【Jun】OK so today we have Chisa here. She is one of the teachers here at BYB. She’s very popular among the students for being the bilingual, energetic teacher that we have here. So I would like to introduce Chisa to the show.
【Chisa】Hi everybody. This is Chisa. I don’t see you but very nice to meet you.
【Jun】Alright so Chisa, today we want to talk about you. Um we want to learn a little bit about you. We want to know why you’re here, how you got here and you know everything that comes with learning English. So do you think you can maybe start us out with telling a little about yourself…your background.
【Chisa】Sure. OK. I have lived in the US about almost 7 years in total. I have lived in both countries in Japan and here back and forth since I was in high school. So my first experience to live here was um I was a high school student and I became an exchange student. So I lived one year in Virginia State.
【Chisa】In Virginia. In the east coast.
【Jun】Wow how was that?
【Chisa】It’s actually um, I lived like 30 minutes away from West Virginia so I lived in the middle of the mountain.
【Chisa】Yeah my host family had like two horses, lots of dogs and I was like surrounded by animals and mountains.
【Jun】So how did you end up in a place like that?
【Chisa】Oh there was an agency so you know they threw me into that environment.
【Jun】So you didn’t have a choice?
【Chisa】I didn’t have a choice but they asked me (my) preference like east coast or west coast and I picked the east coast.
【Jun】Why did you pick the east coast?
【Chisa】I don’t know at the time I felt like the east coast was more…I don’t know I don’t think there were that many Japanese in the east coast and I wanted to learn English more. So that’s why I picked…
【Jun】So it was your choice to study abroad then?
【Chisa】Yes a mix of my choice and my parent’s choice. Cuz (because) I always liked learning English. And they know I wanted to study abroad some day.
【Chisa】So they brought me this agency advertisement and “do you want to go?” so I said sure.
【Jun】Really? Wow! And when was that in high school?
【Chisa】I was second grade in high school, which is 11th grade here. So I spent one year in the middle of the mountain. That was a great experience because I could improve my English of course and I learned a lot about culture like real American culture.
【Jun】So how would you say when you first moved over here your level of English. Were you able to communicate with the students? How was the whole classroom setting? High school scene? It must’ve been a pretty big culture shock.
【Chisa】Oh yes. Oh yeah. I thought I studied very hard before I went to the US but I still remember the first day in high school I was taking I think it was biology class. And the teacher said that we’re gonna (going to) have a quiz in the next class. But I didn’t catch anything. I didn’t even catch the word “quiz.” So I wasn’t prepared at all for the next class and of course I got 0 points.
【Jun】That’s funny because quiz is like「クイズ」in Japanese but you still couldn’t pick it up right?
【Chisa】Exactly. So she called me to her office and we talked and I asked her if I can use my dictionary in class and she said of course. But at the time, not just about my English skills but my personality was very Japanese so I couldn’t even ask her. I knew that I didn’t understand at all in the first class but I couldn’t go to the teacher and ask anything. So I go home and the next class I got 0 points. So that was…I still remember clearly.
【Jun】What you’re saying is you knew you didn’t know what was going on, you knew you needed help but you just…you didn’t have the courage to go and talk to the teacher that you were having trouble in class.
【Chisa】Exactly. So my point is my English skill was very low, I thought I studied hard but it’s a completely different story if you come to the US and try to speak to native people.
【Jun】(Laugh) So you would say that in Japan you did pretty well at least in English in your classes.
【Chisa】Yes I did. Honestly yes, I did.
【Jun】So you felt pretty confident coming over here?
【Chisa】Oh yea. That confidence was crushed on the first day. (Laugh) But that was a great one year. It was a great start to live in like there were no Japanese, no Asians so I was basically thrown into like complete English environment. So I had to speak, I had to communicate with them. So that one year made me improve so much.
【Jun】Were you able to make friends pretty quickly?
【Chisa】Um yes because I lived with my host family and they had two daughters who are close to my age so I became their friends and yeah that was easy.
【Jun】OK. So your host family’s daughter I guess, she pretty much welcomed you into her group of friends?
【Jun】Oh wow that’s really nice of her. So what as one of the biggest thing that you maybe realized in high school where you were like you know what this is really different from Japan?
【Chisa】Oh there’s a lot of discussions.
【Jun】Discussions? Ah interesting.
【Chisa】Yeah in class. Especially English class, we read Hamlet it was so difficult for me.
【Chisa】You know? It was impossible for me to understand. But she as a teacher asked a lot of questions to students and not just ask them how much they understand but she wants to know their opinions about the stories. So it never happens in Japanese classrooms.
