"Sakana-min?" I say, squinting my eyes at a restaurant sign labeled 魚民 as my host brother drives by.
"Uou-tami," he corrects gently. "But you read it!"
My host family is so much more than a family to me. And they certainly are my family, make no mistake. Okaasan is always cooking amazing dinners for me, even making onion soup from scratch a few days ago after I mentioned it being one of my favorite meals. On my birthday, she made an incredible meal, complete with a delicious strawberry shortcake. And karage from scratch!
My host father and I like to watch Enka together after dinner. And my host sister and host brother and I watch American movies together, snacking and laughing.
But my host family members are also my teachers. Encouraging, honest, and very patient, they correct my language and help me with my homework, explaining grammar and helping me read the kanji on the night news.
"Hikari ga ochita!" I said, concerned as the pet dog slipped on the ground, his legs collapsing underneath him. He's overweight, and is currently on a doggy-diet of vegetables and low-calorie kibbles.
"Koronda," corrected Okaasan. "Ochita is like a leaf falling. People and animals korobu. Or subeta."
I look up suberu in the dictionary. To glide, to slide, to slip.
"Ahhhh, naruhodo." I see.
My host family speaks very meager English, the result of a motely patchworked education system that relies more on reading and writing than pronunciation and speaking. For example, my host brother understands and teaches what I consider complex grammar patterns and words. But he finds conversation, listening and English pronunciation very challenging, preferring instead to have it written down.
So rather than writing it down, I say it in Japanese. Sometimes I say it wrong. Sometimes I mess up. But that's ok, because my host family will correct me and teach me the right way to say it or read it. And I'll remember it, and try again so that next time I can say it better.