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“Yagate Kanashiki Gaikokugo” (“The Sad Foreign Language”) by Haruki Murakami

“Yagate Kanashiki Gaikokugo” (“The Sad Foreign Language”) by Haruki Murakami

This book is a collection of Murakami’s essays on languages and cultures. He wrote these essays while in Princeton in the 1990s. At that time, he was a visiting scholar at Princeton teaching Japanese literature. He expresses his views on living in a foreign country, foreign language acquisition, and cultural differences between the U.S and Japan.

One of his commentaries that I strongly related to was on a merit of living in a foreign country. He writes “One of the advantages would be to realize that you’re just nobody and a stranger. Having an opportunity to be stripped of social status and just to become a ‘naked’ you is in a way a precious experience”.

Now, living in Taiwan, I feel exactly the same. I sometimes feel myself becoming a 3-year-old boy when I don’t understand a thing that a shopkeeper says in Chinese. Yes, I feel helpless most of the time, but at the same time I feel free in a roundabout way. Realizing that I’m just a nobody gives me strength and lightness.

Living here and learning Chinese from scratch reminds me once again of how wonderful it is to learn a foreign language and to be able to communicate with local people in that language. I had totally forgotten about this fulfilling feeling.

We need to get out of our comfort zone.

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