It’s been some time since I’ve written an article about bilingual education, so I thought I would review “The Gifted”, a book published last year.
This book is about the Japanese boy genius Sho Okawa, who moved to Canada when he was 5 and was declared as “Gifted” at age 9. Only five years later, Sho passed the entrance exams for give distinguished colleges, each of which offered him a full ride.
This book was written entirely by Sho himself (except for a few quotes from other people including his family, and one chapter with explanations from his mother), and also contains some excerpts from his own blog.
“The Gifted” is interesting from a linguistic point of view because Sho knew practically no English upon arriving in Canada and was placed in a ESL program in school. Part of the book details his efforts to study and eventually graduate to the highest level reading group. His strategies to increase his reading ability (which included his parents hiring older children to read to him frequently) are not exactly what I would call creative, but his persistence for self-improvement is commendable.
Although it can be argued that his gifted status was due in part to a lucky combination of good genes, he details many factors that he feels contributed to his amazing learning ability. These include things like his father’s frequent talking to him since birth, learning the piano, and practicing karate. There is also a chapter on Canada’s educational system, plus one on speaking in front of people. As a parent, or a parent-to-be, I think these are all interesting topics and provide a great deal to think about.
This book is also quite useful to anyone studying Japanese, and through it you can learn many terms and expressions about education and life in general. Except for a few phrases which seemed a bit unnatural or overly simplistic, his writing seems quite good, especially for someone who was brought up in Canada since age 5. Besides his family, I’m not sure how many people in his immediate surroundings spoke Japanese with him on a daily basis, but his story is a testament that you can obtain a good level of fluency in Japanese without actually living on Japan (of course having both parents be Japanese is a big help). I’ve also heard from at least one Japanese person that is his writing style is quite well organized and easily to follow, and I agree.
I haven’t read through the entire book, but it is structured with relatively short chapters and sub-sections, so that you can flip through almost any section and after reading a few sentences figure out what is going on.
Having said that, the Japanese isn’t exactly beginner level, and unless you are quite courageous and have much time on your hands, I wouldn’t attempt this book unless you’ve studied the language for a minimum 2-3 years. There happens to many places where English words are used throughout (probably because Sho is talking about specific phrases that are used in his daily life), although they aren’t frequent enough to act as a crutch if your Japanese ability isn’t up to par. One thing that makes this book extra tough is there is practically no Furigana (Kanji pronunciations shown above difficult or uncommon characters).
This book is marketed as being filled with hints to help Japanese people improve their English from a young age, but there is no reason you can’t just use this same knowledge to help you learn Japanese more effectively, at any age.