How Japanese People Learn English…And Why it Isn’t Working

The golden rule of English teaching pedagogy in Japan: The more blond your hair and pointy your nose, the better you are at teaching English. Also, and saying "OH" in English is hilarious.

As the Asia Times has previously reported, Japanese people aren’t so hot at learning English compared to their East Asian peers:

Indeed, the average score of Japanese candidates sitting for the Test of English as a Foreign language (TOEFL) ranks lowest among all Asian nations except North Korea. In fact, Japan ranks just below Myanmar.

Now that’s pretty bad, but perhaps just using the TOEFL isn’t a good measure of English ability? What about using the results form another test by Education First where Japan scores fairly high (ranked 14 out of 44) rather than bottom of the pack? But at the same time, the Education First test apparently does little to test speaking and listening skills.

Obviously, then, what the people of Japan need to work on is English communication. Talking with Westerners. Speaking both with and like other native English speakers. Learning about western culture. Making that Western culture a real part of their lives. You get the picture. If they want to speak like us, they need to be like us.

Clearly.

So I decided to do some research of English learning resources targeted at Japanese speakers. And while I had originally planned on doing some real, serious research that would uncover the dark conspiracy that is keeping Japanese people from learning English, that quickly ended when I found a certain DVD on “Dangerous English” by American-born gaijin talent Dave Spector:

DVD cover to "Dave Spector's Dangerous English" 「デーブ・スペクターの使うとヤバ~イ英会話」

You might be wondering what in the world the Japanese would consider “Dangerous English.” Luckily, there’s a wonderful trailer available on Youtube. Enjoy.

If you don’t know Japanese, the premise of the entire DVD is pretty simple: it’s nothing but a bunch of puns from either Japanese words that sound like dirty English words (or occasionally, from terrible mispronunciations of English words that the Japanese speaker can’t say correctly). For example, all the men in the restaurant in the video around 3:30 start dropping their pants after the girl makes a certain, unfortunate pronunciation error on the word “cook.”

And putting aside the issue of a large number of men dropping their pants in a public restaurant around a Japanese girl, the over-the-top stereotypes of American are also pretty hilarious. Suffice to say, I wanted to find the whole video—I couldn’t let my research on English learning material for Japanese people end with a infomercial! Since Amazon doesn’t ship the DVD outside of Japan, I managed to find a great solution—online video rentals.

Enter, Videx.

Unlike some other video rental sites online, Videx doesn’t seem to be super-restrictive on what country you’re from—at the very least, non-Japanese IPs are able to access and purchase content—which is better that most Japanese-targeted sites. So making one of the strangest rental purchases of my life, I downloaded and watched the full “Dangerous English” video.

It was… interesting. Basically, the same stuff as on the trailer, but more of it. I didn’t feel totally satisfied in my purchase until the end of the video, though, when we the viewers are treated to “Top 5” lists of curse words in English for both men and women. Here’s the list for women:

Top 5 curse words for women. The bubble reads, "Say it out loud!"

Gotta love that flawless proofreading that only those suns of bitches down in Japan can so consistently provide.

And, the list for men:

Top 5 for men. Which one of these words is not like the other...?

I can’t say I use “cock titty balls sucker” as much as the other words on the list, but perhaps I’ll have to make an effort lest I be labeled as un-American.

The takeaway from the video was a dual message, one about American culture, and one about the English language in America. First, that all Americans carry guns, and therefore talking with an American is dangerous, as you’ll be at a high risk for murder should you choose to do so. The gun stereotype sounds pretty over-the-top, but you’d be surprised. I once had a conversation with a Japanese girl:

GIRL: So do you have a gun?

ME: Uh, no?

GIRL: Really?? I thought everyone in America had one…

ME: Um, I think you’re mistaken.

GIRL: Is your gun locked up somewhere?

ME: I don’t own one at all.

GIRL: But your parents own guns, right?

ME: No! In fact, I don’t know anyone who owns a gun at all.

GIRL: Wow, no way! *Insert stereotypical Japanese-sounding OOOOooh sound here*

In the end, she seemed pretty disappointed. I’m pretty sure she didn’t believe I was actually American after that. I didn’t have an American flag hanging up in my room either after all!

The second message in the vide about language was that adding the word “fuck” every 2-3 words is a proper, American tradition. Depending on what part of the country you’re in, I can’t exactly disagree with that, though.

Although I have gotten offtrack after writing this post, one possible conclusion is: I would hesitate to recommend Dave Spector’s DVD for the serious learning of English.

Hope that helps!

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