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I'm losing my Japanese!

misa.j

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It is true.
I though it would be impossible to lose my ability to speak my native language even if I don't use it, but I was wrong.

There are some Japanese athletes staying in my town for some events. One of them got injured yesterday and was sent to an emergency room. The doctor who was a friend of mine called me up and asked me if I could be an interpreter over the phone.

I said "yes" of course, being a nurse in the past, I thought it would be easy.
Well, it wasn't at all.

Wow! I felt frustrated the whole time. I said, "Umm~" "And" "OK" "She says..." in between some Japanese. Used gestures so much that my dog kept staring at me. They told me that I sounded as if I forgot how to speak Japanese after all...
I was very careful not to scare the patient and tried to choose the right words, but she started to cry which made me feel even more nervous and helpless.
Gosh, it lasted for about 40 minutes until she felt comfortable enough to receive a treatment.

This phone conversation made me realize how much Japanese I've lost. I guess I'm semilingual now.
 

RockLee

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Wow, sorry to hear that.I think it's true though, in the last year my vocal skills went down hill.Even my Dutch sounds like nonsense from time to time.I think stuying too many languages or knowing too many can confuse a person.Some words you also know in another language, but not in your native language.Thinking in Japanese is different in the way how sentences are build, I have to think the other way around, so I think it's maybe because if this :?
 

Gaijin 06

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I found my spoken and written English had a noticeable decline when I left England and stopped speaking as much English as I had.

It was pretty surprising to me.
 

Kama

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Well, it's not surprising for me at all. Even if it's your native language, if you don't speak it for a while, of course you will forget it.

well, I had myself such an experience, I was 2 weeks on a holiday in Polish sea resort but I had Russian friends and we were spending all the day together etc. and after this I had difficulties in talking Polish. I put Russian words into sentences because I didn't remember Polish. :D

It looks like we are good in talking in our native languages just because we are living in homeland. It looks like it's very important to have a contact with mother tongue after moving out.
 

cursore

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Don't worry I was losing my Italian too after long time living in UK, then I decided to start reading in Italian and speak more Italian and I got thet back.
 

Elizabeth

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cursore said:
Don't worry I was losing my Italian too after long time living in UK, then I decided to start reading in Italian and speak more Italian and I got thet back.
Yes, I don't think it's anything to worry about. I've also noticed that with some Japanese members who practice here with probably much stranger mistakes than yours 😌 ...after a few weeks or months they stop coming because it returns to a more natural level.

And misa, didn't you say you never grew up speaking not proper but rough or street-level Japanese ? That may be even easier to lose....:?
 

Maciamo

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I have the exact same problem with French, However, I think that living for a few weeks/months in a French speaking environment could help me speak normally again. Interestingly, I have less problem to write than speak French (and not at all to understand or read of course)
 

RockLee

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Maciamo said:
I have the exact same problem with French, However, I think that living for a few weeks/months in a French speaking environment could help me speak normally again. Interestingly, I have less problem to write than speak French (and not at all to understand or read of course)
Exactly ! Only the speech part seems to be affected, writing and reading is no problem ☝
 

lexico

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That was a tough situation you were in, Misa, in a number of ways. The most difficult and time-consuming language ability to aquire would be the listening comprehension which hardly degrades with disuse. I would assume that part would be intact; accounting for say 50% of your Japanese. The other layers of difficulty posed would be

1) telephone media: using one ear only, without visuals to aid in sound identification while listening or feedback while speech production, occupying one hand

2) context: with minimum prior knowledge of either the patient's accent, medical situation, and the doctor's message, you are given the double task of comprehending the unique context and transmitting it

3) responsibility: since it was obvious that the doctor expected you not only to interpret word for word, but to bring out the result that the patient be comforted enough to accept treatment, your task was much greater than a simple interpreter's. To be completely objective, that was an unfair task from your point of view. Of course, you would have gladly accepted the task out of good-will esp. with your professional work experience as a nurse.

Well, without getting too complicated, I would say you might be being a bit harsh on yourself for the heroic 40 minutes' trial you've been through. I am quite sure you would have performed sooo much better if you were there at the hospital with the doctor/patient.

