Next stop for the gang was the first of many scheduled language classes. The sisters and elders filed in selecting seats, which were situated in a semi circle. Each desk had a large textbook, Japanese Hymnal and English/Japanese Dictionary placed on it. At the front of the small room, the chalkboard had the words: "Elder Jones" neatly printed on it. Shortly after the group settled in a young man, probably mid twenties arrived and stood in front of the young men and women.
Oh no, it's just like Conley's speed speak.
Good evening. My name is Elder Jones.
Wait, what? All that was just that? Oh no!
I am your Japanese language teacher.
Ok that one seemed a little shorter.
Hamm Chorro (looking at an Elder to his left in the circular arch of students) Anatawainotte kudasaimasu ka?
Chorro, that's what the guys are called - that's Elder! Woo hoo!
Elder Hamm, will you lead us in a prayer?
After the short prayer, Jones had everyone opened their books to the first page. Oh good, at least it's in English, and the pictures are cute. I can do this.
"Japanese is a difficult language."
No, don't say that. Willow continued to listen but looked ahead a bit in the textbook.
"I'm not going to lie to you, but if you study hard, apply yourself, and use the things we teach you here with consistency you will be prepared when you leave to serve your Heavenly Father in sharing the gospel with those you meet."
Jones words barely registered as she suddenly fixed her eyes upon the next page she came to.
Willow found herself staring at the Japanese alphabet and froze. I'm gonna have to learn that? And that's the easy stuff. Oi vey. Focus Willow; don't want to miss anything important.
Jones continued. "Nihongo only has 107 syllables. English has over 2000. Pronunciation is the easy part. You won't run into rules like "I" before "E" except after "C" and neighbor and weigh or different spellings for the same sounding word, like see and sea, made or maid, new, knew and gnu.
"There are different types of Japanese writing: Kanji, Katakana, and Hiragana. There are several thousand Kanji which represent ideas, Katakana is the block lettering which is normally used to write out foreign words, and what you will be learning here is Hiragana."
I'm gonna need some serious self butt kicking to get me through this. I'm already exhausted and I've only been here five minutes.
She looked around the room at the studious faces. Six Elders: Hamm, Stevens, Brooks, and Michaels sat to the right of Smith and Kitchen, to her left, Gardner and Frye. These and the other new group, Maclay's group, were her study buddies. They would sink or swim together, well not really "together" together, but it was gonna be really hard not talking to people if they didn't learn stuff at the same pace.
"AAH EEEE OOOO EH OH" - The sets of companions sat together practicing their newly acquired skills. Willow was amused by the pneumonic memory aids - "mu" looked like a cow; "chi" a cheerleader, "mo" you have to catch mo fish on your hook. Those would be the only ones she really remembered when it was time to test her skills.
While the others were still practicing their writing skills, her mind wandered back to her early thoughts of Scoobie Doo when she'd been called to Japan.
Willow kept looking at the chart for the "B" sound.
Clearly "Willow" was not going to be as hard as Rosenberg. I knew they didn't have any "L"s. But come on "B" there's got to be a "B." I guess Sister Little Tree or Red is what I'll be. Oh, I can look it up now. She thumbed over to the appendix, the glossary, the vocabulary - no red.
Oh, colors, here it is page 551. Apparently, it's not that important. Let's see: weather, shopping - argh don't remind me. Okay, colors: alphabetical would be nice, ok: akai. That's easy I can remember that. Huh, look at that, green is a noun - midori, isn't that like alcohol or something. Blue is just a (dv) like the others. Is that like a descriptive verb? What, they couldn't say adjective. Oh. Oops. Missing, class. Stop it.
"In Japanese there are not vowels and consonants per se there are syllables. The chart is organized for you by sounds and consonants, but there are variations. You will see the soft pronunciation of these syllables is marked by two hash marks that look sort of like right quotes. The little round circle near the symbol is another variant.
"Generally when converting gaijin (foreign) names to Japanese the block lettering is used. If your name ends in a consonant, or you have two consonant sounds together, you would add a soft "u" to your name. Sister Smith, your name will be pronounced "Sumisu" Shimai. Sister Rosenberg, you'll be Rozenbagu Shimai."
Ro zen ba gu. Hey, that's not so bad, but I'm starting to get hungry. At least they can pronounce me.
"Sister Kitchen, your name will be a little more difficult since there really is not "che" sound. I would recommend you introduce yourself as Kichin Shimai rather than Kitsun. Since many of the words that start Kitsu are associated with strength and not considered very feminine attributes. For example, Kitsui means strong or intense, kitsuen is tobacco, kitsume is a fox or vixen. You don't want to start out a conversation introducing yourself as Sister Vixen by accident. It might damage that first impression."
By the end of class, Willow had sort of learned the Hiragana characters and how to sound out the alphabet. But she had to cheat a little to get them. She even tried to sing the hymn with the group in the hallway after language class ended. Naturally, the hymnbook was in Hiragana. She wasn't that great of a singer, but the Bible said make a joyful noise unto the Lord and that's just what she did. Orientation was the last time she would sing in English for quite some time.
The hymn sounded more like a mass mumbles and nonsense-but at least it was pretty. She heard a familiar voice in the group and glanced furtively over toward the other sisters in the crowd at the end of the hall. She saw the smile; she saw the joy in her face while she sang and the gleam in the eyes of her newfound friend. Her heart melted.