Circumlocution – How To Get Around Not Knowing Japanese When Its A Must To Speak It Now

Has this happened to you? You are conversing smoothly with your everyday Japanese language skills and bam! Your mind goes blank and you completely forget the word you thought you had memorized so well yesterday. If this has happened to you, then you have a good grasp of language arts. Now let’s learn how to do something about this memory lapse if it happens again!

Webster’s New World defines circumlocution as “1. an indirect, roundabout, or long way of expressing something; periphrasis. It comes from the Latin circum (meaning around) + locution (to speak). Now, you may be asking, “what in the world, does this have to do with me being able to speak Japanese (or any language) well? It has a lot to do with being able to communicate well in the early stages of second language acquisition. I recommend that you familiarize yourself with how circumlocution is used, as it can be a powerful ally in your quest to master a second language. This article will help you better understand circumlocution so that you can use it in your daily language study.

There are times when we need to explain the meaning of a word but we still have to learn the best word for what we want to say. The solution for this is to use the circumlocution. Substitute known words for unknown ones and, describing and explaining in a circular way, one way or another we get our message across, ugh!…! This entire article is an attempt to explain or describe circumlocution in such a way that you don’t have to use the word circumlocution in the description.

The idea behind circumlocution is this: for every word you don’t know in the target language but have the urge to say it, just take the long way around and circumlocate the word by describing it in terms you can say. When describing a word we don’t yet know, we can use all the faculties available to us, including but not limited to hand gestures, facial expressions, writing, mimicry, and anything else that helps us get our point across. In circumlocution, we describe an unknown but much-needed term with other words than HE until we see the lights go on in the heads of our audience. It’s not as elegant a method as knowing the original word or having the dictionary handy to look up the right word, but circumlocution works, and in a pinch, it works fine.

By simply avoiding the actual word and talking about it by describing it as best you can using words you know, the recipient of your message will usually ‘get the point’. For which you use your powers of circumlocution and straighten the man. They’ll totally understand what you’re talking about, as long as you just play a little game of 20 reverse questions, or some kind of charades. Pictionary, Scattergories along with the old “$20,000 Pyramid” and other similar games are great for developing your circumlocution skills.

The best way to learn what circumlocution is and how to use it correctly is with a little practice. Take for example the word hot air balloon. If we did not know the exact term of ‘hot air balloon‘ in our target language, we would start describing it in whatever terms we already have under our memory belt in our personal list of usable words. So I could say

Ex.1 is round like an egg and rises in the sky. People can ride in it or on it.

However, we are going to need to know the words for round (adj.), egg (n), raise (v), and sky (n) to use that approach. Even if, say, you only knew one of those descriptive words in the target language, do what you can in the smartest way possible. In Japanese, you could say the following to circumlocate the word ‘hot air balloon‘. In Japanese, the above could be

Ex.1 Marui de atte tamago no yo na katachi o shite iru. Soshite sora ni agaru. Hito wa noru koto ga dekiru.

Any word, phrase, or set of words you know that helps you more accurately describe a word that has slipped from your memory, and all other means necessary to describe that word indirectly, that’s a circumlocution. Circumlocution is necessary for any serious language learner and should be considered a useful tool for learning a second language. It has literally saved me repeatedly. Memory loss is a common occurrence and you need to be prepared in advance and circumlocution will help. No matter how hard you try to remember something, the word is not guaranteed to be available to you every time you need to use it.

Beginning and intermediate language learners have a limited vocabulary budget. Until the second language develops a large and varied vocabulary that extends beyond the simple knowledge of the most common basic words, circumlocution will prove to be a small practical weapon of the language. The need to employ circumlocutions in our interactions with native speakers of our target language must be established at this point. No costly word from the back of the dictionary is going to be dangled extravagantly around the mouth of a young learner. So instead, he uses the words he knows and you’ll be amazed at how effectively he can communicate what he wants without knowing a lot of fancy words. Breaking it down in descriptive terms like a balloon we could say that it is something that is round. . The circumlocution works, and in a pinch, it works. Go ahead and try it today and may all your second language acquisition goals be met. (I must give credit and am very grateful to my sensei tachi Allred, Mills and Wilson Sensei who showed me how to use circumlocution to my advantage.) Ganbat ne! Do your best. Makurasuki sensei yori)

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