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).