I registered a while ago to take a very hard Japanese test. But, my plan has backfired a little. In the beginning, I hoped that everyone would realize how impossible it was for me to pass it and that they would all tell me so. I function *extremely* well when everyone tells me my efforts are pointless because my task is impossible. Sometimes I think only impossible things are worth doing...I'm not sure what that says about me.
But the opposite has been happening! And this is Japanese culture for you...I explain to them that I have to learn 700 kanji in three months (to say nothing of studying grammar), and they become very encouraging. It is the most bizarre thing in the world...they should be saying, "Pamela, you stupid idiot, why are you wasting your time studying 700 kanji?!"
Instead, I find that they are suddenly helpful about my Japanese studying. People who used to look cross-eyed and exhausted the moment I say, "I have a Japanese question..." are suddenly asking me how the studying is going, looking at my flashcards over my shoulder, marveling at the words I am using and giving me examples of them without me even needing to ask.
Etsuko has begun praying that I will understand the test. Now, normally I am in favor of praying, but I keep telling her, "It's no use! Don't trouble God with whether I pass this test or not!"
Aaron, who understands a little at least, will then chime in, "I don't know...you might need prayers to at least understand the instructions!" :-)
But Etsuko continues her praying. The other day she told me she'd been praying about it just that morning and then wondered to herself, "Why, I wonder?" I wonder too. And I realize that somewhere inside of me, something feels like God helping me on a test is cheating. And I would struggle a lot to praise God if I passed the test, miracle though it would be. (I took a shortened form of it to practice...I think I got a whopping 15% on the reading section, and most of the questions I answered correctly were luck). All in all, I would be hesitant to praise...fearful that I might encourage the relationship with God that so many have of "Dear God, please let me pass this test, amen."
God's help or not, passing the test in general would feel dishonest to me...I'm good at test taking, but this test is a high enough level to potentially help me get a non-English teaching job in Japan if I passed it, and anyone who has seen me trying to communicate with my pastor knows my Japanese is not at that level.
But it's interesting to me how my Japanese language striving has suddenly been made culturally legitimate because I am taking a test. And it's fascinating to me that even people like my Japanese teacher, who knows just how crazy this endeavor of mine is, will only go so far as to give me a book to practice out of and say, "Please tell me if you don't understand anything...though I think there will be many places."
Still, I am learning lots of kanji. Not nearly as many as are necessary (I'd have to learn 70 a week), but I'm learning to read for real now! I like knowing how to read.