Obies Using Languages: Franklin Sussman ’17

Franklin is a senior majoring in East Asian Studies and minoring in Geology, who studied abroad in Kyoto, Japan this past year.

I spent last year studying in Kyoto, Japan. Spending time with my wonderful host family made for both the most valuable Japanese practice and the most heartfelt memories of my year. They each used a good amount of the regional Kansai dialect, which I had made sure to brush up on before hand, but not so much that I couldn’t understand them. My host dad mumbled a bit and spoke quietly which made for great listening practice, while my host mom had a colorful and elegant vocabulary from which I learned many polite and sophisticated phrases. Most of all, though, my talkative, thirteen year old host brother gave me the best speaking practice I have ever had. Just starting middle school, he was an authority on all colloquialisms, teaching me new ones and pointing out ones in my homework that are now outdated. We also grew close by spending a lot of time watching TV and playing video games. I distinctly remember coming back to class after my first week-long break, which was spent playing a cooperative video game every day with my host brother, feeling like I had improved more in a short amount of time than ever before. Playing this game involved a wide range of vocabulary to talk about the controls, game mechanics, and even the convoluted fantasy plot, as well as a great deal of mental agility in order to discuss strategies in fast-paced battles. I expected the most stressful yet rewarding times using Japanese would be in school or at stores, but it turned out to be right in my room at home.

Still, though I was learning more and more Japanese every day through immersion, I was searching for an even more exciting and new language experience. Having just taken the ABCs of ASL ExCo at Oberlin the semester before, I started looking into ways to study Japanese Sign Language. It turned out that Kyoto has the largest network in Japan of resources for Deaf people and community groups practicing Japanese Sign Language, and I promptly started going to the weekly meetings in the part of Kyoto I lived in. The group was about one third Deaf fluent signers and two thirds hearing people who had come to learn. Each week involved working through a sheet with example sentences written around a theme as well as random vocab at the end for us to make our own sentences. This made it easy to jump in with no prior experience and already learn useful vocabulary, but it meant that it took me an incredibly long time to figure out some of the basics. For example, it wasn’t until right before I returned to the US that I finally memorized all of the 46 syllables for fingerspelling. Anyway, I started out being nervous every week that I would inevitably embarrass myself at the meetings, but by the end of my time there I had made a huge group of friends and was having valuable conversations every week in Japanese Sign Language. The most interesting thing I learned is that Japanese Sign Language has a lot of regional variation, just like Japanese. I hope I can continue studying it if I return to Japan in the future.


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