17 September, 2009

Another dreaded question

My husband and I agree on this one. A frequent and awful question we've received recently is, "So your sons must speak good Japanese?" Now this is not technically a question, though it demands a response and the answer is not easy. My introvert husband might respond, "Actually it is a little more complicated." If the person was keen to stick around, I might say this: "Our middle son spent three years in Japanese kindergarten up until March this year. So his Japanese is quite good, or so his teachers told us. I probably should say was good. Children lose languages quickly without the opportunity to practise and he hasn't been in a Japanese immersion environment for nearly six months. He never speaks Japanese to us, he contextualises it and only speaks it to Japanese. He does not read or write Japanese. Our eldest son had good Japanese when he was five, then we came home for a year and he lost his Japanese language. When we returned we put him back into Japanese kindergarten and then into Japanese school in the hope that he would regain his language skills and some degree of comfort with the culture around him. Unfortunately it didn't work out as we planned. He didn't get good language back and reacted badly to the Japanese environment. His behaviour actually deteriorated so much that after two years we switched him over to an English-speaking Christian international school - Christian Academy in Japan (CAJ), where his dad worked. Our youngest son is the easiest to explain. He's been at home with me for the entire time he's lived in Japan and therefore had limited Japanese exposure (we spoke English at home), so although he showed signs of picking it up just before we left, he has very little Japanese. Unlike some cultures, it is not very easy to pick up Japanese by just living in the country. Japanese are reluctant to talk to foreigners and they often don't invite even good friends into their small homes. It is possible to go shopping without even speaking in Japanese, because most shops are like ours in the west - with set prices and check outs." Obviously, even if I talked fast, I couldn't say all this quick enough for most people! I get annoyed when people assume that "all kids pick up new languages quickly". It is absolutely not true and we've proven that even immersion schooling does not work for some kids. You cannot generalise about children, just like you cannot with adults.

1 comment:

Footprints Australia said...

I'm very glad I've been reading your blog ... so I don't ask any dumb questions while we are away!!! LOL. 10 sleeps now!