me no english

i started studying english when i was 12. on graduation day in elementary school, my homeroom teacher, mrs imayasu sensei said to us, “english is going to be very important. with good english skills, you’ll be able to broaden your world.” she was right. now i can talk to people pretty much anywhere in the world and i can read foreign books published in english.

i studied english in my spare time along with taking regular english classes at school. the classes were very strict. i had to memorize hundreds of new words, phrases and grammar for daily, weekly and monthly tests. i didn’t like those tests at the time, but now i look back and think it was one important step. since the classes were strict, i didn’t enjoy them very much. but on my spare time, i was having a ball (do you really use this phrase? it was in my text book).

i listened to NHK radio english lessons for 8 years. i also watched british and american movies and comedies in english on tv and videos. there weren’t any subtitles for those tv shows, so i had no clue what they were talking about. it was useful just to get used to the rhythm of spoken english. in high school, i started listening to foreign music. the beatles were my favorite. i wrote the english lyrics on the left side of a notebook, with the japanese translation on the other. i’d translate the japanese version back into english and compare with the original lyrics. i did this with other bands too – the byrds, the kinks, deelite, otis redding… and for some reason, hanoi rocks (no question allowed). i’m not sure if it was a good way of learning english, because i hardly ever hear people say ‘the groovy!!‘ or the gorgeous!!.

NHK is great. they show a lot of foreign dramas – “doogie howser, MD” (great), full house (terrible), alf (no comment), beverly hills, 90210 (skanky). the contents didn’t matter to me as long as they spoke english. i watched “knight rider” too. it was aired around 2 am. a perfect hour.

you might notice that i didn’t talk to any english speakers. i was just studying. i didn’t talk to foreigners until when i was 19. we had some american teachers from jet program in my high school. i never talked to them. we also had some exchange students from australia. i think i said hello once. i was (am) very shy.

to break this bad habit, i decided to go to an english-speaking country alone. i was 19. i chose singapore. high tech + english + asian + safe = manageable. my spoken english was not very good, but i wanted to see how i’d manage in english. it was difficult but i did pretty good. many people helped me. many people thought i was a thai. many beatiful places to remember. it was wonderful.

it’s ironic that i’m interested in language, because i’m not talkative. i studied a little bit of swedish, chinese and french too. i can’t speak any of the language. but i like finding the similarities and connections in languages. i also studied american sign language. when hands become emotional, they look as though they were individual creatures. language is beautiful.

i’ve come a long way. but i still have a lot to learn. so pardon me, if i don’t understand you. me no english.

Author: yuka

can you see this?