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Does living in Japan change the way we speak English?

24 Comments
By Rachel Hartwick

I was recently trying to explain to a Japanese friend what the phrase “to make fun of” means.

“It’s like bullying or teasing,” I said, specifically choosing words I was positive she already understood. She tilted her head, confused. “But…why?” When I thought about it, I couldn’t blame her. Make? Fun? How could those words strung together possibly mean bullying?

English is full of phrases that are puzzling to non-native speakers. How do you explain logical reasoning for phrases like “I got kicked out,” (no, you’re not literally kicked — well, hopefully not), “I pitched in,” (it has nothing to do with baseball or camping), or “hang in there”? (um… where?).

When talking to a native Japanese speaker in Japan, I find myself internally swapping these for what I perceive to be easier to understand English—“They asked me to leave,” “I helped,” or “You can do it!”

Foreigners in Japan often find themselves speaking in a strange form of “Japan English,” an English that’s technically grammatically correct, yet highly—and often awkwardly—simplified.

Ever found yourself dropping a pronoun “a” or “the,” or combining adjectives like “cold” or “crying” with gestures? Not only does it happen when we omit words or use oversimplified ones, but also when we over enunciate the “you” in “see you,” or talk at half the pace we would normally.

After living in Japan for an extended period of time, we know our “Japan-English” sometimes comes out by accident to native-English-speaking friends. “Why are you talking like that?” our friends from back home may ask when we call for the first time in a month.

Our “Japan English” starts to infiltrate our lives to the point where we have to train our brains to switch gears.

Why does our English change when we move abroad?

It’s no secret that knowing English has innumerable benefits. It’s handy when looking things up, as 80 percent of the world’s electronically stored information is in English. And since it’s the most widely used language in the world (when combining native and non-native speakers), knowing it is an incredible way to build relationships all over the world.

But out of the more than 70 countries that are considered English-speaking, only about 18 are considered native English speaking. In fact, non-native speakers now outnumber native speakers three to one.

Click here to read more.

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©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

24 Comments
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Gosh I know, nightmare, right?

If only there were a book or similar device which could help explain what words and phrases mean in other languages.

And if only people who have lived overseas for an extended period of time weren't banned from learning the language of the country that they are living in.

. . .

Come on now.

Educators obviously need to adjust their vocabulary to consider their audience, but when not at work, you are allowed to use Japanese, as well as the internet or a dictionary, as is your friend.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Of course it does. If I lived in New York, Melbourne, Vancouver, Manchester, Singapore, or Hong Kong, it would also change somewhat.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Phrasal verbs are great. I love em! This strikes me as a good time to quote one of the Onion's finest headlines.

National Funk Congress Deadlocked On Get Up/Get Down Issue

https://entertainment.theonion.com/national-funk-congress-deadlocked-on-get-up-get-down-is-1819565355

Japanese get ample revenge on foreign learners of their language with all of the onomatopoeia. Why is a hot bath "poka poka" or a shiny object "pika pika"? There is no rhyme or reason.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Does living in Japan change the way we speak English?

No, I'm fine thank you, and you?

7 ( +8 / -1 )

SHOCK!!!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Speak slower? Lol.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Stopped reading after the headline. Living anywhere, including your own hometown, will continuously influence the way you speak English, so the headline is a case of belaboring the obvious

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Norhing changed. The Japanese have to come to minimum world standards in English language.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Many young ‘teachers’ of English might not adequately know their own native language.Hearing mispronounced and garbled English day in and day out is bound to mentally reform the already confused brain.

Most unfortunate...

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

Does living in Japan change the way we speak English?

Well, duh. So does living in New York, or New Delhi, or anywhere on the planet. Talk about writing an article about the blindingly obvious.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

@ HBJ, Jessie Lee & WilliB

If you live in New York, New Delhi, etc., you will be speaking English and so you will be open to influence, but in Japan you should be speaking Japanese and as that has no relationship to English, it will not influence it.

-8 ( +1 / -9 )

in Japan you should be speaking Japanese and as that has no relationship to English, it will not influence it.

You write as if there is never any reason to use English in Japan.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

only if you are insecure about who you are and how you present yourself

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

in Japan you should be speaking Japanese

Sez who?

There are people in Japan I make a point of speaking English to, a different flavour for each - my kids (as correct and unaccented as possible, informal), other Brits I know from way back (natural Northern accent, just uz it comes ou' me mouth), a couple of friends who are trying to improve their English (Grammatically correct and unaccented, a bit more formal and simpler than what the kids get). My critters (Down, boy).

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Hello Kitty 321Today 05:52 pm JST

If you live in New York, New Delhi, etc."

You best hit the books Kitty, the official language in New Delhi is Hindi

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Hello Kitty 321Today 05:52 pm JST

If you live in New York, New Delhi, etc."

You best hit the books Kitty, the official language in New Delhi is Hindi

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

In situations where I must speak English, I find that the Japanese understand me better if I put on an exaggerated American accent.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

You best hit the books Kitty, the official language in New Delhi is Hindi

English is also an official language in India, though many of the poorer residents don't speak it. There is always someone around who does though. Which is why most expats in Delhi get by fine with only English.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

If you live in New York, New Delhi, etc., you will be speaking English and so you will be open to influence, but in Japan you should be speaking Japanese and as that has no relationship to English, it will not influence it.

This is a pretty narrow minded statement. That's like saying that someone who lives or spends lots of time in, say, Mexico, France, or Spain wouldn't be affected by it. And yet there are many 'native speakers' of English who still roll their r's, or soften certain sounds. And few native speakers will speak as fast as one who's spent years living in a place like southern Italy.

Speaking is speaking. Cadences, accent, even word choices and grammar, are subtly influenced by those around us constantly. Just because it might be a different language doesn't matter. It's natural to be influenced by the other sounds coming out of your mouth.

Just because they may not be the same branch of the language tree doesn't mean a thing about that.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

It certainly changes the way I speak when I go back home for a visit. I remember when I was back home last year, I was in a cafe with some friends and the waiter asked me for my order and I instinctively said "Kohi please." I also got into the bad habit of ending some sentences with "ne.'

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Soudesune , it surely does only if you are not aware of the fact it does.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Me go. You stay. Heap big trouble come!

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Of course it changes the way people speak although, some more than others. Most ‘sensibke’ people will cut out colloquialisms and tone down their vocabulary and speed to aid in comprehension. However, there are some who take it to the extreme and start speaking some kind of pigeon English with the odd Japanese word thrown in, which sounds utterly ridiculous and comes across as very condescending. As an English instructor it is important to keep to normal speaking patterns with few colloquialisms and at a slower speed.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

English is a dynamic language, so living outside of an English speaking country naturally means you're going to be left behind.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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