My daughter’s language learning adventure: a parent’s perspective

An American mother shares her thoughts with us as her daughter goes to learn Japanese in Tokyo

“It is with delight that I write this blog for Cactus. Right from the beginning Cactus helped us embark on my daughter’s journey to Japan with confidence, enthusiasm, and trust that all would be well. And so it has been…

I can’t say that I was not a bit anxious sending Dana across the world on her own to learn Japanese in Tokyo. And, I can’t say that as each day successfully passes I don’t enter the next with some trepidation. That being said, having reached the midpoint of Dana’s stay I am pleased to share this parent’s point of view.

Dana is 19 years old and has always had a passion for Japanese. So when she suggested that she take a leave of absence from college to “find herself” and explore her passion, I was not surprised. In fact, I was impressed that she knew herself well enough to know that she was not feeling passionate at college and needed to explore. The hardest part for me was letting go and having the trust to let her do this exploration on her own.

tokyo-japaneseDana is accomplishing her objective. Through the impressive curriculum and faculty at the language school, Dana’s command of the Japanese language is developing every day. Her classes consist of students from all over the world and so she has expanded her social network with friends from places like Spain and Sweden.

Given the diversity of the students it has been inspiring to hear how friendly, helpful, compassionate, and tolerant everyone has been. This is a snapshot of what I hope for the world.

From what I can tell the school is located in the midst of fun and interesting places for the kids to explore. Having the freedom to get to these places easily has not only added to the “fun factor” but has given Dana the opportunity to practise her Japanese skills with the “locals.”

Do I miss her? Yes, a lot. However technology has softened the blow for both of us. We video-chat just about every day. In fact, we spend more time seeing each other and talking now than we do when we are living under the same roof. And, video- chat gives Dana the opportunity to stay connected to her dogs.

There are 25 days left of Dana’s adventure. I look forward to sharing the rest of the story.”

Dana studied Japanese in Tokyo with Cactus. Cactus offers language courses in over 120 destinations worldwide.

Dana wrote about her initial impressions of Tokyo when she first arrived and about her experiences mid-way through her course. For anyone thinking about taking a language course abroad, Dana’s articles offer a unique insight into life in a foreign country, including the fears and excitement that come with a long-term course. Thank you both to Dana and her mother Robin for contributing to our website, and we hope that future students (and parents of) will find their comments reassuring and useful.

If you have a language learning or language teaching query, please visit our blog or get in contact with us either by Facebook or by Twitter. Alternatively, feel free to contact us here or call to speak to one of our advisors on  .

Business travel: why it pays to prepare yourself both culturally and linguistically

Business Travel: there are lots of good reasons why you should try to pick up some of the local language before you go on a business trip.  First of all, it will help massively with the practicalities of foreign travel – like getting from A to B, whether you’re asking for directions, for tickets or for maps for public transport. It can also be imperative when it comes to getting receipts – not something that many people think of prior to their arrival, but given that the accounts departments in many companies won’t reimburse the cost of anything that you don’t have a receipt for, it’s very important!

Secondly, being able to speak some of the language will go down well with your potential business partners. Being able to order your own food at a business lunch without relying on them will not only impress them in the sense that you’ve been committed enough to learn some of the language, but will also indicate that you are an independent, respectful and intelligent person…all good attributes when it comes to doing business.

Culturally-speaking, doing some degree of training, or reading up on, the culture of the country you are going to can be priceless. Not knowing the cultural norms of your foreign counterparts can lead to embarrassing situations, and sometimes even offence. Not a great start to any potential business partnership…

Some business associates that you meet may be accustomed to western ways, and may be more understanding when it comes to cultural faux-pas, but this cannot be said for all. Often people don’t realise the extent of the cultural differences that can exist between nationalities, or the importance that is placed on certain norms by people from other countries.

To highlight some examples, did you know that….

1. In Japan, the exchanging of business cards involves a degree of ceremony. The card is viewed as a representation of the individual, so should be treated with due respect. Before travelling to Japan, you should make sure that you have plenty of cards, and have one side translated into Japanese.

When exchanging, you should offer your card with both hands, and make sure that you hand it over with the Japanese side up. When accepting a card, always use two hands too.

2. In the Middle East, handshakes are the usual way to greet business associates, and they can last a long time! It should always be the right hand that is used. You may also find that your hand is held while you are led somewhere – this is common in the Middle East and doesn’t have the same connotations as in western cultures.

3. In China, physical contact is not something that is widely accepted – especially when doing business. Be sure not to slap, pat or put your arm around any associate’s shoulders.

Body language and movement are both areas you should be aware of when doing business in China. You should always be calm and controlled. Body posture should always be formal and attentive – this shows you have self-control and are worthy of respect.

4. In India, when negotiating, you should try to avoid high pressure, or aggressive tactics. Criticisms and disagreements should be expressed with diplomatic language as it is considered very impolite to say “no” in Indian society. Listen carefully to Indians’ responses to your questions – if terms such as “maybe” are used then they might be disagreeing.

5. In Italy, hospitality plays a key role in business culture. Invitations to lunch and dinner should be expected when doing business there. Normally, the most ‘important’ guest will sit at the middle of the table or on the right of the host; the host always pays; it is not considered acceptable to take any phone calls at the table.

