A few thoughts on growing up bilingual

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Anthony James and Sylvia Shiori Dykstia
Anthony James and Sylvia Shiori Dykstia

A few thoughts on growing up bilingual

by: Compiled by Tetsuo Nakahara and Takahiro Takiguchi | .
Stripes Guam | .
published: August 21, 2013

Editor’s note: In the military community, there are many “mixed” families who speak more than one language at home. We talked with some kids born into these families about being bicultural and bilingual.

ANTHONY JAMES

Anthony, 18, was born at Yokosuka Naval Base and moved to Naval Air Facility Atsugi at age 3. He spent some time at a Japanese child development center as a toddler but attended Defense Department schools until graduating from Zama American High School. He now attends Temple University, Tokyo.

Q: How would you rate your language abilities on a scale 1 to 10?
A: I think my English is about 8 or 9 and my Japanese is a 7 or 8. I can speak perfectly, I just can’t read Kanji. I read some but not a lot. I think I can get around easily.

Q: What language do you speak with your family?
A: I speak Japanese to my mom, but not formal Japanese. My father can speak a little Japanese to get around, but I speak English to him.

Q: When did you first realize that you spoke two languages?
A: Probably when I entered second grade. I was like wait – this is two different languages. That’s when my brain clicked or something.

Q: How did you maintain your Japanese ability?
A: I think it’s just the place you live, because I grew up with all the nationalities. I think most of my friends are half Japanese or half something. So, I think it motivated me to keep learning my Japanese.

Q: What are the ups and downs of being bilingual?
A: I think it is easier to get around. When I am with someone who doesn’t speak Japanese, I can help them out. I think it’s really good to help people out. … No (there are no disadvantages). I think it’s perfect. I don’t regret being a half.

Q: How do you think being bilingual may help your future career?
A: I don’t know, actually. I am thinking about majoring in sports medicine because I just want to be around sports. I don’t really think I’m going to be talking in Japanese unless I get a job in Japan. … I just want be successful. Just graduate from college and see where my life takes me from there.

Q: How do you switch from one language to another?
A: It’s just natural. I can just talk English one second and switch over to Japanese. It’s really cool and fun.  Like my mom’s friend always asks me: “how does your brain work?” I’m like, “I don’t know. I’m just talking.”

SYLVIA SHIORI DYKSTIA

Sylvia, 18, was born in Sagamihara City near Sagamihara Housing Area and has lived on Camp Zama her entire life.  She spent some time in a Japanese kindergarten, entered kindergarten on base and attended Defense Department schools until graduating from Zama American High School. She will attend Tampa University in September.

Q: How would you rate your language abilities on a scale 1 to 10?
A: I say my English is 10 and my Japanese is about … 6 because I can understand and speak it, but reading and writing is not my strongest.

Q: What language do you speak with your family?
A: Mainly English, but when I am talking to my mom, I speak Japanese.

Q: When did you first realize that you spoke two languages?
A: I think once I hit kindergarten. Until then, I only spoke Japanese because my mom was home and, of course, my dad was at work. Once I hit kindergarten I started speaking English because everyone else did. So it was kind of hard to get into it at first. But it is interesting to be able to talk to both Japanese and American kids.  

Q: How do you switch from one language to another?
A: Some things are automatic, especially when talking about food or directions. But when the terms become too complicated, it gets little bit harder. 

Q: How do you think being bilingual may help your future career?
A: I want to study graphic design and business. My goal is to find an art-related job that I enjoy doing.  And I know that Tokyo has a lot to offer. So, I’m hoping to maybe studying Japanese more so I can work in Japan. … One of my dream jobs is to work for a magazine. I like to do graphic design and I know Japan has a lot graphic design and fashion-type things. So, I actually want to study Japanese in college.  I can brush up and maybe work in Japan.

Q: What are the ups and downs of being bilingual?
A: You get the best of two cultures when it comes to food, people, customs and culture. The downside is you always have to translate. When you’re with your friends hanging out, you’re always translating, so you never get a break.

Q: Do you consider yourself more American or Japanese; which language do you think in?
A: Because my mom raised me, when I am on the train with friends I can’t (allow myself) to be loud like everyone else. It’s little things like that. Honestly, I feel more Japanese than American. I am a Japanese in an American body. … I think in English. Sometimes I do think in Japanese.

ALEXIS NICHOLE HAIRE-BURR

Alexis, 17, is a Humphreys High School senior living at Camp Humphrey, South Korea.

She speaks English, Spanish and even a little Korean.

Q: How would you rate your language abilities on a scale of 1 to 10?
A: I would rate my Spanish a 5 and my English a 10.

Q: What language do you speak with your family?
A: In my house I speak English and I understand Spanish. I learned to speak English and
Spanish at home as well as in school.

Q: When did you first realize that you spoke two languages?
A: I first realized that I spoke two languages in middle school when I started actually
understanding what my mom was saying in Spanish.

Q: How do you switch from one language to another?
A: How I switch from one language to another is that I hear what you are saying in Spanish
and translate it to English in my head.

Q: How do you think being bilingual may help your future career?
A: Being bilingual will help me in my future by being able to get better jobs because I do
understand two languages.

Q: What are the ups and downs of being bilingual?
A: The up of being bilingual is the fact that I can get better jobs, and the down is that
sometimes I get mixed up in my translations.

JUAN GALINDO

Juan, 15, is a Humphreys High School student living at Camp Humphrey, South Korea.

He speaks English and Spanish.

Q: How would you rate your language abilities on a scale 1 to 10?
A: I rate my English as an 8 and Spanish as a 10.

Q: What language do you speak with your family?
A: I speak Spanish at my home, mostly.

Q: When did you first realize that you spoke two languages?
A: When I learned it at elementary school.

Q: How do you switch from one language to another?
A: I just speak Spanish to Spanish-speaking people and English to English speakers.

Q: How do you think being bilingual may help your future career?
A: Yes, I think it could but I don’t really see myself in that type of job.

Q: What are the ups and downs of being bilingual?
A: The ups for me are that I get to help people when they don’t understand the language. There aren’t any downs for me, unless it gets to the point where it’s annoying.

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