Humor of Japanese Vocabulary Cards

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.”


Humor of Speaking Japanese Slowly is more from David Sedaris.

Humor of Japanese Placement Exam is more from David Sedaris.

Humor of Japanese School is more from David Sedaris.

Humor of Speaking Japanese with Skill is more from David Sedaris.

Humor of Japanese Indirectness is more from David Sedaris.

Humor of the Last Day of Japanese School is more from David Sedaris.

Return to Humor of Language Learners.


Looking for something else?

Use this search feature to find it:

Custom Search


Know a Funny Story About Language Learning?

Share your humorous stories about language learning with the world.

Everyone has a few tales to tell. Tell us yours!

Anything that happened to you, or a friend. Something you heard, or read.

Any humorous stories about using foreign languages on your travels.

Any foreign signs mislead you? Any tangled translations seen abroad?

Your name will be on the story, so you may become famous on the internet.

Enter a Title for YOUR Humorous Story:

Tell Us YOUR Funny Story about Language Learning![ ? ]

Author Information (optional)

To receive credit as the author, enter your information below.

Your Name

(first or full name)

Your Location

(e.g., City, State, Country)

Submit Your Contribution

Check box to agree to these submission guidelines.

(You can preview and edit on the next page)


Easiest Languages have thousands of words similar to English, so:

“This is The Easiest Way to Begin Learning Foreign Languages.”

Helping More People Begin Foreign Languages The Easiest Way.