How I learned English (3) -hardships in the U.S-

28 Sep

I’d like to complete this subject with my video blog, because I found it’s easier to explain than I do it by text.
If you are new to TKE, this is the third post about How I learned English, after these posts.
How I learned English (1)-When the Japanese learn English, what do we find difficult?-
How I learned English (2)-Listening worked!-

I often hear English speakers speak Japanese with strong accent or intonation but I think I can understand their problem. It’s just reverse way of my difficulties when I learned how to speak English. We (the Japanese) will suffer from English accent and intonation. English speakers would suffer from the flatness of our language. (I don’t know how to explain this linguistically but I believe you know what I mean after you watch my video.) ^_^;;;

As a native Japanese speaker, I would love to make videos with natural Japanese pronunciation and intonation for those who are now studying Japanese so you can avoid copying unnecessary accent or intonation. One of my European friends once told me he picked up how McDonald’s was to be pronounced in Japanese (with Kansai dialect) from how American guy who was calling it in a video or somewhere. But unfortunately it was not correct. At first I didn’t get what he was trying to tell me at all. After I told him the true one, he was so much surprised how different the one he heard in the video was, and of course he was able to pronounce it perfectly.

Now you know the problem. If you ever have to communicate in English in Japan, and when people do not seem to understand it very well, please slow down. Please use a simple and short sentence. You could even write down on a paper. If you speak too fast and words are sounding to be connected each other, that’s what most of us don’t understand! If you speak like I did in the video (how I spoke in early days in the U.S) that would be so kind to us. (lol) Just kidding, never mind that. :p

What kind of hardships or difficulties did you go through (are you going through) when you learn Japanese? What kind of Japanese videos would you like me to make for you? As a native speaker, I sometimes don’t really have an idea what you want to know about our language. :p


30 Responses to “How I learned English (3) -hardships in the U.S-”

  1. Yukari September 28, 2011 at 11:41 am #

    Hello Kirin, I love it when you post videos of you speaking in English! Back to your English lessons, I agree that English educations in every country should implement the speaking course too. No matter how well you can write in English, if you cannot convey thoughts through speech or if nobody can understand what you are trying to say, then the English lessons that you had all these years would be a waste of time and money.

    In my country, Malaysia, we generally read and speak English very well, especially the older citizens as we used to learn every subjects in English back in the 50s to 70s. However, things started to change when we were asked to pay more attention to our national language, which is Malay, more than English, and every syllables are now in Malay instead of English.

    I think this is a very very bad decision as the world operates in English rather than Malay. For example, we learn science and math in Malay but when we are granted entries in universities overseas, we have to learn all over again in English. So, what's the point?

    Besides, our education insists that we must pass our Malay, but English you can fail all you want. This is yet another flaw in our education system. Many youngsters in my country nowadays couldn't construct a proper sentence in English. The worse is when they are graduates from universities but most of them can't speak English well although they can write pretty good.

    The ability of speaking proper English is the key to finding work in Malaysia. That is one of the biggest reasons why youngsters weren't hired for work nowadays, simply because they can't speak in English. I am utterly sadden by this downturn of English-speaking youngsters in Malaysia.

    • kirin September 29, 2011 at 10:56 am #

      Oh, I must admit that I was so impressed how your people speak and understand English so well, when I traveled there.
      But I didn't even think that young people can't speak it well. I guess most of the people understood English when I traveled there. I cannot read Malay but everything was written in English as well, so it was quite convenient and I thought that's what we don't have in Japan.

  2. kazuzu September 28, 2011 at 12:02 pm #

    Hey Kirin,

    This is a very insightful view into the Japanese English lessons. I'd visited your beautiful country recently ( I LOVE MY TRIP!) and I do realise that Japanese do understand English very well, just that they can't speak in it too well. Being a tourist there for a week, I asked for directions a lot and during the first two days, I experienced being shunned by Japanese because I approached them in English. (I said 'Excuse me' and they said 'Sorry, no English!' and walked away – Happened in Tokyo). I knew that they weren't really unfriendly (in fact, the most helpful and friendly people I'd ever encountered in my life!), but rather- being scared by me, fearing that I will only converse with them in English.

