VALPARAISO | Comedian Steve Martin has a routine in which he gets to the heart of language learning.
"Now in France, remember 'house' is ‘maison' and 'hat' is 'chapeau.' Those French have a different word for everything!"
Valparaiso High School Japanese students found out Thursday their target language is even a bit trickier than that.
Having learned the standard Japanese spoken in Tokyo and elsewhere, third- and fourth-year students got a lesson in a popular dialect spoken around the second largest city of Osaka.
In Kansai-ben, as the dialect is known, "mai-do" takes the place of more regular greetings like "konichi-wa." Numbers are said in a sing-song way with elongated vowel sounds. And the word for McDonalds is just different from elsewhere around the island nation.
Rumi Mitsubayashi, coordinator of the Japanese Outreach Initiative hosted by Valparaiso University's Chinese and Japanese Studies Program, presented the lesson on the dialect of her home region.
Valparaiso High School Japanese teacher Cathy Sparks began the third-year class by leading students in a Japanese rendition of "Happy Birthday to You" for senior Sean Simon.
Simon later volunteered with partner Brianna Webb to read in front of the class a Kansai-ben dialogue they had learned.
"It was a lot of fun," Webb said of the day's special presentation from a native speaker. Webb, also a senior, said she understood most of the mostly Japanese presentation.
Sparks said the lesson, in addition to be being fun, gave students a better sense of how a language works and would be invaluable for students traveling to Japan.
"If you go to Osaka, you're not clueless when people start talking to you," Sparks said, reverting to English after class.
Despite the rising importance of Chinese, learning Japanese is important, Sparks said, because Japan is the world's third largest economy and the United States' largest Pacific ally.
A native of Shiga Prefecture in central Japan, Mitsubayashi recently began a two-year residency at VU, during which she will make presentations to Northwest Indiana schools and groups on the life, language, culture, cooking and crafts of Japan. Her specialty is calligraphy.