Mastery of Language Takes a Lifetime

January 22, 2012

Unlocking Word Meanings
Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

1. fascinating (adj.)  [fas-uh-ney-ting] – very interesting; attention-getting
Example:  The fireworks show at the park was fascinating.

2. set foot (idiom) [set foot] –to enter a place; to go to a place
Example: I felt both scared and excited when I first set foot in college.

3. proficient (adj.) [pruh-fish-uhnt] –  skilled or knowledgeable in something
Example: Her proficient English allowed her to read international newspapers.

4. pictograph (n.) [pik-tuh-graf, -grahf] – a picture, drawing or symbol that represents a word or idea
Example:   Signs with pictographs are used in many public places to give information.

5. rejoice (v.) [ri-jois- to be glad or happy; to take delight in something
Example: The members of the singing choir rejoiced right after they won the contest.

Read the text below.

After three decades of studying Japanese, a native English speaker finds to be one of the most fascinating kanji characters with its many different meanings. 
Mary Sisk Noguchi, an American living in Japan and a former professor at Meijo University, said that she used the character when she first set foot in a language school. She was taught that she was the gakusei, (学生) which means “student”, and her teacher the sensei (先生).

 The character also represents "birth".  She soon realized this after receiving tanjōbi  (誕生日) cards on her birthday. She later became proficient in saying “Nōsukaroraina shū de umaremashita.” (ノースカロライナ州で生まれました), or   “I was born in North Carolina.” because many Japanese friends had asked where she was born.

Another basic meaning of the character is "life" as expressed in the words jinsei  (人生 – a person’s life) and issho (一生 – one lifetime).  It can also refer to other forms of life as used in the terms seibutsu (生物- organism) and seitai (生態- ecology).  Other words associated with “life” are seikatsu (生活) or “livelihood”, and kōsei (厚生), meaning “health”.

As traces its origin from an ancient Chinese pictograph of a growing plant, it could also mean "grow" as well as "bear fruit".  Noguchi better understood this when her son rejoiced and shouted “Natta!” (「生った!」), translated as “It bore fruit!", referring to his mini-tomato plant project for grade school.

She recently discovered a new meaning of this character when her now-teenage son came home one day exclaiming chikushō, the equivalent of “damn” in English. In Kanji, chikushō translates as “beast”, a far less offensive and, to Noguchi, far more forgivable word than what American teenagers use to express their frustration.

With an estimated 200 ways to pronounce and its variety of meanings, the character has become a familiar visitor in Noguchi’s life. For this reason, she never gets bored learning the kanji.

Viewpoint Discussion
Enjoy a discussion with your tutor. 

Discussion A

·         What English word do you find the most interesting?
·         Why do you like it? Do you think your native language is difficult for a foreigner to learn? Why?

Discussion B

·         Do you really think that it takes a lifetime to master a language? Why or why not?
·         What are good ways for a person to master a new language? Have you tried doing any of these in your study of English?


January 22, 2012