    But soon after that, I learnt my lesson and in respect to the Japanese, I started to approach them in my broken Japanese (e.g.: Sumimasen, Tokyo Tower wa doko desuka?) and ironically, they knew that I am a tourist at once and they answered me in English (albeit broken English, but I can understand them okay) !!! Sometimes, when my broken Japanese aren't helping much, I will write down my question on paper (in English) and they can help me that way too!

    That proves that Japanese are really quite good with their understanding in English. It's just that they are really in need of speaking classes too. But as a tourist myself, I think it's extremely fun to converse with the Japanese in my broken Nihongo and then them replying me in broken Eigo. At least we find the comfort of being 'broken' in each other and there is nothing to be ashamed of!! ;D

    • kirin September 29, 2011 at 11:00 am #

      Thank you! Thank you! Thank you for understanding us, Japanese people! Exactly!! You know how we are!! Yes we think we are the most friendly people in the world, but just that we are not so very good at English. If you are so kind as to speak with some Japanese, we will definitely pay attention to you and try to help you. Thank you for sharing your experience! ๐Ÿ˜€

      Actually it's fun to try to communicate with a local language with local people. ^_^
      I don't think Japanese people would ignore broken Japanese that is spoken by a foreigner, who is trying the best. ^ ^

  3. Patty September 28, 2011 at 2:20 pm #

    I can identify with you 100%. When I first arrived here in the States, I've been learning English since I was in primary school so I can read and write it but didn't speak it very well. I felt your frustration for sure, I had so many thoughts and reaction to whatever the topic at hand, but had a hard time expressing it because I have to conjugate and get the right word out with the right grammer. But as I listen to more TV, and made English speaking friends, the lanugage became ease. As a matter of fact, I have a friend who arrived to the States around the same time as I do, and her English and mine are very different. She's very involved in the Chinese community, so she kept up w/ her Chinese. As opposed to me, who lived in a town with 2 other Asian families and my English got better but my Chinese suffers.

    My question to you is this: now having learned English, how would you like to improve the way to teaching it? And would that be applicable to learning Japanese?

    • kirin September 29, 2011 at 11:07 am #

      Oh, your English improved even more than your 1st language! But I think it's still cool that you can speak both English and Chinese, which are the major languages today.

      To answer your question, I don't plan to teach English. I use it for translation work or business partnership with international business owners, and TKE of course! I'm not a professional Japanese teacher or anything, but I can at least understand that the Japanese learners would go through the similar difficulties that I had when I learned English.

  4. Angel September 29, 2011 at 1:19 am #

    Thanks for sharing your story! ๐Ÿ™‚ I think you speak English very well, and that is something to be proud of!
    I'm sorry not all your experiences here were good. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ I can't believe people ignored you, that's awful! For having a lot of international people, many US people are still not good at opening up to helping foreigners and that is a very unfortunate thing!

    I think that my interest and love for Japan helps me even more to become more sensitive to wanting to help foreigners from all countries! I have a Korean exchange student in one of my classes and I will be sure when I talk with her from now on to use slower English for her. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • kirin September 29, 2011 at 11:16 am #

      Thank you for your kind comment, Angel!
      I wish I had a person like you around when I was in the U.S. But I know somehow my life is always…how to say…Spartan? Always the situation is severe and I somehow get away with it. In other words, without those strict American people around me, I might be indulged with my so-so English or just OK level of English.

      I think it's so kind of you to talk to your Korean student slowly. ^ ^

  5. Salma September 29, 2011 at 10:49 am #

    I have just watched your video, and by the way, your English accent is very clear and nice. ^_^

    Considering intonation in language, that is a good point for me to pay attention while learning Japanese too. I know I'm still in the very beginning, but I hope I can go ahead. Changes in intonation in any language may affect the meaning of what is said.

    Keep your great work in English, and I wish you all the best. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • kirin September 29, 2011 at 11:24 am #

      Hi Salma! Thank you for your sweet comment. I'm glad my English speaking turned to be understandable to most of the people today. ^ ^ I was so shocked to be ignored by American people because of my poor English then. ^ ^;;;;

      I have no idea how Japanese is like to the people who speak your language. (Arabic, right?) Arabic is such a mysterious language to me. ^ ^ I really cannot imagine how it's like…

      Best wishes for your Japanese study. ^ ^

  6. Pei Qing September 29, 2011 at 1:16 pm #

    Hi Kirin san! I'm a SIngaporean who is now studying in Melbourne for a year and staying in a hostel and opposite my room is a Japanese girl who came here to learn English!