As for you verbal production, ah, I'm sure it'll come back to your former speed and versatility within a couple of weeks of being in a Japanese intensive environemnt. So cheer up, Misa ! You've accomplished what the doctor wanted you to for the patient; they probably were being a bit unfair considering the unique interpreting conditions.

If I were interpreting for a fee in your place, I could have charged them triple or quadruple for the extra work load. Yeah ! 🙂
 
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misa.j

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Thanks for your feedback everyone! 🙂

As Maciamo and RockLee pointed out, listening and reading don't give me any problems, I have to think for a little longer when writing, and I noticed that I was confusing the grammer when I was helping them.

Elizabeth said:
And misa, didn't you say you never grew up speaking not proper but rough or street-level Japanese ? That may be even easier to lose....
Yes I did, and you are probably right, not that I didn't go to school or didn't have jobs where I was expected to speak properly. With my friends and family, I was way more casual about my speech.

lexico, thanks for making me feel better. You are extremely good with words, but did you ever encounter problems when you spoke Korean?
 

Pachipro

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I can completely understand where you are coming from misa j. My wife has the same problem, but not to that extent as she speaks it almost on a daily basis at work. However, she has mentioned that she is forgetting quite a few kanji.

I myself have also experienced it. I was very fluent in reading, writing and speaking during my years there. It got to the point where I was dreaming more than 50% of the time in Japanese! However, being away now for some 17 years, I find that my speaking ability has deteriorated quite a bit as I hardly ever speak it here in the US. I can still hold a fairly decent conversation, but I find myself having to search for the words and phrases I want to speak. As Maciamo mentioned with his French, and Lexico so eloquently pointed out, when I visit Japan it somehow magically begins to come back and, after a week or two, my conversation flows quite easily, albeit not as easily as it used to. I do believe that when I return permanently though, that it will come back to me again much as it will to you if, and when, you ever return.

What's strange though is that I very often watch Japanese TV programs that we receive from Japan. I have absolutely no problem understanding 95 - 100% what they are saying, but it would be very difficult for me to repeat back in Japanese some of the longer sentences or speeches I just heard. Weird, isn't it? Are you also able to understand more than you can speak? Also, my reading ability did not take as big a hit as my speaking ability. I wonder why?
 

RockLee

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Pachipro said:
Are you also able to understand more than you can speak? Also, my reading ability did not take as big a hit as my speaking ability. I wonder why?
I can understand more Japanese when I listen to Japanese shows/movies/series etc. and when I have to speak I hardly can say a sentence or have to look for my words, I think it's because I don't speak Japanese so often and spend more time listening/reading.:?
 

misa.j

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I think so, Rock. Understanding another language also comes beforehand your speaking skill. I think it takes much more effort and time for one to be able to make correct sounds, intonation of the words.
Pachipro said:
However, she has mentioned that she is forgetting quite a few kanji.
I often have to make sure that they are right in a dictionary when I'm writing. I'm not sure if or when I go back to Japan in the future, but it sure will be a very interesting experience.
 

Maciamo

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misa.j said:
I think it takes much more effort and time for one to be able to make correct sounds, intonation of the words.

That depends a lot on the language your are learning and what is your mother tongue. I understand what you mean for learning English being a Japanese speaker. But for me, learning Japanese or Italian has never posed any problem regarding pronuciation and intonation. In fact, that was the easiest part ! I also think that once you are able to make the right sounds in a language, you can't lose it that easily. What is difficult in any language is to keep the vocabulary active in your memory when you need to speak it immediately. The longer you don't use a language (even just thinking or dreaming), the longer it takes to recover words from the bottom of your memory. Again, it's very much like sport. If you don't play a sport you were good at for a few years, it will take you some time to recover your previous level.
 

