#comments

Anika Qing said...

*grin* Sounds like when I try to French-ify English words...generally I just add an "ique" or "ment" on the end there somewhere. Sometimes I hit on the correct word, but very rarely...

(Though the French word for "flexible" is spelled exactly the same way as the English - just pronounced differently.)

Tim and Susan said...

Good for you to take time away to work out and be healthy...I don't think I did that enough when my big boys were little, and everyone suffered for it.

We often just put the English word into katakana if we are stuff...how funny that it actually works sometimes.

Happy packing!!

Wendy said...

The gym has been great. While my 'statistics' haven't changed much, my energy and stamina have increased. And, yes, it gives me some time out after a busy, children-intensive day that benefits us all. Additionally it is a good time to pray for some special girl friends who are struggling. Occasionally I get some good Japanese speaking practise as well! All good, as they say. Oh, yes - I get to miss out on the fore mentioned stressful bath time. Smile.