Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Japan and the English language: a view from Washington DC

Seeing my country Japan from the distance, from here in Washington DC, I could see it as someone who is aging and tired, less aggressive, insular.” That comment came from my friend Nobu Saito, business journalist par excellence, who is based here in Washington DC. That really surprised me because I always knew Japan as a technology advanced country and a leading producer of electronic gadgets, cars, machines, and high tech.

That is just my opinion, anyway,” he said.

Nobu picked me up last week from my hotel, Windsor Inn, at 16th Street Washington DC, so we could have some catching up. Nobu and I became friends during the Jefferson Fellowship where we traveled through the US, China and India together with a dozen other journalists from the Asia-Pacific. This guy has a great sense humor, quick wit, and deep intelligence that could easily reveal through the fog of beer, red wine, and the spirited laughter.

If there's one country to watch, he says, that should be South Korea. It's high tech industries is conquering global markets and the young Koreans are going out into the world, into the United States, Australia, Europe and the Philippines to learn the English language and other things that the globalized world can offer. It's so aggressive, dynamic and innovative, says Nobu. “The Japanese people should do the same, should go out into the world.”

But the Japanese is still the leading producer of cars, photocopiers and leading edge technologies,” I countered.

Yeah, but you should take note that companies like Toyota, Canon and other big firms from Japan are no longer “Japanese,” he said. “They are now global companies,” he said, apparently implying that the identity of these firms are no longer linked to the Japanese flag.

I don't understand why companies or corporations should have definite national flag to look up to. It's the brave new world of globalization and the borders have become meaningless. But certainly, Nobu's take on the need to master the English language is something that resonates with me. Despite all the obvious economic and probably social benefits of learning English, there are still in our midsts those who think that going native, or going “Filipino” for “nationalistic” reasons” at the expense of English is the way to go. That probably explains why we can't seem to muster enough political and public will to bring our knowledge and use of the English language up to a higher level.

Well, that's just my opinion anyway—to use Nobu's words.

Thanks for that meeting, Nobu. I really appreciate our exchange of ideas!

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