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Dr John Hawkins

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Posted on 2006/12/14 06:24:48 (December 2006).

[Sunday 10th December]
I'm going to miss Chie's Mum's miso soup. There is something quite sublime about it, not quite like any other. For a time last year I had sort of resisted the idea of Japanese breakfasts - the traditional rice and miso soup, perhaps with umeboshi (pickled plum) - preferring instead the Western standard of a bit of toast. Now though I find myself delighted at the opportunity to have a proper Japanese breakfast, this simple but delicious meal is a real highlight of staying with Chie's family.

Anyway, we said our goodbyes and got on a Shinkansen for Tokyo at 11:30. Chie slept for a large part of the journey, but unusually for me I sat and read a newspaper (The Japan Times - it's written in English) pretty much from cover to cover. One article that particularly caught my attention was one about Globish.

It's basically an informal categorisation for International English. It was interesting to me to read that actually sometimes two people who have English as a second language can communicate more effectively than between one ESL speaker and one native speaker. Initially this seemed counter-intuitive but since I started thinking about it I have observed a number of examples which support this theory, particularly at work. Native English speakers often don't have a good grasp on which words and phrases will be understood easily internationally, and which words are in fact just part of their own particular variant of English (for example British English). Recently I can think of a number of occasions when I've had to stop my American and British colleagues mid-sentence because they're using a word which will be quite meaningless to anyone from another country. Indeed, there are plenty of words which don't even cross the British/American language barrier.

Tanaka-san has often told me he finds my English very easy to understand - I had originally assumed this was because I was speaking British rather than American English, but now it occurs to me it is probably more to do with the fact that I've spent a lot of time with non-native English speakers over the past few years. I think without realising I've got into the habit of using clear, dialect free English when speaking to people from other countries. I'm already fluent in Globish and I don't even realise it.

Anyway, back to today - the Shinkansen arrived in Tokyo at around 3:30, and we headed back to the flat. Chie again went for a little nap - she seemed to have picked up a bit of a bug - whilst I busied myself away on the computer trying to sort out the first set of wedding pictures.

Tim, a fellow Englishman who works at the US office, was going to be in Tokyo for my final week at work to do some handover meetings. Perhaps the management thinking here relates back to my point about Globish - the required communication would be most effective with someone speaking the same dialect. Anyway, as he landed in Tokyo tonight I took it upon myself to form a small one man welcome committee, and we went out for okonomiyaki (of the Osaka variety this time) and a few beers in Shinjuku.

Comment 1

Hmmm, interesting. I always wonder about the apostrophe we use so much - "that'll" "aren't" "they're" etc. I've no idea how this concept is taught to non-English speakers (perhaps Sheri could offer pointers here) and when I speak to people (daily) who have little English I try to miss out this stuff...

Posted by Nigel at 2006/12/14 07:22:51.

Comment 2

Apostrophes are not a challenge when learning English. Nor is grammar in general. It's the accent. The damn accent!
Mine is fairly good, considering I never move without my Longman pronunciation dictionary.
I wouldn't mind having a chat with the Queen.

Posted by Sheri at 2006/12/14 08:37:10.

Comment 3

Funny thing, my colleagues have oft mentioned that I don't actually have an accent as such. Probably because my family moved around the country a lot. So apart from the actual timbre of my voice there's nothing else there to tell where I come from... Oh, except England of course...

Posted by Nigel at 2006/12/14 09:02:51.

Comment 4

Globish sounds like Esperanto, but applied only to a language, it might have some grounds to survive.
In my travels I found that I often have to lessen the already low level of my english in order to make phrases that are more close to the grammatical structures that they have in a certain country.
Although the English that I come out with in those cases is crap, it gets the point across.
Pronunciation is not too much of an issue, having been blessed with the British English ways (I can still fool non UK nationals that I am actually British!!) normally foreign people tend to pick words in an easier way when said in the Queen's English.

Anwyays this Globish could be the way forward ...

Posted by Lox at 2006/12/14 09:30:21.

Comment 5

Very interesting theory on the "Globish"... I also have experienced this phenomenon... Strangely, when in Japan I have found myself to be better understood when speaking a kind of abridged, simple and almost pidgeon english.. Maybe this is a bit different to Globish, but interesting from a what-gets-the-message-across point of view.. Rather similar to the stereotypical Brit twit who thinks that when speaking to a Spaniard he will be understood by simply adding an "o" to every english word..

Posted by Jerry at 2006/12/14 12:08:09.

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