Learning English

I have learned English for over 3 decades. No, actually it’s for 4 decades including my school age.  When I went abroad for the first time in 1986,  I only could speak some terms of everyday conversation such as ” how are you?”, ” how much?”, ” what time is it?”  and so on.

I still cannot believe that I could achieve that reckless trip along the Silk Road in China, Tibet and Nepal with my poor English speaking ability for several months.  Since then, I worked at an international hotel franchise and most of the employees spoke English there. So I learned it through working.

Most of Japanese learn English from the age of 12 to 18 but these 6 years don’t make them fluent in speaking.  They are forced to be concentrated on grammar, reading and composition, which is called “preparation studying” for entrance exams of universities.  Once they enter colleges or universities, they tend to forget most of the terms and sentences they learned in those period of “exam war”.

This is one of the reason that Japanese seldom speak English.

In the end of January, I was in Annaburg, near Berlin and was having a product training of some agricultural machinery. While I was having a dinner with representatives of machine dealers from EU, there were guys from Czech republic and Slovakia.  The job training itself was held in German and it was simultaneously interpreted into Russian and English by two sales persons of the manufacturer.  I was astonished with their fluency and asked one of them how they learned and trained their skills of speaking foreign languages.  On the dinner table, sipping a glass of good wine or two, our dialogues became focusing on the education of second languages in each countries.

I explained them about the education in Japan as mentioned above and the guy from Czech told me that they had quite the same way of learning English in his country. Another man from Slovakia agreed with him and said ” only reading comprehension was the most important things for us when we were students.  And when I graduated from a college, I couldn’t speak English at all. So I decided to learn English again and went to the United States.  Those two years made me capable of communicating with English speaking people”.

I had believed that the grammar-translation method in English-learning is taken only in Japan and therefore Japanese people are not good at communicating in English, but I was wrong. I found that there were not so drastic differences between those EU nations and Japan.

I assume that “how to seize an opportunity” to speak out the terms and sentences which he or she has learned at school is a KEY and the accumulation of these experiences encourages people to speak English in front of native English speakers.

Fortunately, I can write English like this but my composition and usage of terms are obviously the one of non-native’s and my speaking ability must be still in the level of primary-school children.  I sometimes think if my mother tongue were English, my life would be totally different. On the other hand, I admire the beautiful structure of Japanese language and I appreciate living as Japanese on this globe.

Only one thing I want to emphasize for my children is that….

If you speak only Japanese, you can communicate with 0.14 billion people. If you learn and speak English, you will be able to communicate with 1.4 billion people.

Now in The UK

This is my 5th visit in the UK and I’m now staying at a hotel named Egypt Mill in Nailsworth.A jetlag forced me to wake up around 2 AM and I am boiling water for my hot chocolate.

Arriving at Heathrow airport in the morning of 6th March, I headed for Peterborough. There was a Precision Farming event and two of our suppliers exhibited their stands.  Actually, farming is now gradually changing its method and more and more farmers are installing some advanced equipment which utilizes GPS and ISOBUS systems on their tractors and implements to control their productivity and cost efficiency.   There were a lot of young farmers accompanying their farther and they were looking at those cutting-edge-equipment with eager curiosity.  I joined a couple of seminars and enjoyed gaining knowledge about how they are working on the agricultural machines.  They were some sort of “must learn” technic for us because farmers in our Island Hokkaido is now getting bigger and bigger. They are completely different from the farmers in other areas in Japan.

This time, I’m travelling by train.  I left Peterborough in the late afternoon of 7th March and came to Stroud, Gloucestershire via London. At King’s Cross railway station, I was told I had to change from underground to national railway at Paddington.  On the plat form 3 at Paddington, there was a train leaving around 5 PM for Bristol.  I jumped on it and found a seat on  a standard coach.

Reading a novel that I brought from Japan, I sometimes enjoyed the scenery through the window. About 40 minutes later, a conductor came in and everybody showed him tickets. When I showed mine, he put a trouble expression on his face and said, ” Sir, your are on a wrong train”.  ” Well, I’m going to change the train at Swindon, am I?”, I asked him.  “No, this train doesn’t go to Swindon” he replied.

“Gosh! What’ll I do?” I mumbled.

Everybody around was watching a poor middle aged Japanese man.

