ā Latinā, ad Nihongam

by Bryson Torgovitsky

For the past three years, I have attended Washington Latin DC Public Charter School. In those three years, I have taken four levels of Latin class – one of which was a complete level done over summer vacation – and scored a perfect score on the National Latin Exam in my Sophomore Year. However, the techniques which allowed me to excel in Latin are less applicable in Japanese Plus.

Modern English takes multiple morphemes from Latin, which are used to form English words. For example, the word commiserate takes a prefix, root, and suffix from the Latin language. “Com” which means “with,” “misera” which means sadness, and “te” which signifies a group action. As a whole, “commiserate” means to express sympathy or sadness with others. Being able to reverse-engineer English into Latin made memorization of Latin words easier.

On the other hand, Japan is formed from Chinese so Japanese words come from different morphemes than English words. I have no background in Chinese, and over the course of centuries Chinese and Japanese have diverged so greatly that I am not sure if a Chinese language background would even be useful. Since I cannot use my “reverse-engineering” methods as I did with Latin, I have had to develop new strategies. Luckily, my uncle Steve has begun teaching me the methods that he used when he was first learning Japanese. His method involves taking an English phrase and blending the sounds of the words until it becomes the Japanese phrase you want! They do not have to be phrases with the same meanings, for example the English words “Thinking desk” can become the Japanese “Genki desu” (I am well) after some blending. I am hopeful that my uncle’s blending method will help me to excel as much in Japanese Plus as my reverse-engineering method did in my Latin class.

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