how i became bilingual

words wtage

29th August 2018

not to be confused with ‘how to become bilingual’ as this is not a guide to acquire two languages in general.

this is my personal experience or precisely an experiment carried out myself.


i am so-called late bilingual which means i acquired the second language (english) after the age of 6 or 7 and after the child language development period during which i acquired the first language (japanese).

i would say japanese is my native language as this is part of my identity.

i needed to learn english to study in the uk therefore it was fundamental to acquire english as soon as possible.


learning a new language is fun. but i can tell from my experience, it can be difficult.

especially a new language you learn is totally different from languages you speak, it may be harder for you to learn that language.

this was my case: a native japanese speaker acquired english as a second language.

there is no relation between these languages and it was tough to learn!

it is different from one speaks french as a native language and learns italian as a second or additional language, as these languages are in the same language family.

but fortunately i learnt english in english whilst i was in japan and one of my english teachers is english-born welsh, so i had an advantage to some extent.

this became a problem when i switch two languages like when i interpret. i will touch on this topic at some point.


the time was limited. the faster i learn english, the better i achieve in my study.

i watched youtube videos in english playing 2x faster.

i did not have any preference so i watched any videos on the platform.

i could not quite understand what people in videos say at the beginning but i just kept watching them.

soon after i could listen to what they say well.

needless to say, i only used english in my daily life.


i almost forgot japanese.

i intentionally gave up japanese because i did not have enough time to use two languages in my life.

but i had decent japanese skills so i wanted to see how much i can remember japanese or how much i lose japanese whilst i was learning english.

i did not use japanese at all.

i did not speak it, write it, read it, or listen to it.

well, sometimes i overheard japanese on the street.

if one lives with their family, it might be easier to maintain their first language as they can speak it at home.

but i moved to the uk all by myself and had no japanese people around me.


i became bilingual after a few years living and studying in the uk, methinks.

it is not just self-claiming that i have that ability, but linguistics people tell me that i do not sound foreign or have any regional accent.

yes, linguistics people talk about our accents and languages quite frankly.

also i participated an experiment by a speech therapist and the official feedback says i do not have pronounced accent.

i often get confused about my background, where i grew up or my first language.

when i want to avoid any unnecessary small conversation, i would say that i am english (as in english-born english who is of japanese background).

people would get that.

but because i do not have any particular regional accent, my background seems international.

people i was with are from around the world so my accent has always been affected by them.

when i lived with a new yorker, i had a funny mixture of american and british english accents.


once i acquired english, the next step was to improve my japanese.

people do not believe me but i was unable to speak japanese well since i moved to the uk.

this experience led me to study linguistics but even linguistics people do not believe me.

but i lost japanese significantly.

i could speak the language but i had english accent.

native japanese speakers thought that i am a naive english speaker who speaks japanese well.

i could read and write (or type) japanese really well and also my listening skill was perfect, but speaking was just too difficult for me.

whenever i tried to speak, sentences were shorter and somewhat childish, as if i spoke a second language.

i used english consonants and vowels in japanese therefore i sounded very ‘foreign’.

due to the homogeneous society, people in japan do not see me as a japanese japanese because of my accent.

so i did my best to re-acquire japanese.


i gradually regained my native language and now i am bilingual but i would say that my first language is english and my native language is japanese.

learning a new language is difficult but very much possible.

maintaining the first language is extremely difficult if you do not speak it in your daily life.


since i was younger, i was good at reading and writing japanese.

my reading, writing and listening skills are native, or above the average people, but my speaking is near native.

when i keep speaking japanese it gets better but i still sound foreign sometimes.

this is my identity.

i do hope people in japan accept my accent one day.

who wrote this?

wtage, an english-japanese bilingual linguist based in london, uk.

i am curious about human communication in which language plays a crucial role.

i am an avid writer with a creative mind.