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29 June 2014

Great words from a Canadian principal

I have recently become a big fan of TV drama "Hanako and Anne" aired daily on NHK, Japan's public broadcasting station.

It is a story on a real woman who lived between end of 19th century and 1960's. The woman's name was MURAOKA Hanako. She was a translator who translated famous English books including "Anne of Green Gables" and "The Prince and the pauper."

She was born in a poor family but she could attend most prestigious girls' school established by a Canadian Christian missionaries in Tokyo because of charity. She learned hi-society manner and English there.

After she graduated from the school, she became a teacher, publisher, translator and radio announcer. She was also a sufferagist.

Surprised to know there was a life like hers. She met great people in life. Her life was far from average women at that period.

She lived through the second world war. During the air raid on her town she translated Canada's famous children's book "Anne of Green Gables", which she was given from her Canadian friend who left Japan because hostility erupted. In the war time, she could never expose herself to be English speaker in public. English was treated as the enemy's language. But she kept on translating the book although she never knew who would publish it.  

Why could she hold on hopes in such severe time?

Maybe because she remembered words from her school's principal, Ms. Blackmore.

"If some decades later, when you look back on your time with us, you feel these were the happiest days in your life. Then I must say your education will have been a failure.

Life must improve as it takes its course. Your youth, you spend in preparation because the best things are never in the past but in the future. "

That was very impressive words.

In fact, her translation of the book was published 7 years after the war ended and became a best-selling novel, giving hopes to Japanese in the post-war era.

Yes, we should not give up hopes and look to the future, never look back the past.

Then we will make things better than the present.


16 February 2007

Debate on English education in elementary school

Mr. Ibaki, the Minister of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), has been creating a stir with his opposition to English education in elementary school.  I work as a translator, and naturally am proficient in English.  I started learning in the 4th grade in elementary school, from a private tutor who was Japanese.  After that, I studied at English conversation schools with native speakers, and I learned not only the English necessary to pass tests in school but I also became conversationally fluent.  After I graduated from high school, I went to America to study at a university for five years, and thanks to my previous English education and current “real-life” English education, I earned my Bachelor’s degree.



Based on these experiences, I both agree and disagree with Minister Ibaki’s opinion.



First of all, with regard to why I agree with Minister Ibaki, it is because when we talk about language, language is not just about communicating information.  While we talk, we think about various things, and when we say that we are polishing up our speaking skills, we are also polishing up how we think.  The sentence construction of English and Japanese are very different.  In particular, when one becomes used to expressing the conclusion at the beginning, Japanese becomes a very difficult language in which to speak.  In addition to being able to find the right words, it is also important to have the ability to consider exactly what it is you want to say.



In translating work, this definitely becomes an obstacle.  Without completely considering the flow of the entire sentence, it is impossible to translate that sentence.  Being stuck between the two languages, left without the power to think, even understanding the main point that you want to communicate becomes difficult.  To take the example of this author, when I was in junior high school, in addition to excelling at English the other subject I excelled at was Japanese.  I believe that because I became very good at reading comprehension in Japanese, it helped my progress in learning English.



That is to say, rather than language being something that one learns, language is something that one becomes accustomed to.  From that point of view, the younger one is, the better one is able to adapt.  Setting aside the merits and demerits of English, English is becoming the common global language.  If one learns it well, it is clearly to that person’s advantage.  If one is raised in an environment in which one does not feel uncomfortable around English, then after that things will be much easier.



Particularly with pronunciation, it is much better for children to learn at an early age when they have no preconceptions.  Because the pronunciation of the Japanese language is one of the simplest in the world, it creates many difficulties.  For example, the differences between L and R, V and B, and Th and S do not exist in Japanese and are therefore hard to grasp, and by the time one is an adult the fixed habits interfere and it becomes difficult to hear the difference.



However, I do not believe that Japanese education and English education should progress simultaneously.  Before learning how to speak as if it were one’s mother tongue, one should learn the native language properly and build up reading comprehension and critical thinking.  Whether it is the native language or a foreign language, without the ability to comprehend, one can neither speak nor listen.

Written by Masagata. 

 Translated by a MIT graduate.

20:32 Posted in Language learning | Permalink | Comments (0) | Tags: education

18 May 2005

L and R, are they really different?

For native speaker of Japanese like me, L and R are hard to pronounce. Foreigners say Japanese use inbetween of L and R. Not only we have difficulty to pronounce, we can't hear them correctly. The following is the list of pairs of the words which we can't distinguish.

1. light, right
2. life, rife
3. lice, rice
4. lip, rip (See the movie "Lost in Translation." There was a funny incident related to these words.)

The most difficult thing of learning foreign language is to master the pronunciation. It is what only children are good at. If I had started to learn English, I would be able to hear the difference between L and R.

I can sometimes hear the difference only when somebody speaks slowly and clearly. To me, L is clearer than R. R is more romantic than L. But when someone speaks at normal speed or faster, I can never hear the difference.

Japanese is one of the easiest language in terms of pronunciation. We have only 5 vowel sounds compared with 12 vowels in English and 16 in French. As for consonants, we have k,s,t,n,h,m,y,(l/r),w,g,z,d,b, and n. Surprisingly, our neighbor Chinese has 21 consonants. Chinese can hear the difference between L and R. Koreans can, too.

We also have difficulty in distinguishing s and th, and v and b. Like "faith or face," and "vase or base." But they are easier than L and R. Th and V sounds don't exist in our language, so it is easy to notice. But as for L and R, we use mixed pronunciation.

We also have problems in some of vowel sounds like the difference between color and collar.

Chinese language which I started learn recently has much more complexed vowel sounds system. It is called 4 tones. 1st tone is like stretching high voice, 2nd tone is raising tone, 3rd tone is down and up, and 4th tone is downing tone. If you mistone, even if the pronunciation is correct, it is regarded different meaning.

For example, "ma" of 3rd tone means horse but "ma" of 4th tone means to insult. Even if a person speaks fast, Chinese can hear the tone of every character as you hear the difference between L and R.

I wish I could hear the difference between L and R and Chinese 4 tones of the vowels perfectly as those of native speakers do.

21:15 Posted in Language learning | Permalink | Comments (0) | Tags: Education