I grew up in Japan and moved to the US in my mid 20’s about 20 years ago. Now I’m a Japanese American who can speak fluent enough English to live and work. I started to go to language schools at the age of 16 and passed step test 1st class (Eiken ikkyu) at age 20.
Previously, I didn’t believe what brain scientists say (they say that after puberty there is no way to be able to speak a foreign language as well as native speakers). Since I came to the US, I spoke in English at work and at home almost 100% of time. My wife studied in Japan for a while and she can speak Japanese, but at home we talk in English. After 3 decades of studying English, my listening skills in English are as good as in Japanese. I still have a bit of a Japanese accent, but it doesn’t get in a way of communication with others.
Until recently, I strongly believed that one can be fluent in any language at any age. I met with people who came to America in their high school age and can speak English almost as well as native speakers. However, after I read this news article about “how children become bilingual”, I changed my mind.
I remembered two things in my childhood that I had forgotten. When I was 7 years old, an American family lived near my house and I played with their son. Since I was 5, my big sister who was crazy about American music played American songs and American radio shows in a small room I shared with her (I tolerated FEN shows at age 5). If I believe the scientists, these conditions in my childhood were indeed the most important English learning in my life and my years of learning merely enhanced what my brain already learned. It may be that my early exposure to English made me feel like studying English hard. Come to think of it, the people I know who became exceptionally fluent in English have parents who do international business and seem to have early exposure to English. Now I think these scientists may be right.
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