Do you speak English in Japanese?

September 30, 2018 Off By Roberta Green

English teachers in the public school system in Japan, I am not at all put out by the ability of Japanese students. It isn’t the students that are the problem – it’s the curriculum and the books coupled with the deeply stubborn teachers that refuse to┬ámove away from what is in front of them to teach.

As of 2020, if I have my information correct, there will be a new system of testing being used for university entrance examinations which will REQUIRE passing a spoken component (similar to TOEIC/IELTS/EIKEN). This will dramatically change how English is taught in schools.

The thing that I find frustrating is how frequently the teachers themselves say “Well, we can’t do that. The students won’t understand.” I have taught people who have never spoken a word of English to be able to muddle through a basic conversation and get something from the store in just one month (at one hour a day, five days a week). The students are totally capable of doing it – but the system cripples not only their desire (the first year junior high students are hella on board with getting into the learning thing – by third year, it’s a painful chore for most of them).

Regarding the accent – yes, Japanese accents in English are strong most of the time. This is attributed to all the focus being put on *rote (corrected from wrote – thank you!) memorization and very little actual usage for speaking.

There are also many sounds in English that are simply not used in daily Japanese. Just today, for example, I taught my students the difference between F and V. But I also showed them how to create the sound, and gave them a single word that they all could pronounce perfectly that would simultaneously be useful to them in their speaking: FAVOURITE. Every last student got that word right. Even the ones struggling with the sounds. I don’t ask them to sound like a native speaker – I ask them to try to get the sound right within their own ability, and to smooth out the edges. I want them to be able to speak to be understood – and learn to love their accent, and NEVER be ashamed of it.

I absolutely love Japanese-English accents. I think that as English evolves in Japan, it will certainly sound different – but it will be a pleasant and unique blending. Very similar to Indian-English accents. I have plenty of Japanese friends who are far more fluent in English than I am in Japanese. And their accent is *beautiful*! I can only hope that MY English-Japanese accent will become as fluid as their Japanese-English is!