Edward Iwaskow, SSE Otsu
As a kid, I was always impressed by people who could speak several languages. Never did I think someday people would be impressed with me for this same reason. I had a professor in university who could speak 8 languages and read & write 3 dead languages! She was an English professor, despite the fact that English was her 3rd language. Although I will likely never reach her level, I have nonetheless come to realize that I am slowly becoming fluent in Japanese and thus trilingual. I am no language expert, I didn’t spend my life focusing on language study, yet here I am midway through my life and able to communicate in 3 languages. I often ask myself how this came to be, and lately students have been asking me as well.
My first language is English. I was born and raised in western Canada, and although Canada has 2 official languages, the west is primarily an English speaking area. Both my parents are English speakers, although my mother was born and raised in Montreal so she can speak French (it is her 2nd language). My household was an English household, my town an English town. From birth onwards my parents were my primarily English teachers and role models. Family, neighbors, friends were all English speakers, and thus teachers to me. This is the way most people the world over learn their 1st language. This is standard in monolingual places.
Years of exposure: 30
Teachers: Parents, family and friends
Resources: Unlimited exposure in daily life
My second language is French. I have my parents to thank for this. Having been born in Canada, I was given the chance to go to French immersion public elementary school. This is an option in Canada and is completely free. French kids can go to English schools, English kids can go to French schools. Both options are provided to everyone. My parents sent me to a French immersion school from kindergarten onwards. Thus for 8 years, from 5 to 12 years of age, I spent 6 hours or more a day, 5 days a week, in a completely French environment. French teachers, French staff, French events, French textbooks, French library. I didn’t study English until high school! My high school offered half of my classes in French, so for the next 5 years I studied in French for about 3 hours a day, 5 days a week. In university I took one French class per semester for 3 years. By the age of 21, I had been studying French for 16 years! I continue to study French to this day, primarily through reading novels and talking with French speaking friends and family.
Years of exposure: 25
Teachers: Public school teachers
Resources: Books, DVDs, CDs, other media
My third language is Japanese. I have my wife to thank for this. We met in university in Canada and upon graduation we decided to move to Japan. I thought it was important to learn about her culture, meet her family and most importantly learn her language so that I could communicate with her family. My Japanese language study started a few months before my departure, however all I could do on my own was memorize hiragana (one of the 2 Japanese phonetic syllabary). Once in Japan, I joined a community Japanese class, but with 6 students in the class and only 1 lesson a week, I wasn’t able to progress very much. Next I joined a small private Japanese school where I took private lessons twice a week. It was at this point that my Japanese really started to improve. After a time my hard study routine paid off and I finally felt confident having a 10 minute conversation with a Japanese person, but still not what I considered fluent. I challenged myself with more lessons, took a Japanese test, started using supplementary texts and online resources. Joining a local sports team and the local volunteer fire corps gave me opportunities to practice the grammar and vocabulary that I was learning in class.
Years of exposure: 7
Teachers: Private school teacher
Resources: Textbooks, Community members
At this point in my life I have come to realize what it means to be able to communicate in a language, as well as the difference between somewhat fluent, quite fluent and completely fluent. After 30 years of using my 1st language, I know I am completely fluent (of course!). 7 years of teaching English has added to my knowledge of my 1st language and given me a deeper understanding of its intricacies. After 25 years of studying and using my 2nd language, and a few trips to French speaking places, I can confidently say that I am completely fluent in my 2nd language, although not expert in it. Teaching my son my 2nd language is helping me to slowly understand it better and better. After 7 years in Japan, 7 years of immersion in Japanese society and 7 years of hard study, I feel that I am somewhat fluent. However, in order to catch up with my other 2 languages will take more study and hard work, as well as a lot of kanji drills!
Time, a good teacher and opportunity to use the language are the keys to success. I am truly impressed everyday with the skill and confidence my students display using a language some of them have only been truly studying for a few months or years. I try to be the best teacher I possibly can in order to help my students to achieve a similar feeling of fluency as I feel in my 2nd and 3rd languages. Opportunity is the most important thing for feeling this achievement, so at our school we are constantly trying to offer events, activities, online resources and so on to give our students every opportunity possible to USE their English.
If I could summarize this into a formula (I am after all a math major), it would look like this:
Time + Teachers + Opportunity = Success
What language is next for me? I don’t know, but I know that I will study another language, and that it will be a labor of love. I wish you all success in whatever language goals you are striving for. Good luck!
Edward Iwaskow, SSE Otsu