Having lived in Thailand for 10 years, and not speaking a word of Thai for anypoint of the 10 years, not knowing the local language has been a norm for me. Now living in Japan, this fact still hasn’t changed, yet it has allowed me to appreciate the ideas of different forms of Japanese works without taking it for the normal, as I would if I was younger, and without the ability to understand it when it’s a literary work.
With it being 3 years since I moved to Japan, there have been numerous times where my friends and I have been karaoking. Most of the time to western songs but often songs sung in Japanese too. This ideas of karaoking has taught me two things. The first being that social norms cannot be learnt through pure internet research in a short time, and that to fully understand a society, or even idea, one needs to explore it either in depth or become familiar with it. When I first came to Japan in 2015 I always thought the culture ran on the salarymen that crammed onto the train to work every morning. However, I learnt that an activity like karaoking is ingrained in the Japanese culture too, which took me by shock to begin with.
The second being that entertainment can happen in any language. Prior to moving here permanently I was only exposed to three languages, Thai, Spanish, and English. Not knowing any Thai I never thought twice about what people said to one another as I had no reason to. When friends spoke to each other I would faze out for a bit until they came back to English. The same could be said for Spanish, except that I was able to use it as a tool for communicating, or at least was trying to learn how to. However, after karaoke experiences with my friend group everything has changed. I began to realize that language can be used for entertainment and expression, not just to tell someone something blankly. And I started enjoying entertainment in other languages, like movies and songs, which I went from exclusively English music to a collection with over 10 songs, which I understand only 2.
While it’s easy to say I can communicate between cultures, mainly through hand signals when approached by someone that doesn’t know English here, it’s difficult for someone like me who solely speaks English. The IB has given me a platform for an introduction to another language, Spanish, but more in an academic manner. The special side of language and intercultural communication is that of when one is integrated into a culture and can transfer knowledge between two.