Ever Wonder Why People Tend to Forget Their Own Language After Living in Japan?

Here's the reason why you forget even the most basic of words.

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Change is inevitable. When you move to Japan, you’re bound to encounter a lot of changesForeigners living there even find themselves slowly and unconsciously adopting the Japanese culture—to the extent that they’re “turning Japanese.” Because of this, their experience of going back home translates to a whole new process of adapting to change. This phenomenon is called
counter-culture shock or reverse culture shock. It involves having to re-adjust after living for some time away from home. 


In this series, we share the experiences of our writers, who found themselves questioning their national identities. Here are some of their stories after experiencing counter-culture shock going home. 


At a loss for words


When you say you are at a loss for words, it could mean that you are in awe of a situation that you rendered speechless. It was a different case for me coming home from Japan, I was at a loss for words, literally. I was not in awe of anything, I just literally could not remember the proper words to say.


Learning different languages and living in a different cultural setting really affects the wiring of your brain. To an extent, at least in my case, I have received comments about how my English has become strange. Setting aside that my English could have been weird in the first place, I realized how living in Japan has changed how I spoke the language—a lot. 


Forgetting English (or even Tagalog) words


I have gotten so accustomed to living in Japan, I realized that I began replacing English and Tagalog words for Japanese. Speaking with my Filipino friends in Japan, we would frequently mix Japanese words into our English sentences, and surprisingly, the meaning would still come across! Coming home, I realized that I was slowly rewiring my brain to forget. And I would often find myself frustrated about fumbling for the right words to say.


“Can you please pass the
Shoyu? I mean the Soy Sauce!” 


Using Japanese English instead


Forgetting words is one thing, but forgetting the proper usage of the word is another. In Japan, there is such a thing called
Wasei Eigo, meaning Japanese English. As some people would say, it’s English, but not really. There is a whole study just for this alone, but to explain the concept briefly, it is a type of English word that Japanese people adopted into their language, and consequently changed it to how they understand it.  

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I would say, “He is riding the
baby car.” when what I originally meant to say was, “He is riding in the stroller.”


When you get too accustomed to living in a different country, there is a tendency for you to forget the most basic of words. It is arguably an experience limited to only those who are learning and living in a different cultural setting. It can be frustrating at times, but it is also a way for you to flex those brain muscles! See, learn, feel, and experience things from a different perspective, and maybe you would find yourself changed or lost in your own mother tongue. 


 (19 December 2019)

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