All the talk about alternate universes in my recent posts on Lost and Fringe brings to mind a little something I wrote, yikes, almost 20 years ago.
I took an intensive Japanese course in the summer of 1991. While about a dozen of us, from high-school students to established professionals, learned the language in an immersion course led by the venerable Eleanor Harz Jorden, about five times as many Japanese graduate students were learning how to teach the same course. They served as aides to our main instructors and were assigned in rotating pairs to each one of us Americans as private tutors. Despite the fact that we were supposed to speak only Japanese with them, even when socializing, our Japanese being so fundamental and their English generally being so good made that difficult.
One of my tutors, Oumaki-san, asked me for help with the old r and l problem that's known to plague Asians speaking English. He was having particular trouble pronouncing "rarely" as distinct from "really"; it wasn't just the consonants, but something in the diphthong. So he asked me to write a dialogue like the Core Conversations in Dr. Jorden's books for him to practice. For the first time anywhere outside of a small group of young folk in Southeastern Pennsylvania, I proudly share the result:
Brian: Have you ever seen a parallel reality where squirrels quarrel?
Makoto: I have seen squirrels quarrel, but rarely in a parallel reality.
Makoto: Really. Rarely.
Brian: Ah sou desu ka.
The next time you might get the urge to make fun of an Asian native who hasn't quite perfected the difference between articulating r and l, keep in mind that Oumaki-san didn't need me to explain any of the words I used in the dialogue — and then, of course, consider how much Japanese, Korean, or Chinese you speak.