    I think you are really one of the inspirational figures proving that with hard work, anything is possible. Your pronunciation and command of the English language is very good! I feel so ashamed of myself for giving up learning Japanese when I was in secondary school because of the excuse of not able to cope with so many subjects at the same time. I'm going to enrol back in Japanese classes when I'm back in Singapore!

    Hope you and your husband enjoyed Singapore during the last trip and I am really looking forward to the day when I have saved up enough money and tour Japan! Love your website please continue to update! XOXO

    • kirin September 30, 2011 at 11:51 am #

      Thank you for your comment, Pei-chan. ^ ^
      Ohh…please don't be ashamed of yourself. It took me many years to come to this point. You seem to be still young, (I went to your blog from the link :p) and that means you can always restart it! b(^w^)d Ganbarou!

      Oh, yes, we had a good time in Singapore. Thank you. ^ ^
      If you ever have a chance to visit Japan and have a question, please ask me. My Singaporean friends are always so helpful and nice.

      Wish you all the best<3

  7. Salma September 29, 2011 at 1:43 pm #

    You're welcome, Kirin. ^_^

    Surely, studying Japanese is not that easy task for Arabic speakers. However, and as I work in the major of language, I believe that it is just as similar as learning any language in that it needs much practice and patience. I like the stroke order of characters (it's very interesting and reminds me of drawing) and this needs serious practice.

    Also, learning any language is mainly based on one's own will and intention to go for it. For example, I studied German in faculty for four years, but honestly, I hated it (and still I am) because I just studied it reluctantly! In my faculty, there was not other means for me to choose another language beside English in particular except German. I wish I could have studied French instead (although I learnt a bit of French in school but I love it so much).

    So, I believe in that if a learner intends to study Japanese seriously and patiently, he/she can do it. If a language learner is impatient, this may work against him/her.

    • kirin September 30, 2011 at 11:55 am #

      Wow, Salma! You can speak German as well?! I'm impressed. Multi-lingual is definitely convenient and that makes easy to travel. Oops. I'm always thinking about travel. Hahahaha!!

      Now I'm learning Spanish. But after I learned English, it's much easier than knowing Japanese only. ^ ^

      • Salma October 1, 2011 at 9:41 am #

        Well, not so good in German, Kirin.

        All I did in studying German in faculty was just to pass by memorizing vocabulary and understanding grammar. But I seldom practise it, since I had to study it as a must in the English language's curriculum in faculty.

        In general, I prefer to practise French more than German.

        Good luck in learning Spanish, and all the best. ^_^

  8. sanaa September 29, 2011 at 10:11 pm #

    Hello! dear Kirin,
    wow it is nice to see you on this video, Thanks GOD you looks healthy and fine, and I m very happy for that.
    Oh! Thanks for sharing with us your experince in studying english ๐Ÿ™‚
    Well Really my english is still bad, and I m so lazy I dont study hard hahahaha ๐Ÿ™‚
    I like your english, You speak a very good english Kirin.Really
    And Surely you speak a very great english,because you did a great efforts to learn it!…Good job friend ๐Ÿ™‚

    I enojoy I lot while I was listening to ur vidoe ๐Ÿ™‚
    Have a nice day

    Loves from here
    Take care
    Say hello to Pi-chan ๐Ÿ™‚


    • kirin September 30, 2011 at 11:58 am #

      Hi Sanaa!
      You are doing well, my friend. Don't say you are lazy. I understand your English. You already understand French and Arabic which is great! ^ ^ I'll teach you some Japanese (greetings) when I have a chance to see you next year. ^ ^

      Take care~~<3

      • sanaa September 30, 2011 at 11:33 pm #

        Hi dear friend Kirin,
        I hope my comment finds you fine and happy as well!….And our sweet Pi-chan and all ur lovely family!U______U
        Let me tell you that you are so kind kirin really, Thanks for encourage me! Thanks for you so much!