Elizabeth

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I often have to make sure that they are right in a dictionary when I'm writing. I'm not sure if or when I go back to Japan in the future, but it sure will be a very interesting experience.
窶堋サ窶堋、窶堙??堋キ窶堙仰。
窶堙?窶堋オ窶ケA窶ケツス窶堋キ窶堙ゥ窶楼窶堙俄?「ナ督習窶堋オ窶堙遺?堋ッ窶堙ェ窶堙篠、窶愿コ窶怒ナ津ェ窶堋ェ窶堋ソ窶堙・窶堙≫?堙??ーテつ湘寂?堋オ窶堋ュ窶堙遺?堙≫?堋ス窶堙??堙ュ窶堋ゥ窶堙ゥ窶堙?、
窶怒窶懌?凪?堙嫁馳窶堋ュナ陳ゥ窶堙ァ窶堙ェ窶堙ゥ窶堙??堋ォ窶堙?窶堋?窶堙ゥ窶堋ゥ窶堙ァ窶堙??堋キ窶堙仰。ツ 窶堋ア窶堋ア窶堙?、窶ー窶懌?板カ窶堋オ窶堙遺?堋「窶堙??氾サツ習窶堋オ窶堙??堋ュ窶堋セ窶堋ウ窶堋「ツ。😌
 

kokusu

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Wow! This is really an interesting thread!!! I think so many people can identify with stories of their own; it must be a terribly common experience.

I know that my mother and I hardly speak Spanish anymore. My mom can at least still use it at work, though sometimes I guess she makes some funny mistakes and people are amused. For me, I hardly remember anything. I haven't used Spanish very much since . . . well, since about 17 years ago!!! I did use it a bit at work with other people who speak Spanish, though. Also, Spanish was never my mother tongue. Both my parents speak English, but only my mom and her family speaks Spanish. So, for me, it was like a second mother tongue (which caused my cousins to tease me sometimes 😊 ). I really have spent 95% of my life using English (my father doesn't speak any other languages).
Now when I speak Spanish, except for the occaisional flash of insight, it is like learning the language all over again!

Makes me think I should practice it more . . . would make my mom happy, I'm sure . . .
 

lexico

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You're welcome, Misa, and thank you. :) Yes, I have had the terrible experience of losing my Korean. That happened after 3 yrs of disuse because I had no one to talk to in Korean compounded by the fact that my parents never required me to speak it at home. Should I thank them, or not ? hehe..
They spoke it themselves always, so I understood everything within my kiddie vocabulary, but was verbally hampered when I came back.
I had to relearn everything including the Korean script, and academic vocab. for my classes. I remember taking extra lessons after school. Had an exciting childhood, hahaha.
Anyway, relearning Korean, now I forgot English, so after a while, I had to relearn that, so exciting, hahaha !
Eventually I got both my Korean and English upto a level of comfort. In a relaxed, well-planned setting, I can enjoy interpreting for instance the one I volunteered to aid in an interview between a Korean news reporter and a couple of Canadadian advisors regarding corporate restructuring and quality control. But I rarely take on impromtu interprting jobs - it can become tiresome esp. if someone expects it to be easy-breezy. Interpreting is a demanding profession but some personal acquaintances think a bilingual can do it anytime, involving any topic. I believe that to be both inaccurate and insulting to the bilingual person and the interpreting profession. When asked in an unreasonable manner (for example by my ex-boss), I politely refuse. "I'm not your interpreter. Go hire a professional." That usually gets him blushing; at least I would have liked to return the insult. ;-)
 

epigene

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I agree with lexico about the interpreting profession and bilingualism. Not all people make good interpreters unless with adequate training.

I think Misa-san's problem was compounded by the fact that medical terminology was involved. Even if you know the terms in both language (considering your background), you need extensive experience of use of such terms in both language for them to come out easily. That's why there are professional interpreters.

I did some interpreting in my younger days and was recently asked to interpret for an important business meeting. The last interpreting stint I had earlier was about 10 years ago, but I thought I could handle it easily because I had prepared the reference materials MYSELF!!

HOWEVER, it was a DISASTER!! The words simply won't come out!! Talk about rusty!! Although the people there told me I did okay, I wasn't as good as I used to be.:(

Conclusion: I am losing both English and Japanese!! I'm really feeling old... 😭
 

misa.j

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Maciamo said:
I also think that once you are able to make the right sounds in a language, you can't lose it that easily.
That's true. That's why I can't say Katakana Japanese English words so easily anymore. I read and think them as Japanese, but I end up saying them with English pronounciation.

lexico said:
Interpreting is a demanding profession but some personal acquaintances think a bilingual can do it anytime, involving any topic.
It seems so especially for someon who never tried to learn another language.
I worked at a marketing company that dealt with imported products in Japan. One of my first assignments, on my second day on the job, was to translate pages of report that was written in English by a Chinese person.
That was extremely hard.
 
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