I remember years ago, someone told me I should take…

…caution when it comes to learning a third language (specifically Japanese).  I kinda laughed it off. I was like, meh, I’ll make sure to be perfectly trilingual, maintain a perfect balance between all three languages, and to be able to code switch with ease between all three languages perfectly.  

Now I take back all my words.

Because, I am struggling even with this very post. 

Heck, I’d kinda like let it all go, being complacent and convinced that my English is in it’s perfect unmovable pedestal in my brain. It’s supposed to be untouchable, unsurpassable, and most importantly, irreplaceable. No matter how many other languages may try to enter my brain, English should have a special place of its own – a firm stronghold in my brain – that is infallible and not threatened at all by the invasion of any kind of linguistic information. 

Then a recent turn in events made me realised that the fortress where English language used to be at has fallen. I had just started my new class in graphic design and there is this really nice Swedish girl in my class whom I just had the pleasure of becoming friends with. And of course, all Swedish people speak perfect English so we converse mostly in English (leaving my Japanese classmates in awe, hehe). At first I thought, wow, I can finally speak some English after like a few months, especially since I had started living with my Japanese boyfriend for about a month already and I hadn’t experienced the joy of speaking my native tongue in a while (I speak in Japanese with ze boyfriend).

I was pretty delighted until we chatted more and more and I actually started to struggle to explain even the simplest of things! My grammar has become SO bad and my vocabulary has been reduced SO much. I even started thinking to myself more in Japanese and less in English! Holy shit man.

That is not to say I have attained mastery at the Japanese language – I’m still far from perfect. But my English is already deteriorating! How can this be 😦 Now I’m in this stupid state where I’m still struggling in Japanese and my English is failing. 

Maybe this wouldn’t have happened if my English had been better 😦 I was raised in a Chinese speaking family (actually it’s a silent family – both parents don’t really talk much… hard to explain in this post. Another time), and I actually only started to seriously improve my English when it was nearing PSLE (about primary 5/5th grade). So, I had missed out many good years compared to my other English speaking counterparts in Britain, America and Australia who already had contact with the English language since they became aware of their surroundings.

Another factor that had probably turned me into the way I am (and I hate it >.<) was the presence of Singlish. Well, Singlish isn’t all that bad. It’s somewhat our cultural icon, and it’s something that distinguishes us from the rest of the world, because it’s just so distinctive and no other English-speaking natives speak the same way. The problem arises when we try to interact with foreigners. Well, Singlish is obviously NOT proper English and it somehow hinders us in speaking good standard English. Maybe because we have not been taught to properly differentiate the two and to code switch when necessary. I don’t want Singlish to be abolished; I just hope the education board puts in more effort into educating people on how to differentiate the two, and on how to speak standard English, rather than just demand that we speak good English without a thorough understanding of the difference between the two. 

Well, thankfully, I had a fantastic English teacher by the time I was primary 6/6th grade, when I was about to sit for the PSLE exams. If not for the superbly strong foundation that he had laid for me right before the exams, no kidding, I would still be struggling in English. I  can see this stark difference between my standard of English and that of my brother and cousins’. While I’ve got my basics covered and a somewhat in-depth understanding of the language, my brother and cousins just do not have that kind of luxury. After all, we were all brought up in the same kind of environment and it won’t be a surprise if all of us turned out similarly. But my primary 6 English teacher happened to my English teacher and he made all that difference. I’m so so so so so grateful to him now, looking at the people around me who still continue to struggle with the language way into their adulthood. I’m not any better than them; I’m just luckier that I had had the fortune of having that teacher step into my life and saved me from failing English.   

Ok, so at least I didn’t fail English. But I didn’t exactly excel in it either. Good grief, I scored a B3 in my O’level English and a B in my A’level General Paper. I was just an average student – neither mediocre nor stellar.

But heck, that didn’t stop me from picking up another language. Being proficient in one more language than most people filled up that gap that my English grades had left in my heart. And it wasn’t just joy that came with learning a new language – it opened up more doors, I could make more friends than if I had just stayed bilingual, I could travel more, and most importantly, if I hadn’t been even slightly fluent in Japanese, my love life would still be in shackles. I wouldn’t have been able to meet the man of my dreams.   

But yes, learning Japanese did come with a warning. Most Singaporeans have shared their horror stories of their deteriorating English as their Japanese became better. I dunno about other people; maybe they don’t mind losing their English if that means it can make way for Japanese, but I would rather have the best of both worlds, thank you. 

Despite having said that, the above-mentioned phenomenon is now happening to me. So much for all those long hard hours spent on preparing for those stupid English exams. Of course I do realise that I haven’t put in much effort in maintaining my standard of English. I took it for granted that I had a pretty high level of English and left it alone to rot and die. Now I have to bring it back from the dead.

That said, I also have to keep on improving my Japanese. It’s not easy living with a language that’s not my first language but i’ll keep trying… until I can’t take it anymore and just decide to pack up and leave for an English-speaking country. haha. no lah just joking. But yeah the most important is to maintain a good balance between the two languages.

What about mandarin? Well, strangely, my Mandarin has improved rather than deteriorate. I actually spoke more Mandarin than English during my time here, since most of my foreign friends are Chinese and Taiwanese! In fact, I actually used more Mandarin in Japan than in Singapore. diao -_-

Well, that’s all for my rant on languages! This is my second consecutive post on language and next time I’ll think of another topic to write about! Ciao!


About Kimono Party Girl

I was born and bred in Singapore for the first 20 years of my life, and then I decided that even after flying all over the world as a flight attendant, life is still too boring. So, in search of more adventure and add spice to my life, I quit my job, packed up, and left for Japan - which is, to me, the promised land. I've always been fascinated with Japan ever since I was 8, thanks to Ayumi Hamasaki, aka the Britney Spears of Japan. She's the first J-pop singer that I have been obsessed with, and my first contact with the Japanese language was through her lyrics. Yup, I first learned my Hiragana from her song 'I am'. But what really sealed the deal was my first trip to Japan in 2010. The fresh air, the beautiful cherry blossoms, the endless fast fashion trends and the awesome food was what made Japan the land of my dreams, and it had since become my goal to one day live, work and party in Japan. So after working like a horse as a flight attendant for 2 years and saving up a decent amount, I made a big leap of faith and moved to the land of the rising sun. I have studied one year of Japanese and two years of graphic design. Currently, I'm in the midst of shukatsu (就活 - job hunting). Wish me luck!
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