Teaching English in Japan - a Form of Sadomasochism

By: David Jones

Japlish
Teaching English in Japan - a form of Sadomasochism

When I was growing up my German-French family were constantly reminding me how nasal and strained the English language sounds, and I guess, compared to the flamboyance of Italian, the intensity of German or the emotion of the French language I'd have to agree, English is pretty mundane. It must be an irritant to them now that rightly or wrongly, the whole world wants to learn English. The Japanese, especially young people, are convinced that speaking good English is their passport to a successful career. What is more, they are being encouraged in this by the government.

But in Japan teaching English has not been an overwhelming success so far. The vast majority of the population, having been tortured one way or another with English classes throughout their childhood can scarcely make a sentence in the great international language. It is a credit to the Japanese character that after so much abuse the average citizen still tolerates foreigners in their land. Would it really be surprising if one morning someone ran amok in an Eikaiwa once all those suppressed memories of incomprehensible textbooks and characters mysteriously called Meiling, Bob and Yuki having bizarre and un-natural interactions re-emerge into the language-challenged adult's consciousness? Or the blind torture of infinite 'listening and repeating' to sounds that have no relevance and are often reminiscent of the final cries of a dying animal. When finally these repressed memories bubble to the surface and the individual explodes into one uncontrolled act of self defense can we really condemn this act? To many, this resistence would seem not unreasonable, justifiable in fact, and could in all possibility start a national movement for restitution from the sadistic autocrats that reside in Nishi Shinjuku at the Education Department. And who will argue that the endless hours, months and years of English drills and paper tests have seriously improved the mental well being of so many generations of Japanese students.

Having established that teaching English is a crime we must seek the main culprits in this attempt at cultural genocide. To what extent can the humble Mova instructor, assistant language teacher, language consultant, those who constitute the army of twenty two year old university graduates arriving totally untrained be held responsible? Aren't they just out to pay off the education debts in their own country by making others suffer (albeit mentally rather than financially). Are they not innocents naively bumbling around the Kanto plains screaming in a pitch so high as to be almost non-human but simply chimp like 'Oh my God' at everything they see, as if they are constantly in the center of some personal tempest, even when that tempest revolves around something so mundane as to be nauseous? And given the maturity of their thoughts, what sincere prosecution lawyer would ever seriously consider them psychologically fit for trail?

The Japanese, true to their stoic and resolute character, have calmly withstood the cultural onslaught of the barbarians; the high nasal tones of countless Australian making closing blurted announcements before vomiting on the last train out of Ueno, the soccer obsessed German hating English with their noses pointed heaven-ward in arrogant disgust at anything they can't attain, the laod bombastic Americans smug and secure in the existence of a God dedicated to maintaining the military might of the U.S, might not always being right but consistently being persuasive, and finally the second tier English speaking nations who jump on the band wagon and thus also have to be tolerated. The Japanese already oppressed by traditional social convention as much as by ultra-liberal social elites have shown great resilience and even humor in facing down the Gaijin challenge - because there was resistance!

And that resistance has been in the shape of Japlish, a form of expression so hopelessly messed up that it plays with the Gaijin mind and on the Gaijin mind. Slowly the reader retreats into confusion and panic as they are unable to distinguish veracity from the horrible reality of a preposition free world, where subject and object rapidly swirl into ambiguity and where conjunctions are voluntary. Japlish is the embodiment of everything good about Japanese society and culture - ultimately subtle and patient, classically simple and intelligent, yet unintelligible by anyone other than a select group. With Japlish the Japanese are able, forever politely, to raise their collective finger in the air and wave it at the Gaijin horde smiling and conveying silently what they think of the English experimentation.

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