Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Turning the tables

When travelling in Asia one of my greatest pastimes and sources of amusement, as an English teacher, has been spotting all the hilarious uses of English in countries such as Japan and South Korea.

Even many websites have been set up to sneer at the stupidity of Japlish and Konglish. While in Korea two years ago I asked my colleague there why there seemed to be such a fad in using, often non-sensical, combinations of English words everywhere - on T-shirts, billboards, company marketing and the like. His answer was that using English gives the image of a successful, global company, or simply that people there just like the sound of English words, no matter what they mean. Hmm, made me a bit ashamed of my superior, know-it-all western attitude. After all, why should everybody all round the world know and use perfect English?

Well, this year we have a young Japanese teacher assistant at our school. After the annual teacher-student baseball game on the last day of school this spring, he was bemused, even slightly shocked, to see one of our students wear a T-shirt with a kanji character printed on the front. According to him, the character meant 'sh*t'! No doubt the boy had chosen it because Chinese and Japanese characters are very much the fashion here, and we seem to like the look of them - most of the time being totally ignorant of the meanings behind the appealing-looking shapes. Exactly the same phenomenon as Japlish or Konglish, but this time the joke is on us! It's good to turn the tables every now and then.

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