The conductor said “don’t worry Sir, I check the other train schedule for you”.  And he gave me a piece of paper which my new itinerary was written on.  “You are going to get off the train at West Burry and go to Bath. And then take another train for Swindon”.  There were exact time each train leaves and plat form numbers.

Thank to him, I could see the town of Bath which I used to know the name of it on a student textbook at my English class before I was employed at my current office. It was beautiful and I wanted to visit there in the future with my family.

No travel is completely risk-free, and therefore, unexpected encounter with those stunning sceneries and kind people could become a highlight of the travelling.

Leaving Stroud this evening, I will stay a night near Heathrow and catch a flight for Japan tomorrow early morning.

My Business Trip

The day 13 of my business trip is now over and I am staying at a hotel near Aarhus Railway station, Denmark. Driving a rental car from Amsterdam, my accompany and I entered Germany and toured Salzkotten, Bad Essen, and Annaburg.  We visited our business partners and had some training of some products. On the last day, driving through the Brandenburg Gate, we got to the city center of Berlin on the 3rd of February.  Our driving distance was about 1500 kms and I was relieved when we returned our BMW 321 to the Hertz office where we took a long time to find out on the under ground of Berlin main railway station.

I left my home in the afternoon of 23rd of January with saying “Good-bye” to my wife and daughter and I’m feeling that it’s like a remote event now.  It was a tough trip indeed and my suit case getting heavier and heavier with those manufacturers brochures, booklets and operation manuals.

We took a train from Berlin to Hamburg this early morning and changed a train for Denmark.  Crossing the border, we got to Aarhus.

Another supplier is waiting for us in Nykobing Mors on Monday and we are going to stay in the port town.  It will be my last assignment that translate the meeting and will head for Japan in the morning of Tuesday.  Flying from Aarhus to Helsinki via Copenhagen, I will catch the flight to Japan.

Got used to driving on the right side of the road and those roundabouts which direction is opposite to ones in UK and also in Japan.  And I  had a good time chatting with my Ham Radio friend, Tomas, OK4BX on the mobile phone while I was having a dinner with suppliers and dealers from 20 countries in Annaburg.

There were a lot of interesting things and I have been excited to be here in northern Europe for these two weeks.  But now, it’s time for me to miss my normal life with family, and Japanese food.

Finland

Arriving in Helsinki, we moved to Rantasalmi located about 300 kms west of the capital city. A business negotiation went well and my 3 accompanies and I were invited to a SAUNA.  In the forest near the Arctic Circle, we got undressed and drank a glass of Vodka or two and ran to the small wooden shed where a very hot smoke sauna was installed.

“Run! Run! Run!” we shouted because the external temperature was below minus 20 C and I felt I was almost dying when I ran through the path with naked. But the sauna worked as a very good stage to boost our friendship with the business partner.

“You have to do the same thing as we are doing now if you want to get more discount on our machine”, Mikko, the president of the company said and he suddenly jumped into snow his head-first on. My accompanies were in pause but I dived into the white and freezing snow.  I was thrilled and got very excited to have this first experience.

After staying a night, we headed for Helsinki again and flew to Aarhus, Denmark.  I’m writing this in a hotel room on the way to Copenhagen. Here is a video when I was taken to Rantasalmi and the driver is Jens, an export manager of the manufacturer.

 

Singapore

I’m currently in Singapore.

Experiencing a drastic temperature change, it was quite difficult for me to adjust myself to this heat and humidity. One of my friends in my town in Hokkaido reported me on his text message that it was – 20 C.  Here,  its 27 to 30 C and I sweated a lot.  But this is the 3rd time I come to this tropical city so I knew my constitution well and  brought many extra shirts 🙂

After the business talk with the JCB Sales Asia and Pacific, they took my boss and me to the China Town.

It’s one of my most favorite places on this globe.

Luna New Year is just around the corner and there are tremendous people walking on the street.  I picked up 3 personal seals and got my kids names curved on them. Asking a shop clerk for discount was quite funny and adventurous.  I had very tasty steam bowl with my business friends and went to bed straight after that.  I’m overwhelmed by their hospitality every time I visit Singapore.

Being advised by my Ham Radio friend Atsu, JE1TRV, I have tried to reach John, 9V1VV but could not trace his email address.

