13 August 2014


Here's a scenario I bet most foreigners are familiar with in Japan. We often get praised for our linguistic skills, for most of us can speak at least 2 languages (our mother tongue & Japanese).

Japan is after all, pretty much a monolingual nation, which isn't necessary a bad thing. The other languages used here are English (due to US' influence), Chinese Mandarin & Korean Hangul. However, the chances of meeting someone who can speak these languages to an understandable level, is pretty slim on the street.

Once in awhile, I witnessed or heard cases where tourist was rejected assistance by ordinary folks because they could not communicate with each other effectively. I'm trying to see it this way that given such situation that stresses and perhaps embarrassing for the Japanese, they would rather walk away to save all the trouble and hassle. As for the unfortunate tourist, the impression of friendly Japanese just shatters. Thankfully, they are also Japanese who are eager to help out the foreign guests, as seen at some tourist spots where one can find free volunteer tour guides.

Quite a number of foreign expats have bashed Japan for it's overly grammar-oriented English education that neglects the speaking part mostly. I would think that it is because they lacked a proper environment to speak English. To make things worse, trying to speak English publicaly can still be taken as an act of showing off, something against the Japanese's modesty culture.

Speaking as a Malaysian, I think that one of the best thing being a former British colony, is the solid English foundation built up over the decades. While the current Malaysian government seems to be trying to reduce English's influence in education, there is no doubt that English has rooted deeply into the Malaysian society. The fact that the newspaper with the most readership in Malaysia, is English-based The Star proofs this well.

In Japan, sometimes we'll get commented for speaking "funny" or "weird" English. We are speaking Malaysian English after all, and there is distinctive difference than the mainstream American or British English. Only fellow Malaysians or our close neighbor Singaporean can decipher our English. For me, speaking our style of English comes very naturally with fellow countrymates, however other than that I have to be careful not to slip out the Malaysian English in me.

Ada juga masanya apabila kita dalam keadaan yang kurang selesa, di mana kita ingin berkata sesuatu tetapi tidak hendak difahami orang lain kecuali orang sendiri. Masa itulah Bahasa Malaysia sangat berguna. Di Tokyo saya sering ada peluang bercakap BM kerana ada ramai rakan di sini, dan sebab itu BM saya masih boleh tahan lagi.

Walau bagaimanapun, saya pernah jumpa dengan warganegara yang enggan ataupun tidak boleh bertutur dalam BM. Ada yang anggap sekadar dapat "memuaskan" dalam sijil SPM sudah cukup dan ia tiada gunanya di Jepun. Ada yang sudah lupa kerana telah lama tinggal di luar negara. Kadang kala ada kesnya ditanya warganegara lain, kenapa orang Malaysia tidak boleh bertutur dalam BM? Ia amat menyedihkan dan memalukan.




日本では伝統、パターン、ルーティンとかは大切にしていることは決して悪くはない。ただ、時代の変遷によって、変更しなければ存在ができなくなる可能性がある。それに、変更のタイミング、方針も非常に重要である。例えば、かつて音楽再生機の主流であったソニーWalkmanは、革新が遅れて今iPodの後ろに追いかけている状態になってしまう。同じくソニーのPlay Stationも、XBoxとの競争は真剣に取らないといけないと考えている。


Lastly, just to clarify that I'm writing this from the perspective of a Malaysian in Japan. Multilinguistic isn't our privilege only, and in fact there are others who can speak more than we do, just look at the Europeans. Being multilingual isn't something we should be proud of, but most importantly how can one make full use of each languages to it's best potential.

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