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11th  Raising Bilingual Kids – Part Three

投稿者: ハワイ歩き方事務局 更新日:2007年05月14日

11th  Raising Bilingual Kids – Part Three

●The joys and pitfalls of being raised bilingual
“There’s no such thing as a perfect bilingual,” says my mom, who raised two biracial children in Japan, and who also taught for 20-odd years at an international school in Tokyo. By “perfect,” she means a bilingual who can not only speak, read, and write both English and Japanese, but someone who also understands the nuances and subtle characteristics of both languages ? such as puns, idioms, buzz terms, and everyday vernacular. In other words, a true bilingual is also bicultural. And in order to attain that status, it seems one has to live in both Japan and an Anglophone country for a substantial length of time. Probably a pretty lofty goal for most.


Personally, I think my brother and I were afforded the best shot at becoming bilingual, having been raised (mostly) in Japan during our formative years. We attended international school, which meant we were taught entirely in English during the day, but still could immerse ourselves in everything Japanese (lifestyle, media, food, friends) once school was out. We took public transportation (which meant we were familiar with signs and sounds), we played with neighborhood friends, read tons of manga (as mentioned in a previous column), and watched endless amounts of Japanese TV. So basically, we grew up in, what seemed to be, the ideal environment.

But that’s not to say that we didn’t have our hurdles. My brother, for instance, was in fact born in Hawaii, and was raised here until age three. Although my mom spoke to him in Japanese, he naturally picked up more English. That said, (and I see this with my own daughter, too) his ability to communicate in either language was always a bit “behind” by normal standards. When the family moved to Japan, he began attending a Japanese preschool. The stress of speaking only in Japanese apparently got to him, because the poor three-year-old started to get little bald spots on his head.


In due time his Japanese caught up, but then his English lagged behind, which brewed communication problems with our dad (who at the time didn’t speak much Japanese). That exacerbated my brother’s speech development, and he began to stutter in English. After a shaky start he grew out of these problems, and seemed to find some sense of “belonging” when he started attending Nishimachi International School, a famed Tokyo institution that offers a progressive bilingual curriculum. My brother would eventually become as close to a “perfect bilingual” as one could get, writing papers in expert Japanese on “Sennorikyu” at Cornell University, but my mom to this day believes she traumatized him by changing his environment so often.

As for me, I didn’t have to switch living conditions, so no trauma to report. If anything, my kindergarten report card warned that I was speaking too much Japanese at school. But apart from that, living in Japan and going to international school was as effortless as it could get for me to learn both languages.

But as we grew into our teens, it became obvious that there was something “incomplete” about our linguistic upbringing. Among family and friends, we spoke in a mixed tongue of both languages — inappropriately called “Japlish” at the time ? only to realize it hard to keep a conversation in either English or Japanese, without switching back and forth to whichever language felt comfortable. My writing style ? in either language ? was confused, with mixed metaphors and inaccurate figures of speech, as if I was constantly and subconsciously translating my thoughts in the other language.

Meanwhile, classmates with Japanese parents grew increasingly frustrated that they couldn’t carry on a decent argument at home because they couldn’t adequately express themselves in Japanese. Friends whose parents spoke only English had similar issues. Many of us, in essence, had fallen into a trap of bilingual mediocrity ? a deceptive shroud of lingual prowess (deceiving because we have no accent), but with a command of either language that was only average at best.


From that point, most international school kids took one of two paths: they either went to a U.S. college, eventually mastering the English language, or a select few advanced to a Japanese university and immersed themselves in Japanese. As I see it, though, most of them saw a gradual ebb in one of their language skills. Without living, studying, and cranking out everyday issues in both languages, the decline was probably inevitable.

That’s not to say, however, that we don’t speak or sound bilingual today. Our accents are still in tact for the most part (although I’m told there is a distinct “international school drawl”), and most of us still think, speak, and even dream in “Japlish.” But those of us who left Japan after high school would have a hard time reading a newspaper by now, and our penmanship is probably deplorable.

Looking back, living in Japan provided the most crucial foundation for growing up bilingual. Moving to the U.S. for college was probably the next big step. And attending international school was what bridged those pivotal phases of my life. But there were several, critical junctures that I think shaped my English-Japanese biliteracy ? for better or for worse ? which I’ll discuss in the next, and final installment, of Hapa Mom Diary. See you then! Amakare nigakare…






しかし完璧なシナリオだったわけではなくて、苦い経験もありました。3歳までハワイに住んでいた兄は特に苦労したと聞いています。母は兄に日本語で接していましたが(うちの娘も似た立場です、)日本語も英語も発達が遅れ気味だったとか。のち日本に引っ越し地元の保育園に入園、「じょりっパゲ」ができるほどストレスをためてしまったそうです。 日本語にやっと慣れたと思ったら、今度は英語を忘れ始め、当時は日本語が話せなかった父と通じ合わなくなり、英語でどもってしまったり。ですが大学に進んだ頃にはほぼ完璧に近いバイリンガルになっていて、千利休について(もちろん日本語で)論文なんかも書いてました。結果としてはよかったんですが、幼い兄にはかなり激しいトラウマを与えてしまったと今でも母は悔いています。その反面私は通信簿に「スザンヌは日本語の話し過ぎ」と書かれる他にはトラブルはなかったそうです。




ちゃんぽんってな〜に? What’s “Japlish”?

「今日さ、I went to にこたま、そしたらguess who I bumped into?」

「You know, いいかげんにしてよ、私のfault じゃないでしょう?」

「ぐずぐずしないでput away yourおもちゃnow!」
( ぐずぐずしないでおもちゃを今しまいなさい!)

娘:エリン・霧江(きりえ)、愛称キーちゃん。外見は恥かしがり屋、家では結構「キレちゃう」典型的内弁慶。ハロー・キティとパパをこよなく愛す保育園児。ちなみに、ハワイの人達のひとついいところは名前に「ちゃん」付けをしても分かってくれること。サンフランに住んでた頃、「キーちゃん、キーちゃん」と呼んでる私は廻りの人に「なんだそりゃ? 中国語かい?」と聞くかの様に変な顔をされました。こっちでは白人でも平気に「キーちゃん」と呼んでくれます。 

この記事が属するカテゴリー: アロハダイアリー