Kei, UIC Philosophy Ph.D. 2018; UIC Graduate Program Coordinator, Philosophy Department
My language story begins in Chicago, where I was born and raised in my native language, Japanese. I picked up English in daycare, preschool and the public school system and by the second grade, I became bilingual. I attended Japanese Saturday school through the third grade where I formally learned to read and write. Looking back, my mother did not insist I keep up with my Japanese in any particular way except to speak to me in the language. I picked up the interest in taking up the language on my own when, starting in the fifth grade, I visited my grandmother and uncles in Japan by myself during my summer vacations. I kept returning for the summer months every year all the way through high school. My love of the Japanese culture really blossomed with each of these visits, and in turn, my ability to read, write, and speak in Japanese stayed with me quite naturally. I didn't do anything formally to learn the language during these years; I just hung out with family and friends, watched a lot of TV and listened to a lot of "J-Pop" (Japanese pop music), and roamed the streets of Yokohama and Tokyo by myself. I have nothing but the fondest of memories from these summer trips.
I attended LaSalley Language Academy and my parents selected French as my chosen language of study. My first trip outside of the United States and Japan was to Phalsbourg, a small town outside of Strasbourg in France. I participated in a student exchange in the eighth grade, hosting a student in the fall and visiting her and her family the following spring. At my eighth-grade graduation ceremony, I was the representative student selected to give the speech in French. I continued to study French at Lincoln Park High School all four years, and at the University of Chicago I studied abroad in Paris for three months. Spring in Paris is beautiful -- almost magical.
In college, I wanted to make sure to keep up with my Japanese, so I enrolled in Japanese classes every year. This is where I met my husband, who had studied abroad in Japan before we met, and he could speak Japanese quite well by the time I met him. Today, we have two young boys, a 3 year-old and a 7 month-old. Although my mother never pressed me to keep up with my Japanese, having held on to the language by myself, I am rather insistent that my children have the same opportunities I did to become bilingual and bicultural. Thus one of my priorities is to ensure that they can speak Japanese fluently so that they can explore both American and Japanese cultures and cities and be able to navigate them on their own. My older son attends a Japanese preschool part time, and also attends a Spanish/English daycare with his younger brother. My older son's first words were actually in Spanish -- "bomba" and "gato" ("balloon" and "cat"). He is now fully bilingual in Japanese and English. My younger son has just started to babble, and we look forward to how he will manage hearing Japanese and English at home and some Spanish at daycare. We try to get the boys out to Japan and have fun there just as I did growing up, and so far we have been fortunate enough to go twice, once with just my older son last year and once this past winter with both boys. We spend time with family and friends who also have young children. My older son loves Japanese trains, especially bullet trains, and we got to ride some while we were there. I enjoy spending time with my family in both Japanese and English, both in Chicago and when traveling, and I look forward to many more years of a fun, multilingual life in our home.