Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Seyma Tap: My Quest Towards Multilingualism

The language barrier is a powerful obstacle that prevents us from being able to interact with those around us. And because of it, I'm not able to speak to my parents and neighbors without using a mixture of English and Khmer.

Most people assume that I'm already fluent in two languages when in reality, I can't even communicate with my parents fluently. My speaking is so poor that several years ago, my parents signed me up for a program that we nicknamed "Cambodian School" which I had to attend every weekday. I stayed in it for about 4-5 years, but then dropped out in 2006.

My speaking didn't improve at all! The only benefit that I got out of it was learning how to read and write Khmer which I'm gradually forgetting. I am grateful that I know how to read and write a language that's not English, but what is the point of it if I'm not even able to understand it? I do plan on learning the language all over again in the future, but right now, that's not my biggest interest.

Since I was at least able to improve some of my knowledge of the Khmer language from this program, it made me think: Hmm, maybe I can learn other languages too!

You see, ever since I began listening to Asian music (the first being Japanese), I became more and more interested in Asian languages. My experience in Cambodian School told me that if I'm able to learn how to read and write Khmer, then I can learn Japanese and other languages too. This inspired me to create one of my most important goals: To become fluent in at least 2 Asian languages.

The reason why I want to learn languages that are Asian is not because I'm ethnocentric, but because the more interested I am, the more motivated I will be and since I'm very interested, I know that I will have enough motivation and perserverence to pursue and not give up on this goal.

Although Khmer is an Asian language, I wasn't interested in learning about it which lead to me dropping out and learning barely anything. But it's a different story when it comes to my interest in Japanese. Most of my friends are aware of my obsession with its culture and language. I occasionally watch Japanese TV shows/movies just so that I could gain more knowledge of its culture and memorize common words and phrases, but I knew I wasn't getting anywhere.

So on June of this year, I decided to take a step forward and finally started my self-teaching lessons. But I quickly stumbled upon my first obstacle: a lack of sources. Most people would rely on books and videos to teach them about what they want to learn, but unfortunately, I do not possess neither. So I turned to my savior, the Internet, and after just one Google search, I came upon my solution: My Japanese Coach. My Japanese Coach is a video game for the Nintendo DS that teaches you everything you need to know about the Japanese language, from the alphabets to the complex writing system of Kanji.

There are four different ways to write in Japanese: Hiragana, Katakana, Kanji, and Romaji. Hiragana is used to write general words, Katakana is used to write foreign words and names, Kanji is a (very complicated) writing system based on Chinese characters, and Romaji is Japanese written using the Roman alphabet. I have mastered Hiragana and can read it with ease. I managed to memorize Katakana, but I'm occassionally forgetting some characters here and there. Learning how to conjugate verbs and memorizing Kanji is my biggest struggle yet.

I recently became discouraged due to my struggles and have taken a 'break' from my lessons, but being the stubborn person that I am, I am not giving up anytime soon!

After five days of playing this game, I managed learn over 200 different words/phrases (though I'm rapidly forgetting them), how to write a simple sentence (which I need to improve), and memorize both alphabets which is a total of 132 different characters, which in my opinion, is impressive! To think that I was already able to read in write Japanese in less than a week amazes me and proves to me that I may learn the language faster than I ever thought possible.

I am aware of the fact that I can't learn the whole language in a year, but I will continue to pursue my goal and I hope that in a maximum of 2 years, I will be able to speak the Japanese language fluently which will make me one step closer to my ultimate goal.

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