        Oh!Oh!Oh….Thanks as well dear kirin that you are going to teaching me japanese greetings.
        I will wait that time to welcome you here^ ^ ..Because it will be so good time, I m sure!

        I wish you a very happy and nice weekend with all your loves ones!
        And give my best wishes for Pi-chan!

        Once again I send you a warm thanks!
        Beleive me you are so kind!

        Take care good
        Loves & Peace from here


  9. Alice in Horrorland September 30, 2011 at 7:48 am #

    I think your English is really great, I could understand it really well^^!

    I think here in Germany, English classes are not the best you could get, too.
    I learned the grammar, the vocabulary and so on…but I think they somehow missed the intonation. I mean to speak English in a natural way. And I missed another important thing: to understand what your counterpart is saying!

    I always thought that my English was quite well, I had good marks at school and learned a lot on the internet through websites in Englisch language.

    And then I went to London two years ago, and…OMG! I could understand very well what was written all over the signs, got some of the play of words on advertisements and also the announcements coming from loud speakers were clear to me – but if I had to listen to a native speaker I got about half of what they said=_=;.
    When I talked to someone I had to ask them to repeat their sentence so often, it was embarrassing to meX_x.
    I was also sad that all my sentences, which I put together in my head so neatly, came out like some mess…with breaks, missing intonation and so on. But I could live with that, at least I was not native and nobody could expect me to speak English like one^^;.

    At school we listened to cassettes and cds a lot where all the textes from our excercise books were read out. I could understand them very well, they were clear, had no accent and I usually didn't need to follow the conversation in the book. But that didn't prepare us for the "real" English like I call it.

    Perhaps it's too much to expect from the classes, but we live in a world where it's more and more important to speak English. You need it in your daily live or at your job – in some situations it might not matter how good your English is or how you speak, but in other situations it might be important (like at your job).

    Well, of course school can't prepare you for everything…I think if people would start to learn German, they would learn standart German only. And after a visit to an area with a strong accent (like Bavaria) they would come back and say "How come I didn't understand a bit? I was studying this language for so long!" Even for me, who lives in the North-West it's hard to understand the Bavarians at once, but it might be kinda frustrating for someone who learned the language so much and had so many difficulties then.

    • kirin September 30, 2011 at 12:09 pm #

      Thank you Alice…in Horrorland? (haha!)
      I thought German people are almost free from speaking English. I mean, from my limited image, I somehow had this image that German people can speak English as good as native English speakers. But so…you had a similar problem like mine.

      I also want to tell you that I don't know if I can understand some English spoken in the U.K and Australia so well. Right after I came beck from the U.S, I happened to watch BBC news and I was so shocked I couldn't understand what was spoken there almost 100%. It was the same English but with British accent, my ears that were used to American accent, couldn't catch the rhythm of the speech at all.

      I was so upset then because I remembered all the efforts and hardships I went through in the U.S and questioned to myself, "Was it a dream that I finally could understand spoken English in the U.S? Now I came back to Japan and everything was gone??"

      As for dialects, I agree. In Japan we have many dialects and some words that are only used in the specific areas.
      Thank you for sharing your story!

  10. dwayne2d3d October 3, 2011 at 4:02 pm #

    I grew up in NYC around Spanish people, as such i learned the intonation very well. It's so funny cause i don't know Spanish that well, at all, at all, but when i speak it, Spanish people tell me that i talk like i grew up in a Spanish country. All because i pronounce my words correctly.

    That is why when i started to learn Japanese i focused on 1)writing Kanji and 2) intonation.
    If you saw me write Kanji or here me speak Japanese you would think i knew it alot more that i do, simply because i pay attention to pronunciation and how to write Kanji's. But in reality i don't know it that much. Since i focused on reading and writing i am 1,000,000 times better at reading Japanese that i am at speaking it, it's the weirdest thing in the world to me.

    So i can Image how people visiting Japan find it weird or cool i guess, that if they write it down on paper in English that you guys understand them better..

