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This is a past article published in Hiragana Times. Each Japanese paragraph is followed by its English translation or vise versa, and furigana are placed above each kanji to make Japanese study even easier. [Magazine Sample] [Subscription Page]

Recognizing Interesting Aspects of the Japanese Language because of Being Blind

[From March Issue 2014]

201403-5

撮影:森豊

Mohamed Omer ABDIN

“One of Japan’s best loved foods is the nashi (pear) fruit. If it’s inedible it is dainashi (spoiled). Oops, another pun popped out,” says Mohamed Omar ABDIN humorously. Abdin is a student attending graduate school at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. He is also the executive vice-representative of the “Committee for Assisting and Promoting Education for The Disabled in Sudan.”

Abdin is from Khartoum, Sudan. Ever since he was a child his eyesight has gradually deteriorated. He was able to study by getting the people around him to read out textbooks and enrolled at Khartoum University’s law department. However, the university was closed down because of political issues. While pondering his next move, he found out that a Japanese group that worked in support of the blind was looking for a foreign student to attend a school for the blind. He applied for the place. Then only Abdin was selected from a large number of candidates.

Abdin came to Japan in 1998. All the other foreign students who had come from other countries had studied Japanese in their home country, but Abdin had never studied the language. In addition, he was not used to braille either. When he was told to work on Japanese Language Proficiency Test N1 questions he was shocked and burst into tears because he could not make head nor tail of the problems.

“In Arabic, verbs come first, but in Japanese, the verb comes at the end. So, you need to listen to the end to understand the meaning. Words of foreign origin written in katakana have pronunciations that differ considerably from the original English. In the beginning, I did not know about the existence of kanji,” reflects Abdin.

If his grades were bad, he would have no option but to return to Sudan. “Because I cannot see, I need people to help me live. Since I am asking for help, I must speak politely. I think that is why my Japanese improved rapidly. I did my best, thinking that all the Japanese people I met were live textbooks, and that conversations were opportunities for me to study.”

Abdin listened to audio books over and over. In addition, he wrote kanji on clay with disposable chopsticks, learning it by touch. He memorized the jokes and dialect of his homestay father by repeating them to his teachers and classmates. Particularly in the case of kanji, he went out of his way to enquire about how a letter was written, converting this into a database in his head. He found the radio useful for listening to natural Japanese in a variety of genres.

Abdin took the Japanese Language Proficiency Test N1 in 2000 and passed. In addition, he learned how to use software that read out the text on his screen. Because he had to start learning the arrangement of the keyboard, he had a very hard time, but he eventually became able to read and write by himself. At the same time, he wanted to make braille available to blind Sudanese children and established the “Committee for Assisting and Promoting Education for the Disabled in Sudan” (CAPEDS).

Abdin is currently writing his doctoral dissertation about the dispute between north and south Sudan. At the same time, he has summed up his 15-years of experience since coming to Japan in a book called “Waga Mousou.” “The title uses (the kanji) 盲, which means blind, in place of (the kanji) 妄, which means delusion to create (the word) ‘mousou,’ which means delusional thought. Because I cannot see, I can have fun freely playing around with kanji characters.”

Text: SAZAKI Ryo


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