Whenever people ask me what my first language is, I often struggle to make a decision between Japanese and English. From a very young age, around the age of four, my parents had put me into the current school that I attend; the Yokohama international school up the Motomachi-chukagai station. It is difficult to remember specific events in my experience at the ELC, but I know for sure that the classes were taught in English with English-speaking teachers. Although, because my parents were non-native English speakers, they would speak to me in Japanese and Chinese, and these two languages would be what use at home. Yet, out of the three languages, I would prefer English over them. Growing up, I had usually surrounded myself with friends from a Japanese background, as I had felt a sense of comfort and familiarity with the language and culture. At the same time that I entered the ELC, my parents had put my sister and I, into a music school every Saturday at Ferris University (Yamate campus). The environment there was a huge contrast to the internationalism at school, as my classmates were Japanese, who attended a Japanese school, surrounded by Japanese teachers and school traditions. I was part of two worlds and language was a tool that helped me survive and socialize with the people around me.
Although my ELC days have passed, as I had approached the end of MYP (Grade 10), I have become stronger in my English that I decided to take the Higher Level (HL) English Language & Literature (LangLit) course at school. I read, wrote and spoke English more, that I had started to lose my Japanese skills. Sometimes, it would be difficult to express things in Japanese because my vocabulary bank was not as huge as my English one. With classes taught in English, the Standard Level (SL) Japanese A LangLit class was a time that I could improve the language. Despite my ups and downs with the assessment tasks, I learned to be grateful that I was given a chance to enhance the language that would help me communicate better with my family.
I noticed that I would often add English to my Japanese, and the conversation would be a mix of these two languages. It was tempting as my mind would think in English whilst I spoke Japanese, and vice versa. This had become a habit, but a bad one, because I would not be able to use this if I were talking to someone who did not have the language ability on one or the other. As I wrote in my TOK response: To what extent does language shape my experience of the world? One of the real-life situation examples I had used was an Atlantic article on The Bitter Fight Over the Benefits of Bilingualism by Ed Young. Bilingualism was like a form of multitasking such as the constant switching of the languages and it was a natural process and part of my intuition. Although I had always feared that someday, one language may dominate more, and I would lose my other languages. I had particularly felt this way when my Chinese speaking and reading ability was not as strong. I realized that I was always used to listening comprehension and my mind would automatically translate that to Japanese or English. This skill was particularly useful when family and I would visit our family in Taiwan and when I would help out with church and children who did not have a Chinese-speaking ability.
With the increasing Chinese population, Chinese has become a widely-spoken language in the world. Through my love for Korean pop culture, I have discovered that my favorite groups had non-Korean members who were from China, Taiwan, and Japan. Although I had lacked the use of Chinese in my daily life, I have gradually taken more attention to the language. Training my Chinese listening comprehension through music had enhanced my motivation to keep the language with me wherever I went. Music was one of the ways that helped me relate and connect with my culture. It was a key tool that had made learning fun and engaging. This in return, had encouraged me to speak Chinese with my Taiwanese mother and my eldest sister who attended a Chinese school. I was taking baby steps and it had required a lot of patience. Part of me wished I had taken Chinese classes in my younger years so that I would have learned the basics. Although, before my father transferred to a Taiwanese university, he had to learn the Chinese language, most of the learning took place during his university years. It is never too late to start learning a new language and as long as you had the right mindset and set yourself a goal, you could achieve it.
Multilingualism has become part of my life since early childhood, I would not know a life without this skill. Most of my high school experiences would not have been complete without my understanding of these three languages. From class discussions, writing and oral tasks, to having conversations with my friends, and even my time with my family, these three languages had shaped me and the many advantages that I had in the world. I have come to appreciate my ethnic background by engaging with the language, which had helped me engage with the people who spoke the language.