Humor of Japanese Vocabulary Cards is adapted from a humorous book by David Sedaris: ‘When You Are Engulfed in Flames’, with this part about struggling to learn Japanese.
Here is an excerpt from the chapter The Smoking Section, pages 263-264:
This (first Japanese-language CD) led me to a second, much more serious instructional program – forty-five CDs as opposed to just one.
The speakers were young, a guy and a girl, and they didn’t slow down for anybody.
The idea here was to listen and repeat—no writing whatsoever—but that, to me, sounded too good to be true.
It wasn’t advised, but at the end of each lesson I’d copy all the new words and phrases onto index cards.
These allowed me to review,
and, even better, to be quizzed.
Hugh has no patience for that sort of thing, so I had my sisters Amy and Lisa do it. The two of them came to Paris for Christmas, and at the end of every day I’d hand one or the other of them my stack of cards.
“All right, “Lisa might say. “How do you ask if I’m a second grade teacher?”
“I haven’t learned that yet. If it’s not written down, I don’t know how to say it.”
“Oh, really?” She’d then pull a card from the stack and frown at it. “All right, say this: ‘As for this afternoon, what are you going to do?’”
“Gogo wa, nani o shimasu ka?”
“’What DID you do this afternoon?’ Can you say that in Japanese?”
“Well, no –”
“Can you say that you and your older sister saw a bad movie with a dragon in it? Can you at least say ‘dragon’?”
“I see,” she said, and as she reached for another card, I felt a mounting hopelessness.
It was even worse when Amy quizzed me.
“How do you ask someone for a cigarette?”
“I don’t know.”
“How do you say, ‘I tried to quit (smoking), but it’s not working’?”
“I have no idea.”
“Say, ‘I’ll give you a blow job if you’ll give me a cigarette.’”
“Just stick to the index cards.”
“Say, ‘Goodness, how fat I’ve become! Can you believe how much weight I’ve gained since I quit smoking’?”
“Actually,” I said, “I think I’ll just do this on my own.”