on being a bilingual

words wtage

25th August 2018

i was born and grew up in japan.

i could have easily become a unilingual japanese speaker whose english ability is extremely limited, but this is not the case.

why?

my education was in both japan and england as i wanted to go to a university in an english-speaking country.

i wanted to study something in the english language rather than learning english in japan and become an english speaker living there.

i first went to school in japan then changed my environment completely.

this was the best decision i have ever made in my life so far.

 

fortunately my mother supported me being educated in england as an international student for many years.

i should be grateful for her tireless support.

 

before i left my native land, i was a rather unilingual japanese speaker yet i had a good command of english when i arrived in the island where i live now.

you may call me at that time was a bilingual.

why do i hesitate to just say that i was a bilingual in english and japanese then?

it is due to lack of cultural knowledge.

 

speaking a language is not something you can do by purely acquiring a language you want to master.

along with learning a language itself, culture of that language and places where that language is spoken is so important.

needless to say, you do need to know culture in order to communicate.

knowing a language is so basic and often it is not enough to say that someone is a speaker of that language.

 

therefore you would need to be a bicultural in order to be a bilingual, perhaps.

what is bicultural?

you would need to know cultural references to some extent.

imagine you understand what people speak perfectly, but you cannot follow what they talk about.

like the situation where people talk about their childhood, tv programmes they watch, primary school memories, food they fancy, places they often go, things they cannot live without, and so on.

you would understand more correctly if you know that culture.

 

i had such experience when i first came to the uk as i was a total stranger.

surely that was a hard time but i did also enjoy the learning journey.

i read books and various websites a lot so that i could be familiar with the culture of the country.

reading history books is a great option.

i read maps as well. i remembered names of places and stations.

i met people who know the country well and i learnt the culture from them.

 

i am now a bilingual in english and japanese because i speak two languages and i know two cultures.

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.