Cultural training courses are a great way to learn about the cultural etiquette and norms of the country that you’re going to. Programmes can be tailor-made to suit your specific needs, and offer great value for money. To find out more, or enquire about prices please visit the Cactus Language Training website.

Japanese course in Tokyo: blog entry #2

Hello world!

I am currently writing this entry while on a Shinkansen (Japanese Bullet Train), and boy has it been an adventure! I was waiting in line to get on, thinking that since someone was in front of me, there was a rule that you had to wait until they said it was okay to enter the train. Apparently he was just waiting for the next train. So, I missed my train by one second – literally! Fortunately, the staff at the station was very understanding and told me to go on the next one, which would arrive 6 minutes later. I’m now on that train, and it looks like I’m getting to my stop earlier than before! So I’m happy to say that I’m still looking forward to an awesome weekend with some friends that I made on my first trip to Japan.

I’ve been going every weekend to the Cat Café and let me tell you that it really makes the homesickness hit me less. It’s relaxing and enjoyable. I’ve also gotten really good at metal games. This is a big thing in Japan. You put a metal coin into a slot and aim it to get more coins out. Meanwhile you get chances to earn more metals and even a jackpot every now and then. My friend and I have won the Jackpot four times already. All the Japanese stare at us when we do because it’s weird to see a foreigner who actually knows how to play.

I’ve also had fun at the local Mai-Dreamin Maid Café. In case you don’t know what a Maid Café is, I’ll explain. It’s a restaurant-type place that has lots of cute food and all the workers (except those at the bar) are dressed up as lolita maids. Before you eat or drink anything, you “bless” it to make it yummy. It’s all very adorable. Usually the regulars are older Japanese men and the occasional foreigner – but they’ve come to recognize me as a regular too. It’s quite expensive, but lots of fun. It’s a great way to practise Japanese too!

In class, I’ve learned a lot. I now know how to speak informally with friends. When I came I could only speak very formally, so it’s useful. I can’t wait to show my friends what I’ve learned. I also have learned around 130-140 kanji, although I’m not perfect at all of them.

Today I say good-bye to one of my good friends, Jose. He’s from Spain. On Thursday we had a final going away party (although there were many before this). Our teachers even joined us! Can you imagine having beers with a professor? In America that’s kind of taboo, but apparently here it’s okay. It was really fun, and also helped a lot with my speaking. It was almost like I got free one-on-one time with my teachers. I could ask them questions if I didn’t know a word and got to know them a little better.

Anyway, Happy (belated) Thanksgiving!!

Dana is studying Japanese in Tokyo with Cactus. Cactus offers language courses in over 30 languages, in 60 countries and 500 destinations worldwide.

Dana wrote about her initial impressions of Tokyo when she first arrived, and we will be posting another blog entry by Dana at the end of her course. For anyone thinking about taking a language course abroad, this offers a unique insight into life in a foreign country, including the fears and excitement that come with a long-term course. Thank you to Dana for contributing to our website!

Image: The image at the top of this page is of a polaroid that Dana was given at the Maid Café, with Dana on the left and one of the bartenders (who likes to be called “Hisama”) on the right.

Japanese course in Tokyo: blog entry #1

Coming to Japan, there were many things that I was worried about.  As far as I could tell, I was the only American going to Japan through Cactus. Would I fit in? How am I going to communicate with my dorm mates? What will my classes be like? How will I survive three months without my parents or my dogs? Well, a week and a half has gone by and most of these fears have disappeared.

As it ends up, there’s another American in my dorm. Her name is Beverly. She’s really sweet and has helped me out a lot with conversational Japanese already. My other dorm mates are Chinese, but the dorm manager is Chinese and can speak English, so communication isn’t a problem. My room is nice; I have a shelving unit, a hanging unit and a balcony to hang my laundry. That’s something that I didn’t expect. Although driers are available, the Japanese don’t typically use them, so I had to go out and buy laundry clips.

They are very big on being environmentally friendly. Most people use public transportation. They also use cold water to wash their dishes – something that my mother thinks wouldn’t clean the dishes well enough. It’s really hard to throw trash away here because of all of their laws about it. But in my dorm, all of the trashcans are labeled, so it makes it easier.

Classes aren’t that hard either. We’re still in review, so who knows if it’ll pick up in the next week. Instead of switching classrooms and teachers like in America, we have the same teacher all day, but they change depending on the day of the week. We are in the same classroom every day with the same kids. My classmates are cool. They come from all over. The majority of my classmates are from China and France. The other countries represented are Colombia, Spain, Sweden, Australia and Belgium.

I miss my family and my dogs very much, but Beverly showed me this place called Nekorobi. The best way to describe it is a cat café. Literally it’s a room with twelve cats and you pay by the hour to sit, play with them, and eat or drink. It really helped with my pet/home sickness. I think it’s really cool that Japan has things like that and I look forward to discovering more interesting places in Tokyo.

Dana is studying Japanese in Tokyo with Cactus. Cactus offers language courses in over 30 languages, in 60 countries and 500 destinations worldwide.

We will be posting another blog entry by Dana mid-way through her course and at the end of her stay in Japan. For anyone thinking about taking a language course abroad, this offers a unique insight into life in a foreign country, including the fears and excitement that come with a long-term course. Thank you to Dana for contributing to our website!