Wednesday, October 30, 2013

"Why do I have to study English, Mum?"

It is one of the good questions my daughter asked me once. She is 14 years old, studying English at a private Jr. high school. She took the entrance exam and was accepted a year ago. When she entered the school, she was full of enthusiasm to learn English which she had been exposed as soon as she was born by her mum, myself. As soon as she became 5, we started going abroad and enjoyed our adventure in a different country. In Vaucouver Canada, Hawaii, Alaska, Australia and Guam we travelled on ourselves on a tour or visit my friends living there. She played with some of local kids and joined some of local summer programs for kids as well. She had no fear of speaking English in spite of her low English proficiency. Her speaking ability wasn't so bad as a Japanese kid who had never lived overseas. But her strongest skill in the second language learning is her low anxiety in communicating in English with locals. She developed an excellent non-verbal communication skill via exploring the foreign cities and being exposed to the local cultures.

So, when she marched into English education at the school, I didn't imagine she would ask this question, "Why do I have to study English?". In fact, I was quite offended by this inquiry of hers because I felt that my identity as a bilingual was questioned as well. I didn't answer well at that time. But later she started hating English as a school subject due to the miserable test scores she kept on getting at school. Finally, last semester, she became the worst three students in English and she asked me this question again. This time, I tried to answer her question sincerely because she looked desperately in need to hear my answer.

Here is what I said to her:

I didn't want you to abandon possibilities to take a part in the growing global village where no country boundaries, no ignorant discrimination towards race, nationality, gender, social status, education background and other measures that people used to have due to the lack of accurate information. But I am also aware of the pitfall of the so-called global village where developed and economically dominating countries exploit developing countries via using their cheap labour and products. Losing unique and outstanding cultural identities including the staple diet, the language and regional rituals would be a great loss for the multi-national world with numerous cultural heritages for the future generations. But taking a part in the global village would be better than isolating ourselves in the rapidly changing multi-cultural society. Because I believe that we evolve by adjusting to the changes and learning something new under a new environment. If we stop evolving, the humanity won't survive. And whether you like it or not, English has become a global language and it is one of the most useful tool to have as a communication with as many people as possible under the current circumstance. The status as a dominant language that English has might change as the global economics changes.  But for our generation, such a big change would less likely happen. So, considering the global current circumstance, it is my responsibility, as a mum, as a facilitator of learning for you, a guardian of your future to tell you the potentials of learning this dominant language, English. It is just a potential and it is you who open many doors by using the language as the key. Please remember that you have so many potential abilities to lead a life that you feel proud and love. It is possible to join the global circle to make things better for you and your children without learning English. But equipped with a good English proficiency get you in without so much hustle.  Besides, the way  English is studied at school is just one way. It is not at all the one and only way. In fact, there are so many ways that you may have difficulties to find the most suitable one for you. So, it is too early to stop exploring now and conclude that you don't need to learn English just because a way of studying the language is not suitable for you. Give English a chance to represent your own mind and soul. Once you acquire one more way to speak your own mind, it surely will enrich and empower your presence on this planet.

This is the answer from me to my daughter but I can't tell anyone who ask this good question in any other way.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Lessons for life

My daughter stopped going to the brass band. She needed a break from all the practice, pressures and unnecessary and unpleasant conflicts within the members. She became physically so sick that she had to skip school. To get her healthy teenage life back, she has decided to leave the club for a while. ( It can be for good.) After solving slightly serious problem, she has gained her health and became the cheerful girl again.  Thanks to my partner for taking his time and offering what she needs when she asked him how to play the guitar. I suppose her soul craved for music and the guitar was there. It was miraculous that she actually went up to his room and showed him her interests towards playing the guitar. He did not miss the chance to show her he is also in her cheering team. From that moment, her lesson for life has started.

It is not only about music or playing the guitar. It is about the legendary musicians such as Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, Tracy Chapman, R.E.M,  and their legacy and souls. She has been immerged in their harmony of melody and lyrics. Their music got some power to move even the most apathetic girl towards real life at that time.

This apathy that my daughter showed and declared towards real life bothered me so much. I blamed all the digital culture she is surrounded by. In fact, I was about to organize anti-social networking group to protest this soul threatening addictive culture. She is really into tweet and social networking with other teens she has never met. Her favorite ones are called utaite-san or the singers who upload their own singings to Niko-niko douga (Japanese version of youtube). Some may be talented but many of them are just enjoying to share their performances and comments from the viewers. My daughter is one of the viewers. I won't be bothered if she was the one who upload her performance for it might be a sign of creativity and her own expression. It has been the hardest job I've ever got to take iPhone from her and get her in bed to get some enough sleep to live! Otherwise, she would go online all night long talking to someone she never met. What do you call that if not insanity or addiction?

But after she met those legendary musicians via my partner and his guitar lessons, the way she deal with social networking and online culture has changed. She started listening to great music and reading books as well. She must have realized the taste of good stories again. She also started going out with her classmates and other club members from her school who enjoy my daughter's presence and treat her  as a fellow human. I detect a bit of sweet scent of the puppy love that would burn your soul and show so many colors of emotions. One of the best lessons you can ever get if only you know what it is.

Her trampet seems like sucking her soul out of her but the inspiring music and the warm helping hands my partner offer to her have brought her vigor back. My lesson from her this time is to give enough space for children to grow on their own way. Do not judge teens or any other people based on my old conventions. One more encouraging discovery is that teens love cool and inspiring stories of real people!!!

Lessons for life would go on!