Multilingual environment

There are two things that I found most unfamiliar when I started my studies in Switzerland.  First, the fact that there are people who can speak several languages and that it is normal for many different languages to be spoken. Secondly, there is a memorable question that I was often asked when introducing myself in the early days of my study abroad experience. The question was, “What languages do you speak?”

This question was intense for me because this was the first time in my life that I had ever been asked such a question. This is because there was a stereotype that “most people only speak their native language”. I was born and raised in Japan. In addition, my parents are Japanese. I think it is because Japan is an island, and the only official language is Japanese. Therefore, before I came to Switzerland, I had no opportunity to speak anything but Japanese. If you are able to speak Japanese, you have no problems in your daily life. Each region has its own dialect of Japanese. In fact, I use a dialect myself, but it is fundamentally the same as “Japanese” and I have no problems when communicating with others. Since I have lived in such an environment for 20 years, it is rare to be able to speak multiple languages, and I had an image that people who are bilingual or trilingual are very special.

However, I have met many people since I started studying abroad, and it is common to be able to speak two languages, and some people can speak two, three, or even four or more languages in addition to their native language. This fact surprised me. What also surprised me even more was the number of people who, despite having acquired many languages, were still trying to learn others. To be honest, I came to Switzerland to take classes in “English” and to be able to understand “English,” and I was not really motivated to learn more languages. However, when I saw my multilingual friends trying to learn more new languages, I realized how naive I was. I noticed that I, too, should face languages with higher motivation. I think this is something I realized only because I studied abroad in Europe. People from many different countries live in Switzerland. Many different languages are spoken daily. I felt uncomfortable in this environment at first, but now that 6 months have passed, I have become accustomed to it. I think the reason I was able to adapt is that I was able to “accept” that a multilingual environment is a normal thing. It took me a while to accept the fact that what I used to think was “special” was “normal” because it was so shocking, but once I changed my mind and accepted it, I felt much more at ease. Thanks to that, I lost my resistance to language in a good way. Until now, when speaking a language other than my own, I was constantly worried that I was saying the wrong sentence. However, in Switzerland, where many different languages are spoken, people try to understand me even if I speak poor English or German. H I think this is because they understand the difficulties of learning a language, because they have mastered many different languages. It is a perfect environment for learning languages, and I want to grow by actively using English, German, and French, making mistakes and correcting my mistakes. For the remaining six months of my stay, I would like to fully enjoy this extraordinary experience that I cannot have in Japan and learn the language.

Riko Ishikawa

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