At the age of 9, I moved from the US to Japan. To say my ability in Japanese was limited at the time is a massive understatement: I probably had the speaking ability of a three-year-old. Other than Hiragana and Katakana, I barely knew any kanji, and just about all of the Japanese ability I had was through listening to my mom speak in Japanese to me. At the time, my Japanese mother would talk to me in Japanese and I would respond in English.
I ended up attending YIS instead of a Japanese public school, because entering third grade with an extremely limited Japanese ability would be too problematic towards my education.
Over the past 8-9 years at YIS, however, I have learned to speak Japanese at a much higher level than I used to. This occurred primarily due to me taking Japanese classes throughout, forcing me to extend my ability in speaking, writing, and reading. My ability is still limited, but I am now very much capable of making basic conversation with strangers, writing to express ideas, and am now several grades higher in the Kanji level than I used to. In order to continue to become better at Japanese, I plan on taking Japanese courses in college. One way I have actually begun to continue grow my Japanese skills is through watching Japanese animated television shows called “anime” in order to be more comfortable with understanding conversation and to expand my vocabulary.
Obtaining Japanese fluency means that one day I can speak to more people in their native tongue comfortably, which is really important to me on a personal level because I have family that speaks Japanese. I have noticed that over time that the more fluent I am in Japanese, the more comfortable the atmosphere becomes with them, as the language barrier has lowered. In general, learning Japanese has definitively showed me that learning a language is essential to acculturating to its respective culture.