Learning a second language at school or college has obvious advantages of course, such as landing a job, being able to communicate with people from other countries, more ease in traveling to and exploring the country in which the second language is based and so forth. Apparently, it also wards off dementia in our old age. (Ellen Bialystok, Fergus I.M. Craik, Morris Freedman, Neuropsychologia 2007.)
In addition to those benefits, I have also discovered that learning another language opened my eyes to the culture behind the language, and the people and customs of that country (in my case, Japan). Furthermore, it gave me a more worldly perspective, both with regard to different lifestyles and attitudes about life.
Most rewarding of all though, learning another language seems to have sparked my imagination, and inspired me to be more creative, leading me to numerous adventures in Japan, writing haiku and western-style poetry, as well as articles on various topics, and penning my debut novel, Gold of the Rising Sun.
Would I have done all this without learning another language? In a word: no.
After that I was hooked! Upon leaving Tokyo, I rode the Shinkansen to Osaka and moved into an apartment with my girlfriend (now my wife of 19 years), Mandy. Together we have lived in Japan for almost as long as we’ve been married, including Osaka, Shizuoka, Gifu, Aichi (Toyota city), and Matsusaka in Mie Prefecture. I worked in Nagoya for a year, and we both visited Kyoto and Nara a number of times.
Living in all those different places and seeing a range of lifestyles (our place in Shizuoka was a country town, and where we live now in Matsusaka is a traditional farming village in the mountains) inspired me to write about it all, in both haiku and articles, most of which I have published on my Japan Close-Up blog and poetry page.
Add to that the adventures that one experiences in a foreign country, and it’s no wonder that there are so many ‘travel writers’ in existence today. Mandy and I have enjoyed some incredible adventures here – skiing for the first time, white-water rafting on the Nagara River, climbing Mt Fuji and seeing the sunrise from the summit, viewing Sumo wrestling live, participating in a tea ceremony in a Buddhist temple, exploring the beaches and coral reefs of Okinawa and so on. Naturally, these kinds of activities can’t help but engage one’s imagination and get the creative juices flowing.
Another study (published by Joseph Cardillo Ph.D., 2014) implies that people who are bilingual (i.e. able to comfortably converse in a second language as well as their own) think more creatively. They can think ‘outside the box’. Dr Fraser Lauchlan said this:
“Our study has found that it can have demonstrable benefits, not only in language but in arithmetic, problem solving and enabling children to think creatively. We also assessed the children’s vocabulary, not so much for their knowledge of words as their understanding of them. Again, there was a marked difference in the level of detail and richness in description from the bilingual pupils.” (From an article by Amber Moore, 2012, Medical Daily)
One can easily see how this would develop a person’s imagination and aid in the writing of fiction, or even in non-fiction such as travel writing. Chris Riotta says:
“(The study of foreign languages has) certainly allowed me to not only learn more about different cultures and various communities but also learn more about myself and all the creative ways I can express who I am.” (Elite Daily)
The first time I came across another language in a fiction novel was when I read Shogun by James Clavell. I don’t know why, but I found it intriguing to see these new and exotic expressions from a remote, foreign country. I was in high school at the time and was bewildered by Japan’s strange customs (bowing, using chopsticks, sitting on the floor, taking one’s shoes off before entering a house, washing before entering a bath). I was also shocked to read about beheading with a sword, but excited to learn about the samurai and Bushido: ‘the way of the warrior’. In University I saw some old black and white samurai movies directed by Kurosawa Akira, such as ‘Yojimbo’, ‘Sanjuro’ and best of all, ‘Shichinin no Samurai’ (the Seven Samurai).
Learning another language made my story all the more exciting, and I’m grateful for that. I may have earned more money if I had stayed home and worked in a classroom or an office all my life, saving every penny for retirement, but my life would not have had a story so I have no regrets. I am thankful for the adventures I’ve had here and the inspiration that studying a foreign language and living overseas has provided me, all of which has helped enormously in writing my book.
See you on the shelf!