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.

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