Unexpected Challenges in Japan: Having My English Corrected by a 5 Year Old Japanese Girl

When I was living in Sendai I used to do little bits of English teaching with the kids at the church I went to.

I’m not an English teacher, so I mainly just played with them and tried to make them speak some English. One day we were playing with a bunch of stuffed animals. One of the boys would grab an animal, bringing it to me, and ask,

“What is this?”

And I would tell him,

“This is a monkey,”  “This is a horse,” “This is…”

You get the gist. He would bring me the animals, I would tell him the English word, and he would repeat it, before running off to grab a new animal. All was going well. Until he picked up a stuff bird.

“What is this?”

“This is a bird.”

“No! That’s not how you say it!”

The girl who had so far been happily giggling along was clearly not impressed with my English. What had I said wrong?

“It’s a burrrd.”

Yup, my English pronunciation was too…English.

You see a lot of the church kids went to an immersion play-school (sorry, kindergarten) which was run by, and mainly staffed with, Americans.

Now I’m not anti-American. Many good things have come out of the US: Die Hard, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, and possibly some other non-action-movie stuff. But having your English corrected by a 5-year-old Japanese girl because she’s been taught that vowels should be super-sized whenever possible… that doesn’t do much to endear a nation to you.

But the hard fact of the matter is that many more Americans and Aussies (oh yes, you also have lots to answer for!) have gone to Japan than Brits, and so as a man who loves the English language I have to endure the pain – not to mention the shame! – of having my pronunciation corrected by Japanese school girls.

So if you’re a Brit, would you please consider going to teach English in Japan? You are needed more than you know.

And if you’re an American, please watch this message from the Queen (via David Mitchell).

NB: In case it needs to be said, yes I am being sarcastic (another reason for British English teachers in Japan – it doesn’t go down too well in Japan… yet). 

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9 thoughts on “Unexpected Challenges in Japan: Having My English Corrected by a 5 Year Old Japanese Girl

  1. SasBChan

    Ha! Love the video. I am actually American though & pronounce herbs with an ‘h’ but am continuously corrected =/ . Ah well I could care less =) lol. As far as holding down. It’s kind of a phrase here which has come to be equivalent with watching out for someones safety (Credit: Urban dictionary).

    America does believe in super-sizing EVERYTHING !

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  2. Wendy

    And how did you manage to lump Australians into this? Very few Japanese people I talk to have an Australian accent, and usually only because they’ve lived there, not because they’ve had an Australian teacher.

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    1. levibooth Post author

      Yeah, I may have just got carried away… Although you guys do tolerate vegimate (is that the right name?) which means that even having travelled 8,000 miles I’m still not free from the evil of yeast extract spread.

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      1. Wendy

        It’s Vegemite and “tolerate” is a bit mild for how some carry on about it. I personally don’t like any form of Yeast extract spread.

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  3. Dann Zinke (@dannzinke)

    As an American who spent 14 years in and around Tokyo and taught English, I thought that people were always very eager to learn American English, because American English = Business English, which is what most people want to do with it. Few of them are learning it to read Shakespeare or T.S. Elliot!

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    1. levibooth Post author

      Hey Dann,

      That’s a fair point. And if folk want to learn American English I’m not going to complain – as long as they don’t try to correct my English!

      Although I don’t see why you necessarily need American pronunciation to be involved in international business. My English teaching experience in Japan is very limited. Besides the kids stuff I’ve just done informal conversation lessons with students, English groups, and that kinda thing. The students who were really keen were aiming for studying abroad. Admittedly mainly in the states (despite my best efforts to convince them to come to the UK!), but it wasn’t for business as such. More that they wanted to be astronauts, or some other career where English would put them in good stead.

      That said, I know one guy who studied in England so he could do a dissertation on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. So Japanese who learn English to read books by dead English dudes do exist!

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