【Chisa】So that was very interesting but very tough for me because I was not used to in that class setting. So every class I was so nervous like oh my god what is she gonna (going to) ask me today.
【Jun】Like I hope she doesn’t pick on me!
【Jun】And you know I think I do realize that too is uh I feel like sometimes you start thinking about what the correct answer is more than what your answer is. And there is really no such thing as a correct answer when they are asking for your opinion. You just have to be able to state your opinion and back it up with good reasoning right? And as long as it makes sense and it’s logical, then it’s a good answer.
【Jun】But when you’re not used to it, all your thinking about is what’s the right answer? What’s the correct answer?
【Chisa】Yes, yes and your mind becomes like completely white out.
【Jun】Were you able to get used to that? Was that something you got used to?
【Chisa】Um I would say not really in one year because my 16 years in Japan was very…
【Chisa】The influence is…versus one year is nothing. So um but I was able to experience that feeling and environment. So that’s why I decided to come back here to go to college to study more in that kind of education setting and I wanted to improve my English more so that’s why I chose to come back to go to college.
【Jun】Really so afterwards you went back to Japan graduated from high school and you immediately came back to the US?
【Chisa】Yes in the following year.
【Jun】The following year. And when you decided to come back did you go back to Virginia?
【Chisa】No this time…that’s why I came to the west coast.
【Jun】You came to the west coast this time.
【Chisa】The reason I was able to survive this year in Virginia was because I didn’t know anything about real deep America. So after spending one year, I know a lot about things and it’s a real interesting place but maybe because I’m from Tokyo that was not the place I wanted to live for a long time.
【Chisa】So I knew the next time I wanted to come to the west coast.
【Jun】Horseback riding is fun but not every day fun right? So what school did you go to?
【Jun】UC Irvine? And how is the college experience?
【Chisa】Oh UC Irvine is very interesting because there’s so many Asian people. So it’s completely different from my experience in Virginia. But um UCI is a very big college so the classroom setting is nothing like what I experienced in Virginia or even high school. But I was able to be surrounded by very smart people and uh we worked together. Sometimes the classes are very big like more than a 100 students.
【KI-YO】But um it was interesting because all the professors are like real researchers. And they research like every day. Thy write books so we were able to listen to their lectures so that was very interesting.
【Jun】So what did you study at UCI?
【Chisa】I majored in psychology.
【Jun】Psychology… So you’re probably picking me apart right now.
【Chisa】No people say that like whenever I say that I majored in psychology they worry about like oh can you read my mind?
【Chisa】But it’s nothing like that. It’s more of like the study of your brain. And it’s more like science towards study.
【Jun】And why did you choose psychology?
【Chisa】Oh because I didn’t know anything about psychology before I came to UCI. But I took some introduction to psychology and it was very interesting. And when I researched in Japan there were not many schools that offered psychology. So I thought that’s a great benefit to be here and study psychology. At the time I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a psychiatrist or anything related to psychology in the future um but people say it’s useful in any setting in like business or even you know you can become teacher so yeah I just picked psychology because I liked the subject and I liked what we learned.
【Jun】So I know right now you um graduated UCI and now you are in grad school.
【Chisa】Yes. I’m still studying.
【Jun】You’re still in school right now.
【Chisa】I guess I love school.
【Jun】You’re a student for life huh?
【Chisa】Yeah well I actually worked for about 6 years after graduating from UCI in Japan and then I came back almost two years ago to go to grad school. I’m almost finished.
【Jun】Yeah and what are you studying in grad school?
【Chisa】I’m doing Masters of Business Administration.
【Jun】Oh wow. MBA?
【Chisa】MBA. Yeah. So that’s a big change from psychology to MBA but the reason I started to gain my interest in MBA is because I was working in sales department in Japan and um I didn’t know too much about business. Of course I can learn from you know work but I wanted to learn from…I wanted to go back to school and learn about more basic things. Um marketing, finance, those things. So that’s why I came back to study again. But I think this is gonna (going to) be the last school.
【Jun】Are you sure?
【Jun】OK just making sure. What are some maybe like advices you can give you know in terms of speaking English. What did it take for you to get to where you are today? Was it like this from day one? Was it like a working process? How would you describe that?
【Chisa】The easiest way is to make friends here. Native speakers or who are fluent in English. And I think um learning language is not just about ABCD, it’s about body language, how to react to, how to respond to people. So I became friends with American people and I tried to mimic them. Like what they react, what they say, facial expressions just try to mimic them and um try to remember what kind of phrases they use and then um organize in your mind when you get back home, try to say it out loud.
