By Kazuya Muto
Did I tell you I've avoided talking to Japanese students since coming here? Well, I have. I thought speaking to Japanese sttudents would put a brake on improving my English. So I actively stopped myself from talking to them, which was harder than you might think, because I'm naturally a very curious and talkative guy — and also because some of them ended up thinking I was a bit weird.
Another reason why I avoided speaking to Japanese students was something that my friend from Sweden, Kristofer, said. He said, "If I see some Asian guys talking together in their own language, I'd never go and say hi, because I'd think they've already got their own world and I'd feel awkward there."
Now, because I've made an effort not to speak Japanese, I have a lot of non-Japanese friends, and I find some of the other Japanese exchange students envying me! Also, I'm getting used to thinking and speaking in English, although not enough to make reading up for my mid-term exams in any way easy. Take preparing for my business class, for example: I had to read 220 pages in just one weekend. I can't read as fast as native speakers — actually no more than about 10 pages in three hours.
Until now I've been using an English-English dictionary. Although it's a slow process (I often end up forgetting what the rest of the sentence means while I'm looking up a word), I think my English will improve more quickly if I don't work in Japanese at all. But now I've thrown aside the English-English dictionary and I'm using an English-Japanese dictionary. I don't want to, but I have to if I'm going to get past these exams. There's no other way.
Flicking through my English-Japanese dictionary, I started wondering whether using Japanese when studying in English is actually something to be frowned on. Most people would say it is, and a couple of months ago I would have joined them, but now I'm less inclined to agree.
I tried studying without using any Japanese but I found myself getting bogged down in linguistic problems and not making any headway with the content of what I was reading. I think it needs at least a couple of more years of study before I can work completely in English, although one of my Chinese friends, who's been here for three years and is now working as an accountant, still writes his notes in Chinese. According to him, if he uses Chinese, he gets more done.
It's the same with me, and although I try my best to work in English and to avoid using Japanese, the more difficult the content of what I'm studying, the more my brain translates everything into Japanese, and my hand reaches out for my English-Japanese dictionary, and I think to myself: Am I just being lazy?
Shukan ST: Sept. 22, 2006
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