Just next to the Liberty Building used to be the old gymnasium where I took my A Level exams. So in 31 years I've moved about 50 feet.
I'm studying Linguistics now at the University, and we've been reading about Linguistic Determinism, the idea that the language you know affects how and what you can think. I've been taking Japanese as a Discovery Module, along with Spanish.
Taking Japanese has been a humbling experience. I've always been quite good at languages, as long as I could read them. The mixture of Kanji, Hiragana and Katakana that make up Japanese writing have left me at times feeling like I was 4 again, before I could read English. Certainly in the Japanese exam I took before Christmas I felt illiterate, because I could barely read or write anything.
Usually with languages, it's the speaking part I find the most difficult, but with Japanese it's the other way round, because at least with speaking I don't have to read anything.
As part of my exam last week, I had to do a mini presentation. I was allowed to take in 3 photographs to help me.
Despite my struggles with Japanese, my teacher Sensei Manami has always been on hand with good advice. When I told her before Christmas I was really struggling, I expected some sort of soft soap and sympathy approach, but her advice boiled down to just two words: work harder! It was good advice. Her advice before the oral exam last week was to realise that we only know a limited amount of Japanese, so the best thing is to construct sentences out of the Japanese we know, rather than trying to translate our English into Japanese. We just don't know enough to do that.
I chose to do my mini presentation about my Lejog trip of 2014. Constrained by lingustic determinism this is what I said.
Kore wa shashin san-mai desu. Kono shashin ni wa watashi no jitensha desu. Ni-sen ju-yo-nen ni nagai ryoko jitensha de ikimashita
Here are 3 pictures. In this picture is my bike. In 2014 I went on a long journey by bike.
Kono murasaki iro no gyo sen-mairu deshita. sen roppyaku kirometeru. mainichi hyaku kirometeru. muzakashikatta desu. kantana dewa arimasen.
This purple line 1000 miles is. 1600 kilometres. 100 kilometres each day. It was difficult. It was not easy.
Hitori ikimasen deshita. Issho tomodachi to ikimashita. Ju-hachi nin deshita.
I did not go alone. Together with friends I went. 18 people there were.
Kochira wa Erwan san. Watashi no tomodachi desu. Mareishia-jin desu. Isha desu. Byoin no Sukoterandu de shigoto o shimasu.
Here is Erwan. My friend. He is from Malaysia. He is a doctor. Works in hospital in Scotland.
Nimotsu wa basu de ikimashita. Kochira wa untenshu deshita. Namae wa Chris desu.
Luggage went by bus. Here is the driver. Name is Chris.
Ju-nana yobi deshita. Tenki subarashikatta desu. Hitobito subarashikatta desu. Totemo tanoshikatta desu.
17 days it was. Weather was wonderful. People were wonderful. It was a lot of fun.
I was pleased with what I managed to say. It didn't come anywhere close to describing the experience in full. For that you can look here I used my mother tongue for that, and it contains a lot more detail. Chris was so much more than a driver, for example. But limited as it was by Linguistic Determinism, it did at least contain some fundamental truths.
I may not have moved very far in 31 years. On Thursday I was sat doing an exam just next door to where I've taken lots of other exams before. From my entrance exam in 1979 to my final A Level exam in 1986. You might say that although in Time I'm going in a straight line, in Space I'm going round in circles. But at least I'm still learning. And I'm still trying to describe the world as best I can through the languages I know.