26 November, 2009
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18 November, 2009
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02 November, 2009
Obama Becomes Japan’s English Teacher
Publishers have since flooded the market with over a dozen language-learning titles, including “Speech Training: Learning to Deliver English Speech, Obama Style”; “Learn English Grammar From Obama”; and “Yes, I Can With Obama: 40 Magical English Phrases From Presidential E-mails.”
“Mr. Obama’s English is easy to understand because he pronounces words clearly and speaks at a relatively slow clip,” said Professor Tadaharu Nikaido, a communication specialist here.
When Japanese is Like French
One of our favorite journalists is James Fallows of The Atlantic. Fallows has spent years living in Japan and China, among other places, and has become reasonably fluent in both countries’ languages. So we found this comparison interesting:
With allowances for obvious differences, it's useful (as I've mentioned before) to think of Japan's attitude toward its national language as being similar to France's, and China's attitude as being similar to America's.
That is: in France and Japan, the deep-down assumption is that the language is pure and difficult, that foreigners can't really learn it, and that one's attitude toward their attempts is either French hauteur or the elaborately over-polite and therefore inevitably patronizing Japanese response to even a word or two in their language. "Nihongo jouzu! Your Japanese is so good!" Correspondingly… Japanese people (to generalize) often seem self-conscious about potential errors in English. Of course, French speakers of English are marvelously non-self-conscious, even jauntily willful, about retaining their French accents, especially the trademark "z' sound for "th." " 'Zees ees what I mean..." (Yes, I am aware that the fricative th phoneme is the most difficult sound in English for non-native speakers, our counterpart to r's in French.)
The American attitude towards English is: everyone should get with the program, there are a million variants and accents of the language, all that really matters is whether you can somehow get your meaning across. Because there are so many versions of Chinese in use within China, my impression is that the everyday attitude of Chinese people toward language is similar: You're expected to try to learn it, no one will spend that much time mocking your mistakes, mainly they are trying to figure out what you're trying to say. Probably both the U.S. and Chinese attitudes reflect the outlook of big, continental nations that encompass lots of internal diversity -- and in America's case, absorb huge numbers of immigrants.
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