Thursday, September 06, 2012

English in our home

Someone asked me about how my children acquired the English language and though I think I've blogged about this before I can't remember which post (nor am patient enough to go looking for it). I suppose in normal conversations I tend to repeat myself also so I guess repeating myself on my blog is par for the course.

When Tetsu and I married I had a working ability of Japanese but he had nil ability in English. He wasn't interested in English, he'd never been a good English student, in fact he had sort of an English language "allergy". And if we were going to live in Japan (as we were) then I needed to improve my Japanese. He would teasingly say that when my Japanese was perfect THEN he would begin studying English. (And it still isn't perfect!)

When Takumi was born I planned to raise a bilingual child by speaking to him only in English. That worked for awhile. During the day I chattered in English to Takumi. My mother sent us American Sesame Street videos so that he could get input. In the evenings when Tetsu was home, Takumi heard Japanese.

Most people were envious that my son was learning English and Japanese simultaneously but I did have one doctor who thought it was a lot of bull.

"You are playing a game with your child's mind. You think you will be able to boast about your brilliant child that can speak two languages but you are only going to confuse him. Stop using English in your home."

I didn't go to that doctor for very long...

Takumi did pretty well communicating in both English and Japanese and then he went to kindergarten at age three. And from there on in it was a losing battle on my part. Everyone in his world; the kindergarten teachers, the playmates, Tetsu, the neighbors... Everybody spoke Japanese and it was just me that was trying to keep up the English. And when Leiya was born then it was reinforced in her brain that only Mom, the odd one out, spoke English. Daddy and brother spoke to her in Japanese.

I did my best. I stubbornly read story books in English and talked to the children in English but they always answered in Japanese. And when they got to grade school I was specifically told,

"Do not, in any case whatsoever, speak to me in English when my friends are here or when you come to school for PTA meetings or whatever."

Being able to understand or speak English was very uncool in their minds.

During the summers of course Takumi and Leiya were forced to communicate somewhat in English with their grandma, aunt, uncle and cousins. And I've always found it interesting that the minute I step back on US ground, my Japanese completely goes out the window. I remember the kids asking me to translate something and I've have to say

"I don't know. My brain doesn't do Japanese while I'm here."

The kids thought I was being mean but I really couldn't get my head in gear. (Tetsu probably thought the same thing with my minimal translating this summer.)

By the time Takumi graduated from high school his English comprehension was excellent, his speaking ability good, but he couldn't spell or write or read worth beans. I think he said that when he got to college he realized he couldn't even take notes in a class.

"I know what the teacher is saying but I can't write my notes in English and translating in my head and writing in Japanese just gets me behind so that I miss the next important point."

Obviously, since he is working on his masters, he no longer has that problem. (Whoops... Sorry, I'm boasting. This is a page from Takumi's recent notes. Wow! I'm afraid it is all Greek to me!)

Leiya had a few months to get ready before she went to American high school and I borrowed a high school American History book from my friend Marlene. But that was so humongous and so difficult that I ended up reading chapter after chapter to my 15 year old daughter hoping that she would understand something of the country she was going to live in.

After meeting Leiya's Ohio high school counselor and talking about high school graduation requirements I realized how unprepared she was in English. I came home depressed that my daughter couldn't read, couldn't write reports, couldn't really communicate her thoughts. It is a credit to Leiya's American high school and host family that she never got a complex about her inabilities and that everyone focused on the things that she COULD do. (She excelled in art.)

And now I have two children that I can boast are bilingual! Yeah! I absolutely LOVE getting English e-mails from them! In my younger days I feared that they would grow up and become independent and if and ever they wrote home it would all be written in Japanese which gives me a headache when I try to read it!

So now we have poor Tetsu who is feeling the odd one out because the rest of his family communicates (at least when we are in the States) in English. Is it too late for him to go to YMCA English classes? Naw... He won't go. He has three translators in his family.

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