The ultimate goal
By Kazuya Muto
Everyone who studies English aims to speak fluently. It's the ultimate goal, there's nothing better, particularly if you want to be a translator or an interpreter. At least, that's what I used to think until I came to Australia. Now I'm of a very different view. I don't think speaking like a native speaker is the ultimate goal.
Frankly, I don't think you need to. Who cares if you have a strong Japanese accent or you use "a" instead of "the" or make other grammatical faux pas? There's no reason why you have to feel embarrassed (in many cases people can find an accent or an unusual choice of words endearing) and it's certainly not the end of the world.
I think what's most important is getting your meaning across. It's what you say, not how you say it. Content (and confidence) is all. Express your opinion, say what you want to say. I guarantee you that your listener will appreciate it.
Looking back, I think I learned to hold my own in a discussion. I learned to through experience. When I tried to say something in class (even if it was something that everyone knew already), the other students would listen to me even though I spoke in broken English. That gave me confidence in what I had to say.
So once you've got sorted what you want to say, just connecting a string of nouns and verbs together is enough as long as the other person has some idea of what you're saying. It may sound extreme, but you don't really have to worry about the correct tense or preposition or whether a verb should be singular or plural. Just be confident.
I think it's a Japanese characteristic to avoid speaking English because they think it's rude or shameful to speak incorrect English. I've certainly felt like that. But remember, even if your English is broken, at least you're trying, at least you're using another language, and that, in itself, is amazing. Remind yourself: How many English speakers do you think can (or try to) speak Japanese?
It reminds me of a time when one of my Australian friends told me: "I admire foreign students. They study exactly the same things that we do but they have to study in a language that's not their mother tongue. That's tough." I agree with him, and I think we should be proud that we're doing something so difficult, even if some native English speakers occasionally look down on us.
Over the last couple of months I've found I've grown used to speaking and thinking in English. Even though my English is far from perfect (and anyway what does "perfect" mean?), I'm reasonably satisfied with it.
I'm satisfied because I can communicate with native English speakers without too much trouble. Yes, there are times when I'm frustrated, there are times when I wish I could express myself better or that I could get across a certain nuance. But I can convey my meaning. And that's what I think is important.
English is, after all, a tool, a means, no more.
Shukan ST: Jan. 5, 2007
(C) All rights reserved