「ST」は紙名を新たに「Alpha」として2018年6月29日より新創刊しました。 Alpha以降の英文記事はこちら
「ST」は紙名を新たに「Alpha」として2018年6月29日より新創刊しました。 Alpha以降の英文記事はこちら


Living a language

By Tan Ying Zhen


“Was she speaking English?”

“She” was a waitress at a cafe. My friends from Japan were in Singapore and we had gone there for coffee. The waitress who brought the menu rattled off what was surely her standard opening line, “Please place your orders at the counter.”

She spoke so quickly there was barely a pause between each word. My friends spoke English, but they couldn’t catch what she had said. I understood her because of two reasons. First, I was used to her accent. Second, I had been to the cafe before and was familiar with their ordering procedure.

As learners of any language will know, what we study in class is rarely the same as what we hear outside of class. When I studied Japanese in Singapore, I was exposed to only “standard Japanese.” In Kyoto, my friends and colleagues spoke Kansai dialect and Kyoto dialect. Many terms flew over the top of my head as I tried to grasp what was being said.

Gradually, I got used to listening to and even speaking these two dialects. I did not even realize it myself, until a Japanese friend from Tokyo exclaimed, “You are speaking Kansai dialect!” She said that I was not only using vocabulary unique to Kansai and Kyoto dialect, I was even pronouncing certain words the Kansai way.

I was more than delighted to hear that. It seemed like an indicator of how Kyoto had become my home. More importantly, I wanted to speak Japanese like how my friends and colleagues in Kansai did.

I’ve seen the same thing with foreigners in Singapore, which has one of the highest percentages of foreigners in the world. As of December 2011, Singapore’s total population was 5.26 million, of which 3.27 million (or 62 percent) were citizens of Singapore. The remainder comprised 0.54 million permanent residents and 1.46 million non-residents. The latter refers to people who are working, studying or living in Singapore on a non-permanent basis.

At hawker centres, I’ve often overheard foreigners ordering food or drinks the Singaporean way. When we order local coffee, for example, we say “kopi-o” for black coffee, “kopi” for coffee with milk and sugar, and “kopi-siu-dai” for coffee with milk but less sugar. The list goes on and on, with a mind-boggling array of combinations.

Foreigners don’t always get the terms right, but I can see how the local staff are immensely amused and perhaps even pleased that they are at least trying.

Using a language the local way is surely more challenging than merely studying it from a book. But it is through living and breathing the words in everyday life that we derive so much joy and satisfaction ― far more than what any language proficiency test results could possibly deliver.



The Japan Times ST: August 1, 2014

The Japan Times ST 読者アンケート




2018年6月29日号    試読・購読   デジタル版