    • kirin October 6, 2011 at 1:42 am #

      Thank you for sharing an interesting story of yours. ^ ^
      Haha, "1,000,000 times better"! I also knew some difficult English words (such as propaganda) when I didn't even know what "to go" means. That's all because we had to memorize as many words and idioms as possible at school but colloquial conversation or words or phrases were not taught enough for us to even understand "For here or to go?" lol

  11. Nicole M October 30, 2011 at 6:17 am #


    Thank you for this video. I came across your blog today by chance actually. I am an American college student studying abroad at Waseda, and so far I have been here for 2 months. I also am having the same problem. All my classmates can speak Japanese so efficiently and convey what they want to the teacher (perhaps they are making mistakes but they can at least figure out what they want to say) but for me, I can barely say anything and it takes me so much time. Sometimes all I can do is say words, not form sentences. However my test scores with reading and writing are generally good. I always feel so bad for the people who have to wait for me to say something, and I feel guilty toward the teacher because I am scared she thinks I am lazy. (I have to admit I am a bit lazy, but these days i'm really discouraged when I think about studying Japanese and it gets worse the more trouble I have). Even my boyfriend says that I wont speak Japanese, and I asked him to just speak Japanese so I can work on listening and then maybe eventually I can move up from one word sentences to saying things a little more clearly without all the struggle. I'm really happy to see that listening worked for you because right now I feel like that's all I can do (Of course I need to study harder as well x_x). I feel a little more hope now from hearing your story. It feels really isolating here when I can't speak to anyone and unfortunately I don't have a host family, I have a dorm. In some ways I think host family would have been a better choice for someone like me haha… But in any case, thank you for sharing your story and giving me a little relief. I hope I can make some progress too! =]


    • kirin October 30, 2011 at 12:22 pm #

      Hi Nicole,

      Don't worry, you've been here only for 2 months right? When I think of the 2nd month in the U.S…a 10-year-old boy from the host family even looked down on me, saying "Mom, I don't get what she says, she doesn't speak English!". Be patient and keep listening Japanese for 6 months. And you will be surprised how much you can understand when 6th moth is passing. You will probably understand what's spoken in the TV news, then all of a sudden you can easily speak Japanese!

      Just work hard, and your efforts will be paid off. ^___^ Ganbatte!!

  12. Joy April 12, 2012 at 10:06 am #

    This makes me wonder about the english exposure in Japan. As a spanish speaker, I didn't have problem with english pronunciation (even though is quite different) because every show and movie on tv is in english with subtitles, same goes for music, we are constantly listening, reading and being showered by english stuff.

    How do you see american tv shows and movies? Are they dubbed or subtitled? Or people generally don't watch american shows or listen to american singers?

    • kirin April 12, 2012 at 12:29 pm #

      I'm also learning Spanish now and I'm surprised how similar some Spanish words are to English words. It's easier for me to learn Spanish than the time I learned English from Japanese because I already know English. Even if I don't know certain Spanish words, I can still guess from how it sounds and look for a similar word in English. (Of course not all words are like that, though)

      For example,
      Necesito mi coche absolutamente.
      (need, my, car, absolutely)
      But in Japanese "doushitemo kuruma ga hitsuyou desu"…not a single word looks similar, and of course, it's not described in alphabet, but is in Japanese letters.

      Over here in Japan, yes we have a few American dramas on cable TV with Japanese subtitles. But most people prefer Japanese drama and J-pop a lot. It's not common to expose ourselves to English stuff in Japan.

      I think it's nice when half of the TV programs are in English and we naturally watch them since childhood. Many Japanese people suffer from learning English because it's just too different – pronunciation, grammar, and everything.

      Sorry, my explanation may not be clear. ^ ^;;;

  13. Alex August 12, 2012 at 7:29 am #

    I think what you need to learn more is the english alphabet like what i did with my spanish and i started speaking fluently
    Now im learning japanese and its very complicated.
    Any tips? ๐Ÿ™‚

  14. Alex August 12, 2012 at 7:31 am #

    *and say the alphabet more*

  15. Danรบbia Mathuz August 30, 2012 at 3:57 pm #

    eu quero aprender falar inglรชs, eu acho muito bonita o idioma inglรชs. e claro amo musicas japonesas ๐Ÿ™‚

    • kirin September 2, 2012 at 11:02 am #

      Perdon, no entiendo tu idioma.
      Pero yo entiendo español poco y puedo imaginar que tu quieres aprender ingles y tu ames músicas japonesas. ๐Ÿ™‚


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