Keeping English alive
By Kazuya Muto
I e-mailed all my Sydney friends to tell them about my final results and about my life in Japan. I also wanted to know about their life, what they were doing over there: How their studies were going, and what they got up to in their spare time.
When I was in Sydney, all of us used MSN Messenger, and we would often spend a whole night chatting away on the Internet. But this time I didn't have time to chat with them online.
So I started writing e-mail, and I felt my confidence draining as I wrote. My English ability was nowhere near as good as it should have been. In Sydney, I lived in a completely English-speaking environment, that's to say, I never encountered Japanese and I never had to use it, either to speak or to write. While I was there, I even began to think in English.
So, as I wrote, I tried to return to that mind frame. I tried thinking in English but the English wouldn't come. Whenever I wanted to write something that was a little complicated, I had to think in Japanese, then translate that Japanese into English. It was a cumbersome and depressing process.
This decline in my English ability surprised me, and left me very disappointed in myself. After all, I had made so much effort to learn English, and now it all seemed to have gone to waste.
As I wrote, the English became easier. I began to think in English again, and around my fifth e-mail, my English had returned to somewhere around the level it had been when I was in Sydney — although perhaps I was still a little slower.
If I am constantly surrounded by English, my English only gets better. But here, in Japan, there's no way for me to find an environment like that. The more I immerse myself in Japan, the worse my English gets. Some people say you can improve your English even in Japan, but I can't, and there's no way I'm going to go around thinking in English all the time while I'm here. That would drive me crazy!
So what should you do to keep up your English?
Friends. That's the best way. The best way to keep up your English is to make some English-speaking friends, and talk and write with them. Of course, you can also read books in English and watch films with English subtitles, and I think these are important things too, but friends are most important. With friends, your language skills will improve very quickly.
So, the next day, I went to the person who was in charge of studying abroad programs at my university, and I asked him to introduce me to some English-speaking exchange students. Unfortunately, there are no English-speaking exchange students on campus this year.
But he told me that there would be an international party in Maebashi.
I went to some of these parties when I was in Sydney. They were always fun and exciting, so I thought it would be a great opportunity to meet new people. I started looking forward to it, but, boy, was it different to what I expected ...
Shukan ST: MARCH 16, 2007
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