Tag Archives: Olympics

Twitch Teaches English

Japan is capable of incredible change, at an unbelievable pace. But the thing about speed, about power, strength and ability, you still need to know what you’re doing with it.

Right now, as the Japanese nation limbers up for the Olympics, getting itself into fine shape to once again introduce itself on the global stage through sport, industry, and Cool Japan culture, it’s been working on what every person in Japan knows to be important.

Aisatsu

And as demanded by the world, it’ll be doing them predominantly in the world’s lingua franca; English.

They’re taking it seriously too. In fact, Japanese industry has been taking it very seriously for a while now. Gone are the lackadaisical studies of the boom years. Engineers and Salarymen alike are hitting the books again in order to compete on even footing with the rest of the world. A rest of the world many an industry turned its back on in order to focus on the domestic market.

A few years ago, to much fanfare, Rakuten and Uniqlo both made bold moves in regards to English usage within the companies. Rakuten correctly noting at the time that if you want to expand globally you’re going to need English. Many Politicians and commentators bemoaned this fact suggesting that someone of greater ability in their job would be overlooked for a less able individual with better English skills.

That’s a fair point I suppose, especially when language skills often have more to do with exposure, experience and circumstance than academic ability.

However, it’s worth noting that more of these jobs would end up going to native speakers within the area these companies expand to should Japanese workers be uninterested in improving their language skills.

It’s a simple fact really; you speak the language of whatever nation you’re trying to sell to. And when you export, it tends to not be your own native tongue at play on foreign shores. Funny that…

Fortunately, most companies aren’t as daft as the average politician or pundit and realize that if that expansion is going to be Japanese in nature then its Japanese staff will have to be the ones doing both the walking and the talking.

So, there it is. A clear target. English for exporting the fruits of Japanese business prowess and English to greet the world when it arrives in Japan for the Olympics.

So what’s the problem?

Well, though the average person might suggest that we have a clear path ahead, the reality of how Japan is attempting to make its way there is rather more fuzzy.

It’s somewhat difficult to describe the overall approach to English study in Japan.

But let’s have a go.

And let’s do so using an analogy with a Japanese twist.

Twitch plays Pokémon. Yeah that’s it. That’ll do nicely.

Twitch plays Pokémon was, and still is, essentially an enormous crowd of people attempting to control one character and guide him along the correct path, past the obstacles of the game and on to victory. Almost everyone, bar the odd troll, is working towards the same goal and yet…

An Irish bar that specialises in Juice... I feel conflicted.

An Irish bar that specialises in Juice… I feel conflicted. How to reach my goal of feeling jolly and Irish? Juice or Porter?

And yet it’s like watching a drunk salaryman navigate his way home. He’ll get there eventually but in the meantime he’s going to trip over everything in sight, lose his bearings, spin in a circle before he finally arrives, a disheveled mess who has taken, not so much the scenic route as the one his sober brain and the eight glasses of beer and three highballs agreed on together; a real team effort.

And that’s what Japan’s national approach to English looks like.

Ok, not so much the drunk salaryman. That’s a mite unfair.

But crowd sourcing the controls of Pokémon. That works a treat.

A thousand people shout, this way, TOEIC tests and a one-hour weekly speaking class will lead us to our goal.

And another thousand… shout nothing at all actually. They’re busy reaching mastery of the English language through grammar, overly direct translation and the bare minimum of speaking.

Because, that’s how you pass the university entrance exam. Which is how you get into a good university so that when you graduate you can work for a big company that… wants you to speak English.

Oh my Twitch.

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Tokyo 2020: An Honest Introduction?

I missed the London Olympics, in person at least. Watching from my sofa on the other side of the world I couldn’t quite believe the news at first. It wasn’t the gold medal haul that surprised me, rather the change in national spirit it seemed to engender. A pride at the things a small island nation could do and achieve. More importantly what we could strive to be. We could be an example of a modern and most importantly to my mind, a multi-cultural Britain. One that not only celebrated those differences but achieved more because of them.

It seems I might have a shot at experiencing that buzz in person after all. Tokyo is going to be hosting the 2020 Olympics and I couldn’t be happier for the nation I currently call home. I’m confident Japan will produce a marvel to match that put together in London. Having experienced Japanese fan culture first hand I know that the stadiums will be bouncing and the country will contract Olympic fever in pandemic proportions. It really will be something to behold.

In many ways though, I can’t help but hope that Japan does things a little differently to the UK.

Last year the Guardian wrote this in their editorial response to the games,

The Games have celebrated what is easy to take for granted: that for all its inequalities and struggles our society at its best can be a living example of tolerance and cohesion, of inclusion and possibility.

But looking on from afar I now see a UK that is ‘actively hostile’ to immigration and an immigration system in place that would turn away British friends and their Japanese spouses if they don’t have enough money in the bank.

An approach apparently designed to make sure,

“that spouses coming to live in the UK would not become reliant on the taxpayer for financial support and would be able to integrate effectively.” 

Which is obviously why the government has made that integration easier over the years by cutting funding to ESL courses.

Then just the other day a prominent English footballer got rather ambushed into making jingoistic remarks about what qualifies someone to play for England. He wasn’t saying anything xenophobic really but he probably didn’t realize just how blurred an issue national and ethnic identity is for many of us. Take one Ikechi Anya for example, the Glasgow born, Romanian/Nigerian who plays for the Scottish National football team.

I myself if I were any good at any particular sport would be eligible for the UK, England, Ireland, the USA and probably Japan under residency regulations.

Thankfully my lack of athletic prowess has spared me such a wrenching decision.

But jokes aside, it feels like I’m watching Britain turn its back on the very things we rightly celebrated. A nation built upon, and stronger for a sense of identity that goes beyond where you were born and from whence your grandparents came.

Japan however, isn’t exactly lauded for its sense of racial or ethnic diversity. I’m part of the 0.6% classed as other. The 0.5% and 0.4% of Korean and Chinese ethnicity that make up the rest of the other 1.5% of Japan that isn’t Japanese are in all likelihood third and fourth generation immigrants who know no other culture than that of Japan. As such Japan’s Olympics is probably going to be a celebration of a culture and identity that is far more simply defined.

Now, I’ll make this clear; it is very much a culture that should be celebrated and I look forward to seeing the very best of Japan come 2020 because I’ve already experienced it in the day to day kindness and goodwill offered to me. But I hope, that where Britain welcomed the world and then turned its back on it Japan will do otherwise.

What a legacy Japan could achieve if it not only celebrates the things that make Japan distinct and unique but openly looks to share that with the world and in the process widen the definition of what it is to be Japanese to include the best of other cultures too. Because some of those other cultures are already here, they are already making significant contributions to Japanese life. They raise families, they participate in the local community and they contribute in myriad untold ways to the growth of the nation.

In 2020 Japan will seek to introduce itself to the world.

Hopefully it’ll be an honest introduction.

And unlike Britain the rest of the World will be welcome for more than just the summer.