【Chisa】And then the next time you encounter the same situation you can use that phrase. Yeah so that’s how I improved my speaking.
【Jun】So as far as your style, how much of it would you say was speaking and making friends and how much of it was you actually going back and studying and using books and textbooks. Would you say it was like 50/50. Did you spend more time hanging out with friends?
【Chisa】Oh well I spent lets say 70% on book.
【Jun】70% on book?
【Jun】And that was over here in the US?
【Chisa】Over here. Well before I would say 100%
【Jun】100% book right?
【Chisa】But here after I came here…Because I was always a student I had a lot of reading assignments so I had to read those but it was very uh…it helped improve my English because I was forced to you know look into the dictionary, look up some crazy words but these are actually practical and people use that. So 70% on books and 30% of conversation with my friends
【Jun】So it is important. When it comes down to it, it can’t just be all about just speaking or hanging out with friends but you do need a balance there where you do go back and behind the scenes you know you’re there studying the books, maybe you know flashcards, reading books, you know whatever it is.
【Chisa】Yes. Grammar is not so fun but it’s very important.
【Jun】Would you say you studied a lot of grammar?
【Chisa】Um yeah especially when I was in Japan. But a lot of grammar that I studied in Japan was…it was useful but native speakers use slightly different like uh I think they use a lot of “Which means” like when they say something and then when they want to add explanations they always use “which means” But these expressions we never learn in Japan. So yeah grammar is important but like I said speaking, listening balance is the most important thing to improve whole skills.
【Jun】And how about listening? I feel like this is also another thing that comes up with a lot of people is that they wanna (want to) speak but even before they get to the point, they say that you know, the Americans they talk so fast! I don’t know what they’re saying you know. How did you overcome that?
【Chisa】Um I advise a lot of my students what I did which was I picked my favorite actors and actresses interviews and from YouTube or anything and I listen to the same interview over and over again. I don’t try too many new interviews I just you know stay with a couple interviews. And I think it’s like uh when you listen to new song, you cannot sing it the first time. But when you listen to that like five times then you can sing with it. So I think English is similar to that or any language.
【Chisa】So um it was interesting I always listened to the same interview when I was on the train in Japan and because I liked those people I enjoyed it. So the key point is to find someone or topic that you are interested in so that you can continue.
【Jun】Right and that’s really important though right? Is finding that interest right? Because when it comes down to it when you are listening or studying you don’t want to feel like you are studying. If it’s someone that you like, actors actresses whoever it is. It’s fun. You wanna (want to) know more about it.
【Jun】So you would say repetition is one of the key factors to…
【Chisa】To me? Yeah.
【Jun】For you, yeah. And how long would you say it took you um maybe since high school to really feel comfortable listening to Americans speak? Was it something that happened overnight? Or would you say it was something more of a process?
【Chisa】Yeah it was more of a process. Um I would say one year when I was in Virginia. It was because I was sharing a room with an American girl and I listened to her every day. So by the end of that year I was able to listen or hear um most of English if they don’t speak too fast.
【Chisa】But I had a one year blank. When I was in Japan so when I came back for UCI, then my listening skills and speaking skills were a little bit lower than before so I started from 50% again and then maybe by the end of first year of college then the skills recovered and I was able to um understand most of the lectures.
【Jun】And you know what I think you brought up a really important point is you know I feel sometimes there’s you know there’s idea or concept out there that where if you do it for like 3 months, you do it for 6 months, you’re good. You don’t have to study anymore right? Like once you complete it like you can listen forever but the fact, the truth behind it is people who can speak fluently, can speak multiple languages they study continuously you know. It’s like a lifelong process and they never stop and in one or the other they are studying the language, listening to the language, talking the language and there’s never really an end right? To learning a language.
【Jun】I think you feel it the most when you actually step away from the language for some time and you come back to it that’s when for the first time you realize like Oh my god!
【Jun】I can’t understand. I can’t speak. What’s wrong with me? I need to do this all over again right?
【Chisa】Yeah unless it’s your native language, you will forget if you don’t use it. So like you said yes I still learn. I try to learn a lot. I try to read newspaper and stuff and every time I see a newspaper I found a word I didn’t know. So it’s important to continue even though you think that oh I mastered English. But you have to continue otherwise you forget.
【Jun】I know it’s really sad but that’s just the way it is. And that’s why coming back to your point you have to find something interesting right? Because if it’s interesting then you will continue to do it.