It must be the same old lament among seniors that young people have a very small vocabulary. Language is always changing, and many words are being left behind with the times. I'm not that old enough (really??) to complain about the poor vocabulary of kids these days, but I have to admit that my students don't know the certain words that they should already know. "しばしば" (shiba-shiba: often) in my last entry is one of such expressions. Every time we come across the word "often" as a new word in a textbook (mostly for 7th graders) and make sure its one possible Japanese counterpart is "shiba-shiba," I ask my students if they know the meaning of it. As you can guess, there are very few, if any, who really get the concept of the expression. They can't tell the difference between "shiba-shiba" and "時々" (toki-doki: sometimes). That's really surprising to me. Actually, it's a bit formal word, and so kids will never use it in their daily conversation. Even so, unlike other dying words, it is very often used in formal talks, newspapers and books, and the like.
Funny thing is, students don't hesitate to translate "often" as "shiba-shiba," even though the Japanese word is not in their working vocabulary.
The other day, I asked a 10th grade girl if she knew the meaning, half for fun.
"You know the meaning of 'shiba-shiba,' don't you?"
"Well...yes, I feel like I know it...."
"OK, then make a Japanese sentence using the word. Any sentence will do."
"私はしばしば母の手伝いをします (watashi wa shiba-shiba haha no tetsudai o shimasu: I often help my mother (with the housework))."
"Oh, you really do? How often?"
"Well, once or twice a month."
By the way, a spoken word for "shiba-shiba" is "よく (yoku)." It is universally used, but since it has another meaning of "well," this time again, students may mix up ....