Language Is Friendship and Familiarity

A language is a person.

Of course, it’s not a real person. You can’t see or touch Japanese.

But she exists.

She exists just like Harry Potter exists.

You don’t learn a language, you get used to it. When someone is used to something, what do we call them? We call them an “expert”, we say they’re “good at” it. We say they’re familiar with the object in question.

Familiar. Like family.

So not only is the Japanese language a person, not only is she a friend, she’s also family. Adoptive family, since she has no DNA of her own per se…but family nonetheless. Now, it turns out that most of her close friends and family were born and raised in Japan. And most of her close friends have known her since they were babies.

But that’s nothing more than a coincidence of convenience; those people just happened to be in places where it was cheap and easy to hang out with Japanese a lot. In no way does it mean that Japanese couldn’t become friends — family — with you. Plenty of her family members aren’t Japanese at all — see TV for details. In fact, because so many books and audiovisual recordings of Japanese have been produced – Japan’s is one of the most “media-productive” societies in the world – you don’t even need to know her other friends in order to become friends with her. Just like you don’t have to have met J. K. Rowling in order to like Harry Potter. The abundance of Japanese media is our very own coincidence of convenience. If you don’t believe me, try getting Hindi manga. More speakers, sure, but (despite the movie industry) less manga.

Remember, though — even family can become estranged; even friends can become strangers. So Japanese is your friend, Japanese is your family. But guess what? If you really want to get close…if you want her to tell you all her secrets…if you want to be finishing her sentences before she even starts saying them…then you’re going to need to hang out…a lot. A…lot. You’ll become each other’s shadow, as they say.

If you want Japanese to trust you, you’re going to have to trust her and treat her well. Would you let a close friend, a member of your family, stand out in the cold, starving to death while you ate dinner inside? As if you were some sort of wicked fairytale stepmother? No, you’d invite her to the table, wouldn’t you? Invite Japanese to your dinner table. Let her sleep in your bed (like the Herlihy boy…lol). Go on errands with her. Hang out together. Become tight.

You don’t learn a language. You get used to it. And you can’t get used to something you’re always avoiding. You can’t get used to something you’re barely ever around. You can’t get used to something you only see once in a while when the guilt hits, like some kind of deadbeat dad. What, you think you can just send Japanese $5 on her birthday and everything’ll be cool?

You can’t really become friends if you don’t play and do silly things together. You can’t do serious things together before you do fun things together. And you can’t reasonably expect Japanese to do you big economic favors if she barely knows who you are.

You cannot just start out being serious with Japanese. You have to earn the right by goofing around first. So hang out. Play. Enjoy your nth childhood together. She loves being with her friends and family: she lives through them. And she’s always looking to make another friend. She’d love to have another baby sibling or child or whatever. It would make her day. Go on. Do something stupid together.


  18 comments for “Language Is Friendship and Familiarity

  1. September 4, 2010 at 01:07

    Actually, I’ve recently (as in this week) decided to play around with making Japanese a “person”. To give Japanese a physical presence.
    Here’s what I’m talking about:

    and if you’re curious there’s a more detailed description located in a link at the bottom of that page.

    Hope it helps give people a few ideas. ♫

  2. Drewskie
    September 4, 2010 at 03:21

    I really like this post. Nice, Khatz. :)

  3. nippyon
    September 4, 2010 at 03:26

    Really cool idea. Are you thinking of making one open to the public where other ppl can grow/hatch their Japanese language eggs?

  4. anonymous
    September 4, 2010 at 04:32

    I have tried to learn Hindi and you are very right about Hindi media. There are movies… but nothing else. It’s the sole reason I switched to learning a different language.

  5. Lex
    September 4, 2010 at 10:24

    I have to say that this is one of my favorite analogies for anything ever.

  6. September 4, 2010 at 13:01


    Yes, the thought has crossed my mind! I have some ideas that I think would be simple yet really sweet and something people could enjoy!
    The only problem is my experience in creating something like that. I have to find someone who I could either work with to produce such a program, or have someone point me in the right direction on how to do it myself.
    You’re welcome to try to recreate what I’ve got. Maybe even make it better!

  7. Chiro-kun
    September 4, 2010 at 14:40

    >>If you don’t believe me, try getting Hindi manga.

  8. Chiro-kun
    September 4, 2010 at 14:52

    >>There are movies… but nothing else.
    Bad ones at that. I mean, seriously, when you’re churning out more than 1000 movies per year it’s hard to get creative.

  9. nippyon
    September 5, 2010 at 10:45

    I want to eat some sweets with Japanese! Anyone know a good recipe w/ anko or azuki beans in it?(just picked up some at the grocery store)

    September 5, 2010 at 19:57

    >You can’t really become friends if you don’t play and do silly things together.
    How could I have forgotten about that? Thanks for reminding to have more fun ;)

  11. sdc
    September 7, 2010 at 02:49

    I’ve never thought of anthropomorphising Japanese in that way before.
    That’s really opened my eyes and I’m thinking about all of this in a completely different way now.

    Thank you, Khatz.

  12. September 7, 2010 at 15:09

    I love your style (as well as the content) so as a language learning exercise I’m translating this article into Korean. ㅋㅋㅋ Although I”m finding it much harder than I would have thought, I’m learning a lot through it.

  13. December 1, 2010 at 04:01

    Thank you very much for this post. I wish to share it with every language learner I know. It’s so important to enjoy a language! And experience that language on a daily basis too.

    I fell away from this blog for a long time, because I disagreed with some things. But I’m back and reading, and your posts are interesting. I bookmarked it. I’m looking forward to catching up on posts I’ve missed out on. No person is completely right about anything, but you are inspiring. Without having read your blog, my Japanese wouldn’t be what it is today. Even if it was as good as it is today, I’m sure I wouldn’t enjoy it as much. Thanks.

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