Tag Archives: Language


A good day is a day spent on a mountain.

Once upon a time, I used my winter vacations to escape to places like Thailand, India, New Zealand, and Nepal; places that, while my own home was buried under snow, enjoyed mild temperatures and dependable sunshine.

Not anymore.

Now I seek out the snow during winter; I’ve gone full chionophile. Last year, I scrapped a three-week vacation to Laos and Cambodia to head to Hokkaido to snowboard. This year followed suit; going back to Japan to board had always been my plan. (Korea has many, many things going for it….powder is not one of them.) And while I was excited to return to Niseko, the mega-resort in Hokkaido, for a week, I was even more thrilled to go back to Hakkoda, my home mountain while I lived in Aomori. Continue reading Querencia

14 Untranslatable Words About Love

Seeing as it’s Valentine’s Day, I though I’d dedicate a post to Cupid and his well-aimed (well…sometimes) arrows. Before I moved to Japan, I confess that my opinion of Valentine’s Day had flat-lined at “meh”…now, though, it just means that my desk disappears under a mountain of homemade chocolates, cookies, and other deliciously unhealthy sweets from my students. It’s a pretty good development all around.

I’ve written about how much I love untranslatable words in the past; the fact that a feeling is familiar to people across cultures and continents and yet is only expressed in a certain language is fascinating to me. On Valentine’s Day, emotions run a headier, more dramatic spectrum than most other days of the year, and there are plenty of foreign language words to describe all of those feelings. Here are fourteen of my favorite untranslatable words that have to do with love in some way or another. Some are about the euphoria of falling of love, some are about the depths of heartbreak, but most are feelings that, I’m willing to bet, we’ve felt at one time or another.

1.)   Forelsket (Norwegian) – Let’s start off with something positive. Forelsket describes how you feel when you first begin to fall in love. It’s that euphoric feeling of walking on air, when you view your paramour through rose-colored glasses and are convinced that the sun shines out of their posterior. All you want to do is gaze into each other’s eyes longingly and forget the rest of the world exists.

Continue reading 14 Untranslatable Words About Love

On Loving Music I Can’t Understand

This post originally appeared here on March 28, 2013, as an editorial I wrote for Mind Equals Blown.


This year, May 20th and June 17th have been the biggest dates on my 2013 musical horizon. They’re the release dates for new albums from The National and Sigur Rós, respectively. Those two bands have the ability to evoke some pretty intense emotions from me. And they range from heartbreak (On one particularly gloomy Saturday morning, listening to “Runaway” from The National’s High Violet, caused me to break down into sobs for no particular reason while doing my dishes.) to total euphoria (To hell with the standard wedding march. If I ever get married, I will walk down the aisle to a Sigur Rós song. Nonnegotiable, future husband.). Here’s the big difference though: while The National’s lyrics really resonate with me, I can’t understand a word of a Sigur Rós song, because 99% of their discography isn’t sung in English. Continue reading On Loving Music I Can’t Understand

My New Vocabulary Word for the Day Is…

My New Vocabulary Word for the Day Is...

Sometimes studying Japanese involves meticulously memorizing kanji, poring over textbooks, and pulling my hair out in frustration. And sometimes my Japanese lessons consist of the math teacher drawing doodles on the back of school memos and teaching me the words for them.

Guess which lessons stick more firmly in my head?

Living in the Land of かわいい

Surprisingly, I’ve almost never made mention of the “cuteness” of Japanese society in the ten months that I’ve had this blog. One of the first words that a foreigner almost always learns to describe Japanese culture is かわいい (kawaii). It means “cute,” and it’s a word that I hear almost every day, whether it’s my students describing the charms dangling from my cell phone or I say it myself when greeted with an adorable drawing that accompanies an essay homework.

(I also learned pretty quickly that when you’re first learning Japanese, かわいい and 怖い [kowai] can sound pretty similar. One means ‘cute’…one means ‘frightening.’ I’m pretty sure I told more than one student that I thought their Pikachu-adorned pencil case was scary.)

This was one of the first drawings I got when I started teaching. It still makes me smile.
This was one of the first drawings I got when I started teaching. It still makes me smile.

Continue reading Living in the Land of かわいい

What If I’ve Hit My Peak?

When I published my post What a Life of Travel Does to You, an editor from Matador, an online travel magazine, got in touch with me about possibly writing some travel essays for them. This piece was born out of that, and I’m pretty proud to see my writing appear on a site dedicated exclusively to my greatest love. A slightly shorter version also appears here on Matador.

What if this was my peak?

Continue reading What If I’ve Hit My Peak?

The Beauty of Untranslatable Words

The original version of this post appears on http://thoughtcatalog.com/2012/the-beauty-of-untranslatable-words/.

I have been obsessed with language, both my native one and otherwise, ever since I learned to read. I’ve been a voracious reader my entire life, and in the past ten years, I’ve studied two languages, German and Japanese, in-depth, while delving into two others, Arabic and Spanish, for shorter, less dedicated stints. Now, I make a living out of trying to explain the labyrinth of the English language to Japanese high school students. I like words, to put it plainly. Continue reading The Beauty of Untranslatable Words

Why I Love the German Language

When I started learning German in high school, I, like so many others who have delved into the language of the Vaterland, encountered scores of people who would make a face and ask me, “Why would you want to learn German? It’s just such an…ugly language. Everything sounds so mean.” Continue reading Why I Love the German Language

In Which I Discover a Source to Sustain My German Bread Addiction

One of the (few) things that I dislike about living in Japan is that I’m not really afforded any opportunities to keep up with my German. It’s easy enough to keep my comprehension skills sharp. I can read German books and often watch my favorite television shows in German. (Though since those materials are the Harry Potter books and The Vampire Diaries, Angel, and Battlestar Galactica, respectively, the vocabulary skill set that gets honed isn’t really the most useful for day-to-day dealings. Knowing the German words for “vervain” and “hallows” won’t really get me far.) It’s my speaking that has really suffered in the past year; in northern Japan, German speakers don’t really abound. Continue reading In Which I Discover a Source to Sustain My German Bread Addiction

The Japanese Art of the (Constant) Apology

When I’d written my Thought Catalog article on the ways a year in Japan had changed me, it wasn’t until after it had been published that I realized that I had made one glaring, inexcusable omission. Thankfully, my morning has given me two excuses (the second of which actually happened while I was writing this post!) to write about it in more detail and rectify my mistake.

I am extremely forthright about the fact that my Japanese ability is completely terrible. Because I had picked up German so quickly and easily and because I hadn’t had too terrible of a time taking three semesters of Arabic at university, I’d always thought that I had a knack for languages…until I started learning Japanese. However, there is one aspect of the Japanese language I have down to a science: the apology. Continue reading The Japanese Art of the (Constant) Apology