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Why do the Japanese have such a hard time speaking English?

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The other week I was on the TV talking about English and English Education in Japan.  For people who missed the show then I've written up the things that I said on the programme  Please note that nothing in the article is  meant to be offensive and should be understood in the context of the current discussions that are going on in Japan concerning the reform of the English education system here.  I've translated the English version from the Japanese pretty much as I originally wrote it, so apologies if it's a little strange in places!!  

I believe that the greatest barriers between Japanese and the English language are 1)The Japanese Katakana script and 2)The Japanese attitude of "I can't do English."

Traditionally English textbooks in Japan have the pronunciation written in Japanese "katakana".  These are symbols that each represent a sound in the Japanese language.  However this pronunciation and real native speaker pronunciation are very  different.  Native speakers often have great difficulty in understanding "Katakana English".  Katakana is for the Japanese language ONLY!  Please don't use it for speaking English!

We are now in the age of video and the internet. Therefore instead of using katakana, use should be made of these new types of new technology.  This is the reason I made the pronunciation guides on this homepage!

The second reason that Japanese have difficulty with English is, I believe, a question of confidence.  If you think "I can't do English!", then you won't be able to do it!  However, if you think "Yes, I can do English, Gambarimashou (let's go for it!)" then you will be able to!!  English isn't Brain Surgery or Genetic Engineering, it's easy!

If you have English words that you don't understand, then instead of "No, I can't do it", you should think "Ah, I understand that part, and I understand this part".  Look for the positives.  When I hear English there is often many words and phrases that I cannot understand, especially words than are region specific, such as some words from the US or Australia.  When you find yourself in that situation, you should look for the parts that you understand and try and understand the meaning of the sentence from that.  Maybe in the beginning you can only understand 10 percent, but keep trying and eventually you'll be able understand 90 percent!

When you speak English, it's very important not to be shy! Make lots of mistakes, for they are the way you learn!  Always remember that people who don't make mistakes are the people who aren't trying hard enough!

But what's the best way to study English?

Grammatical, boring ways are no good for learning English, I believe.  Of course the best way is to do something that you enjoy, but do it  in English!  People who like movies should watch lots of movies in English, people who like music should listen to lots of English songs.  Children like playing games and running around, so that's why I use all the games and songs in my lessons!  So, choose something you enjoy, do it in English and try your best - you can do it!!

 

Richard

July 2000

P.S. 3 years ago I couldn't speak Japanese, but I've learnt enough to be able to say all this on live Japanese TV.  If I can do it, then anyone can!!

 


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