Sunday, January 6, 2008

Losing My English

Today is actually January 13th but I started to write this last Sunday but then got busy and couldn't get back to it until now (that is why the date says January 6th). So....this is what I was thinking last week.


I'm sitting here enjoying my last bit of freedom before I start work tomorrow. Not that I can really complain-I have a great boss, great hours, great money etc. I am embarrassed to say it but I am an English teacher. I'm embarrassed only because....I've forgotten so much. Perhaps this sounds strange to you....it did to me the first time a friend told me that her brother basically couldn't speak English anymore after living in Quebec for more than 20 years. I really thought that it was impossible to lose your native language. I was wrong.

When I first came to Japan, I stayed with the teacher I was replacing. She was showing me how to use the washing machine....she said "now we will make the water go away"....I looked at her like she was insane.....I said "You mean we will drain the water." I was shocked. I'm not shocked anymore.

I've been here for more than 9 years and my English has gone to hell. It is amazing what you can forget. But for about 6 years I only watched Japanese TV (you'd think my Japanese would be great by now....sadly that isn't true). I remember watching a TV show where they have this famous foreigner speaking both languages and when he spoke English I actually cried cause I used to be able to speak like that. I used to be a teaching assistant at university-now I couldn't tell you if something is dangling or spelled wrong etc.Thankfully my boss teaches grammar (he teaches it in Japanese) or I'd explode from stress.

You have to understand that for 6 years not only did I only watch Japanese TV but I spoke classroom English everyday, spoke to native English speakers (my friends) only on the weekends and I dated non native English speakers (not Japanese). I was surrounded by either no English or strange English. And now, like many foreigners here, I mix both languages ALL the time so much so that my family even understands some now! (Thankfully now I have satellite TV so I can watch English TV-I swear it has helped!)

This isn't a big problem here but it is a HUGE problem when I go back to Canada. I can't tell you how many times I have gone to a store and forgotten a word in English...here is one story: I go to a store to buy a fitted sheet for my mattress back in Japan. I walk into the store and start by saying "sumimasen" (excuse me in Japanese). After I realize I'm speaking Japanese I switch to English..."I'm looking for a ....." I pause because I had FORGOTTEN the words "fitted sheet". I didn't know how to say it in either language. The lady is looking strangely at me so I start to describe it ...."it goes on the mattress and has elastic...." She says "you mean a fitted sheet?" I smile in relief and said "yes, yes, yes." At this point I explain that I live in Japan and have sadly forgotten so much English. That starts a conversation about living in Japan and I forget that I just looked stupid.

One interesting thing about language is dating someone who speaks great but not perfect English-I don't think I would ever want to be with a perfect English speaker again.....he has said somethings that have had me laughing so hard I couldn't breathe (thankfully he laughs too). Here are some cute examples...

My honey: "what is that bug with a light on its ass?"
me: (thinking hard)...."you mean a firefly?"

My honey...(looking at a bruise on my arm) "did I put the blue on you?"

Not sure if you thought they were cute or funny...maybe you had to be there but I LOVE his English and his accent!

Going to Canada sure will be interesting this summer....the 2 of us speaking Japanese or a mix of both and I can totally see me having to sometimes translate his English into real English....that is if I can!

15 comments:

bunny-parfait said...

I didn't know that could happen either! O_o

And I laughed so much at your husband's quotes :D

Anonymous said...

Hi, I am a Chinese student studing in Saitama University. I found your shop on etsy. I also got a shop there, my etsy username is xinxinemin. It is exciting to meet someone who have shop on etsy and at the same time a foreigner in Japan.

sofia said...

Hey bunny-parfait! I'm so glad that someone else laughed at what he said! I thought/think he is so funny...not that he intends to be but it often turns out that way!

And as for losing my English it is sooo sad and sooo true! :(

It does, however, make for interesting conversations!

sofia said...

Hey xinxinemin! I will check out your store! Thanks for leaving a comment and yes it is cool! Good luck with your shop!

debbiev said...

What a fun read your blog is!! I spent the good part of my childhood in Okinawa, from Kindergarten thru 10th grade. My mother is also Japanese (from Fukuoka). She is actually my step-mother, but has been mom since I was 2....so...I grew up with alot of Japanese culture around me. I love reading your blog...seeing your photos and reminising with all your cute etsy stuff. I so miss Japan...so thanks!!

debbiev said...

oh yeah....we used to laugh when my mom asked us to "hold" (fold) the clothes!!!

Di said...

Just want to post and say that I really enjoy your blog! Hope you enjoy doing it enough to keep it up. You're doing a fab job!

sofia said...

Hey Debbiev...sorry it took so long to leave a comment. "fold"...that made me laugh...f is really hard to pronounce for a lot of people. I haven't been to Okinawa but it is one place I want to visit someday.

sofia said...

Hi Di...I love doing it...finding time is another thing! Glad you like it and thanks for the kind words.

Kari said...

Wow, that was a very interesting entry! Sadly, I can't speak Chinese as well after I moved to the USA so it's somewhat similar. I speak a mix of both sometimes too, lol! I used to start speaking Chinese in school, but then realize that I was in school so I should speak English.

Your examples made me laugh. =)

RockerJewlz said...

Sofia,

At least you can be happy that you are still able to educate those of us that, like me and bunny-parfait, never knew could happen.

I have not heard of one losing their language before and it intrigues me. It must feel like losing part of yourself, yet it is because you are creating a NEW self...so interesting!

I am very excited and waiting for the anime sticker tape of cupcakes I bought on your Etsy site. I design cupcake jewelry (as well as other styles) and have been trying to find cupcake stickers to place inside the lid of the gift box..this tape will be a very easy way to do that.

There aren't many cupcake stickers in the world, and as you can see, I had to "go" all the way to Japan to find them!

I look forward to reading your blog on a regular basis.

Julie
rockerjewlz.etsy.com

sofia said...

Hey Kari,

I'm glad they made you laugh. I laugh at my honey. My friends and family laugh at me....shoganai (that's life)! Still....it is embarrassing!

sofia said...

Hey Julie,

It is weird. When I realized that the teacher I was replacing had lost some of her English I thought it was a fluke kind of thing and that it would never happen to me. But what do they say "never say never"!! That is soooo true. I will be shocked I'm sure when I go to Canada later this year...it does make for interesting conversation though!

Glad you "came" all the way to Japan to get those cupcake sitcker tape. I cannot keep them in...they sell out sooo quickly it is shocking! Hope you get them soon!

shoe addict said...

I'm french and my husband isnt. His first language is english. We speak english all the time, lived in english speaking countries for the past 13 years, socialize with english-speaking people. My french is gone too! My english has improved but still not perfect! I've asked for electrical whiskers instead of whisk, said "shut up" not knowing how rude it was, told someone "it's so cold, my nipples are erected", ...At least it makes people smile!

Fashion Hayley said...

I only lived in Japan for a year and when I came back home I spoke like an idiot too. I only had Japanese friends mostly and I mainly spoke Engrish for the whole year, it was so hard at first to converse only in English. I also went into a shop and said "Sumimasen"

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