Business Japanese makes you feel stupid.

The various ways to answer the phone. Maybe I'll just forget to take any calls.
The various ways to answer the phone. Maybe I’ll just forget to take any calls.

I’ve been learning Japanese for almost 8 years now, and even now, I feel stupid when I try to answer a call in the office.

So early last month, I decided it was time for me to go back to class after a year of complacency. If I’m still failing the proficiency exams – twice – then why am I paying someone to help me fail?

This new language school required a placement test before it would decide whether taking the advanced or business Japanese classes would be appropriate for me. By some miracle, after several emails and a call with the school’s director, I actually made it to the business Japanese class – a class that required a minimum of N1 or N2-level certification. And I don’t have both.

A miracle indeed. Sometime earlier last week, I had cold feet about attending the class. But while I hadn’t committed to anything, I got a call on Monday from the school saying that the class needed a minimum of five students, otherwise it would be postponed until more students applied. Apparently, I was the fifth student who would complete the class.

I couldn’t back out. The guilty part of me decided to go ahead and experience the class for myself. I was a little skeptical as I had read that the director was going to teach this class, and calling her a feisty one would be a huge understatement. But maybe going through eight weeks of hell would be worth it.

The class lasted for an hour and a half, but it felt so much longer, and way more intense than any of the other classes I’d previously attended at the last school I was at. Miss M was more than feisty. She was a perfectionist who wanted to get things right at all times. She had none of the nurturing characteristics typical of a teacher. Imagine a circus trainer with a whip on hand. Now, imagine that person with short cropped hair dyed maroon. wearing glasses and dressed in black, like a principal who was once a rocker chick who’d seen better days.

My first class in business Japanese ended with sweat pouring behind my back, wondering if I’ll ever keep up. I have to remember the polite forms, when to use -san (apparently you don’t use this all the time on the phone. For example, if someone asked for Yamada-san, you don’t respond with Yamada-san. Just Yamada would suffice. Especially if Yamada is senior in rank), you can’t keep the conversation hanging with -ga…, because it implies that the caller should complete the sentence for you, which is not polite. Instead, if I were to say if Yamada is out for lunch, and will return at  2pm, then I have to say “Yamada wa tadaima shokuji ni dete orimashite, ni ji ni wa modorimasu.” (山田は只今食事に出ておりまして、2時には戻ります。) Then, there’s deciding which response to give if said person is away, but whether he’s still in the office (社内) or out of the office (社外). I wish there was something as simple as “He’s away from his desk at the moment.” That could mean anything, and I won’t be held responsible for where the intended recipient is (so I make a terrible secretary. Sue me.).

Another seven weeks more, and we’ll see how confident I am after this. I feel far less confident about doing well for this class than when I first started taking Japanese 101. But then again, nothing that a little effort won’t help. But if I don’t last, I’ll swear off classes forever.


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