Double without you

One of the biggest difficulties in teaching English to adults in Japan is you are constantly battling against what they have previously learned. Most Japanese have studied English in some capacity for at least six years, most of which, if not all, were at the hands of a Japanese English teacher, and in some cases the teacher wasn’t even an English teacher, just a homeroom teacher reading from an English book!

What this means is that their pronunciation is awful, and their listening ability is equally dreadful. There’s a world of difference between listening to a Japanese speak English and then an Australian. They sound completely different!

It wouldn’t be so bad if English were isolated to situations requiring just English, but unfortunately, a bastardized version of English has been absorbed into Japan’s own national language. There are literally thousands of examples, many of which are abbreviations of English words that, along with different pronunciation, make them unrecognizable to native English speakers, and likewise few Japanese understand the original English versions. Here are some examples:

  • aircon (air conditioner)
  • super (supermarket)
  • basket (basketball)
  • volley (volleyball, confusingly pronounced like “ballet”)
  • pato-car (police car / patrol car)
  • televi (television)
  • radicasse (radio-cassette player)
  • potato (fried potato, used when meaning French fries)
  • note (notebook)
  • persocon (personal computer)

You get the idea. The problem is, most Japanese actually think these are English words, which means you have to un-teach the “English” they know, and start again. This includes going right back to basic ABCs, because…

In Japan, the letter “W” is pronounced “double”, without a “you”. They don’t seem to realize that “W” looks like it does because it’s a double “U”. This leads to the letter “W” being used to mean “double”. Here are some pictures to prove it:

A cheeseburger with W beef!

A cheesburger with W beef!

Some mints with W grapefruit!

Some mints with W grapefruit!

A can of insecticide with “W jet” !

Insecticide with W jet! (???)

I’ll wrap up this post with a little poem I’ve written. I hope you like it.

Double With You

I thought I’d be without you for a while,

You left me and I thought I’d be okay,

I’d come back stronger, last a bit longer,

Feel double without you each day.

When you were gone I lost my will to smile,

By myself, things didn’t go my way,

Together we are stronger, last even longer,

Double me, double you, always.

If you like, you can find me on Twitter at @nick_ramsay. I'd love to hear from you!

10 thoughts on “Double without you

  1. I just read your post to my boyfriend, who unfortunately at the same time tried to swallow a big sip of our brunch-orange juice. Thanks for a good laugh!

    In Holland we have our own difficulties with the English language. Up until a few years ago, you would only get two-three hours per week in high school, but at least you’d be taught by someone with a master’s degree in English.

    Since the 90’s, most children are first being taught by their primary school teachers, from the age of 10 onwards. This means we have an earlier access to learning English, but not necessarily a better understanding to begin with.

    I’m afraid that eventhough my generation is much better educated than my grandparents’ or even my parents’ ( please read), I still make silly mistakes that I won’t notice until a native speaker tells me (but they’re always way too polite to say so).

    I wish I’d had a native speaker around to learn from when I was in school. Now it’s so hard to get rid of my Dutch accent and avoid sounding like I just translated something in stead of actually thinking it in English.

    I can’t imagine how hard it must be for your Japanese students!

    1. Thanks for the great comment Emma, sorry about the orange juice stains!

      I had a look at the Wikipedia entry for Dunglish. The word Dung means animal excrement, which makes it much funnier than our equivalent Japlish.

      It’s amazing to read that English spoken movies aren’t dubbed or subtitled. The Japanese even subtitle their own language just in case someone can’t understand what they are saying!

      I would agree that it’s hard for Japanese English students to shake off Japlish, but since most of them aren’t aware that what they are saying isn’t real English, I think they are just confused when we don’t understand them!

  2. That was awesome! I had a good laugh at the W~~ and I totally know what you mean! lol. I watch/listen to a lot of Japanese shows, dramas, and music, as well as Korean entertainment–I’m half Korean–so I’ve heard a lot of Engrish/Japlish/Konglish. 😛 I still find the W thing so funny… lol. I think I might start using it now! W thumbs up! XD

    1. I remember getting lost at Incheon airport. I couldn’t find the right John!

      Am I right in thinking “zone” in Konglish is pronounced “John”?

  3. Nick – it certainly sounds like a challenge, even more so than it would be for someone taking an introductory course in Japanese here in North America for example, because they haven’t already learned bad habits in speaking the new language. Except when they try to apply rules and pronunciation from their native language into the new language they’re learning. 🙂

    1. It’s a challenge, but it’s fun, too. They are all good-spirited students and are often fascinated in learning the English versions of their “Japlish”.

  4. Hi Nick, I feel we are all in “W trouble” trying to teach English haa haa haa.
    Hey I have become Japanese because today I went and saw Jodie and Toshi’s
    beautiful new baby boy and on the card I bought them, I wrote “Dear Toshi, Jodie,
    Alisa and Rilica”
    Do you see the problem???? I wrote Lilica with a bloody “R” aaaaaaaaah what has become
    of me aaaaaaaaah!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Loved the poem!!!!
    Cheers Keith

    1. If only you knew how regularly I used Google to check my English spelling. Ten years in Japan and you forget how to spell. Fact!

  5. Nick,

    I’m really enjoying your blog! My mother used to teach Spanish to migrant farmworkers and found a similar problem since many of her students were at totally different proficiency levels…then they’d move on after the season and there would be a whole new “crop” of students.

    She also taught Spanish to Japanese students… if you think teaching English to them is funny, try imagining a bunch of high school Japanese girls trying to speak Spanish!

    I originally applied for the JET program out of college, but my plans had to change. Do you know of it?

    1. Yeah, I’ve met a few JETs. I actually applied for the program myself but didn’t even get an interview! In fact, that prompted me to just come to Japan and find a job here, which I did, and I’ve always been kind of relieved that JET turned me down.

      It’s funny you should mention Spanish. One of my students has just started kindergarten and he has Spanish lessons once a week. No English, just Spanish. His mother is as confused as I am. I could understand a need for Portuguese with so many Brazilians in our area, but Spanish? Apparently he won’t start English until he’s 4 years old.

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