Note to Chika-san: If by any chance you’re reading this, I’m sorry for bothering you when you have so much going on. Please feel free to disregard this note and the piece that follows (I honestly don't want to take up your time); I tagged you primarily so people could find you easily, not to try to get your attention. This is not fan mail, but rather a personal essay that I took the liberty of writing as part of a self-exploration of my bilingual background. It outlines my thoughts on you and your work from the perspective of a fellow J-E bilingual (don’t worry, I didn’t say anything mean lol), with an admittedly bold (yet modest) juxtaposition of our respective pasts. I hope you will not mind my writing this piece, but if you do I will of course take it down. I also apologize for any factual inaccuracies. Anyway, thanks for reading this note, and best wishes!
In April 1992, two Japanese schoolkids, one aged 6 and the other 9, each boarded with their respective families a flight out of Japan (a move born of each child’s father’s job) that would take them across the Pacific Ocean to different destinations, where they would grow up in an English environment and eventually become the rare true Japanese-English bilingual. They would both attend a college on the West Coast, return to Japan after graduating, and make a living using their linguistic skills. Today, the then-six-year-old, who landed and was raised in the Pacific Northwest, has over one million subscribers and is a bilingual YouTuber nonpareil with multiple books to her name. Many of you know her as Bilingirl Chika; no further introduction is necessary. What became of the other kid? Well, he was transplanted in Singapore and later California, and right now he’s penning this blog piece. Yup, it was yours truly.
Now, before my twitter blows up with people cutting me down to size, let me make this clear: I’m by no means suggesting that I’m in the same league as Chika-san. Given the magnitude of her success, I probably have no business mentioning myself in the same sentence as her, let alone comparing our pasts. I get that, and believe me, I’m not so pretentious as to think that I’m anywhere near her level. But, Chika-san is someone that I as both a fellow bilingual and a fan of her work have a lot of respect and admiration for, and she is also someone with whom I may share some similarities, beyond just the happenstance of having left Japan in the same month. So, here I’d like to share my thoughts on Chika-san.
So, first, what do Chika-san and I have in common? From what I’ve been able to gather, we are both millennials who were born in Japan, both have roots (to varying degrees) in Nagasaki, and, as noted earlier, both moved abroad at an early age. We’re now both back in Japan as returnees, and we are both fully bilingual in Japanese and English (a rarity even among returnees). We both scored 990 on TOEIC without even studying for it. Although I’m not a teacher by trade, I share in my vision of English education many of the principles on which she bases her educational contents—making them practical, creative, and enjoyable. I also endorse her approach of interacting with followers/viewers and encouraging active learning, as opposed to rote memorization.
So, if I may say so myself, I think some parallels could be drawn in terms of our personal timelines, bilingual skills, and teaching philosophy.
But, we of course differ in many ways, including the following.
Language and culture: Chika-san appears equally comfortable in Japanese and English, whereas I’m more so in the latter. She seems to be able to code-switch with ease, and she also has a “clean” accent in both languages, whereas I sound exotic in both. In addition, she strikes me as being fully bicultural and able to fit in in both Japan and the US, whereas I’m more of an island unto myself and seen as an outsider wherever I go.
Personality: I have never had the pleasure of meeting Chika-san, but you don’t have to dig deep to see how personable and cheerful she is. As anyone who’s watched her videos can attest, she has a natural charm and positivity that make her videos fun to watch and allow her to connect to her audience. She’s clearly a people person, whereas I'm not exactly one.
Teaching skills: It’s one thing to be proficient in English, quite another to teach it. In order to teach effectively, you need to have interpersonal skills and the ability to explain things clearly (on top of knowledge), and Chika-san has both in spades. So, unlike myself, I think she possesses all the qualities you look for in a teacher.
Despite being in my 13th year back in Japan, I still find life as a returnee to be difficult and lonesome at times. To this day I struggle to find my niche, and a complete grasp of my own identity remains elusive. So, when I see a fellow returnee like Chika-san enjoy so much success, it’s both heart-warming and inspiring. She may look all easygoing on the screen, but I’m sure she must have put in countless hours of hard work to get to where she is today, and I respect her greatly for that.
As for me, I may never match Chika-san in terms of achievements or talent, but I’ll strive to apply my bilingual skills to make a difference in my own way. And I’ll no doubt be rooting for Chika-san’s continued success.
It may be strange to think how two kids who left the same home country around the same time could follow such different (yet in some ways similar) paths. At one point we were both kids at the airport boarding a flight, not fully knowing the journey it would take us on. The notable differences aside, I think one thing is clear: that move has had a profound effect on the courses of our respective lives.