Becoming Bilingual

When school starts back up after Christmas break, it will mark two years of living in the U.S. for me. I’m from Japan and went to a Japanese-speaking school most of my life. Since my father is an English speaker, my English listening skills were perfect when I came to America, but I couldn’t express myself verbally.

I came to the U.S. when I was 16, and I knew it was my last chance to become truly bilingual, since 16 is the age you start losing the natural ability to learn a second language. So I made a strict rule for myself: I couldn’t speak any Japanese to anyone at my school (since there are Japanese students.) It was very difficult to stop using my first language all of a sudden. When a Japanese student would start speaking to me in the language, I would ignore them. It felt awful. At first it was very difficult both emotionally and physically, but because of my strict rule, my English improved very quickly. For four months I followed this rule, until the school nurse reached out and told me to relax, and not to be so strict with myself. I took her advice and started speaking Japanese and making Japanese friends.

There was a period of time when I felt I couldn’t speak any language, since I was trying to improve my English but at the same time was losing my Japanese. After getting through that, I finally can say I can speak both Japanese and English. It was worth the struggle.

Photo Credit:

Do I – I Do

Questions swirl: who am I, what am I doing, what do I plan to do?

I glance at the banister beneath my hands. It has a cool and smooth texture, but I can’t help but notice that every once in a while a splinter will prick my finger; one off-grain hair on the back of the hyena, one loose screw in a well-oiled machine.

Do I dare to be that screw, to be an off-grain hair?

The banister leers back at me, returning to its faux smoothness, mocking me – showing me that even those hairs are smoothed out. The bottom of the stairs approaches with a swirl of nonexistent dust soaked in blue lighting.

I can feel myself physically growing colder without anything else becoming chilled.

I imagine my breath swirling and dancing, taking to the air, oh how I long to dance that waltz, a waltz that is carefree. Of freedom, non-worry, to dance to an unknown beat, the beat that is all my own with no rules or steps, no one can dictate what it is, what I do, how I move, what I ask, how I ask, what answer I receive.

The end of the stairs comes faster than I want, as if telling me that my time for contemplative thought is over. I stare down the hallway, looking at the doorways – all the doors of different paths I can take; nothing black or white – all gray – all this sad, desolate gray, I can’t figure out what I should do.

Photo Credit: The Millions  –  The Shining

I know that I want to leave, but I can feel fear closing in around my resolve, fire to ice. Am I a glacier, with more to me than is seen, or am I an ice cube, simple and nothing beyond my square?