My boss told me to be in charge of this business transaction from this summer and there will be more chances to come to this beautiful city, so I may have another chance to meet with him.

Gonna take a taxi to the airport to catch a flight back in 30 minutes.

Only 24 hours stay, but it was very nice.

I love Singapore.

Have chatted using CW for over 5 years.

Isao JQ2SFZ and I have kept our scheduled QSOs for over 5 years.

Every day, even on weekends and holidays, we have chatted using Morse Code.

He was just a beginner when he started but he achieved his “head copying” with 30wpm now.

Today, I tried to make a video of our QSO and uploaded it on YOUTUBE.

I put some sentences in English on the video so that some young people will get interested in having conversation utilizing Morse Code when they see it.

Kazuo Ishiguro

Have you heard of Kazuo Ishiguro who is a novelist in UK?

He was born in Nagasaki, Japan in 1954 and moved to Guildford, England due to his father’s business when he was 6 years old.  Graduating from Kent University in 1978, he studied literature in the graduate school of East Anglia University.

He became a naturalized citizen of England in 1982 and married to an English lady, Lorna MacDougall.

<Quote from Wikipedia>

Ishiguro is one of the most celebrated contemporary fiction authors in the English-speaking world, having received four Man Booker Prize nominations, and winning the 1989 prize for his novel The Remains of the Day. In 2008, The Times ranked Ishiguro 32nd on their list of “The 50 greatest British writers since 1945″

<End of Quote>

I knew him for the first time when he appeared on TV about 6 month ago. He visited Japan for the campaign of his work “Never let me go” which is turned into a movie and he got interviewed for a TV program.

Listening to the interview talk which was spoken by this quiet and stable man, I became really interested in him and wanted to read his works in English.

Ishiguro seldom speaks his mother tongue, Japanese.

Borrowing his words, his Japanese has been held at the same level since he was a kid.

I could have a chance to buy his latest novel “Never let me go” when I visited Birmingham last October. At the book store, I saw a lot of his books were on the shelf and it made me pleased and there was no denying that I felt a little sense of pride in his success as Japanese.

I finished reading the novel in this Christmas holiday season. There were some difficult terms I didn’t know  the meaning and had to check them with a dictionary but most of the sentences and text were plain. It was easy to read compared to the works of Shakespeare or Dickens.

What is a good novel?

This is a good question for us and we have to keep thinking of it.

Ishiguro’s works can answer you.

Of course it was the first time for me to read his text but I was taken on an absent-mindness for a while when I finished reading it.

Reading between the lines, you can see profound implications and sceneries. And you can even feel some kind of wind pressure which is radiated from his words and sentences. And above all, you can bask in the afterglow of the story.

I really appreciate his work and would like to keep reading his other novels. I’m very happy to know this novelist.

Actually, as my another hobby, I write essays and novels.  Some of my works have won prizes in my local committee of literature and appeared in the news paper.  I’m not trying to boast though.  As an amateur writer, the experience to read Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel encouraged me a lot and I was highly-motivated.

The DIY magic of Amateur Radio

Well… I don’t think we need to be pessimistic about Amateur Radio with saying ‘it’s difficult to do baton-passing to the next generation’.  Hope my idea that kids who show their bent for science sometimes stop over in this field during their lives will be largely taken for granted.

It’s a great video.

Happy New Year 2012

Some folks get away from Japan and spend their days in tropical islands such as Hawaii, Guam and Saipan on this holiday season. And some of the others also seem to take their holidays in ski resorts with their families. What a fancy vacation they have!

Me?  Staying home and take some naps, watching TV, reading books, exploring YOUTUBE and take some naps again. But today…It was the first time that I went out for shopping in these holidays and it was to buy a special spanner to remove a fan from the kitchen ventilation. What a vacation I have!

My brother and sister came along with their family members and spent the night of New Year Eve together. In Japan, there is a well known music program on TV which is named Kohaku- Utagassen and a lot of singers appear on NHK. At my mother’s house, they were watching that program after we enjoyed the traditional dinner my mother and my wife made and I was bored with watching the TV program so I came home alone and watched another one, the Beethoven Symphony #9, which is held and broadcast every year-end.

15 minutes before the midnight, I went back to my mother’s home again and counted down the new year with my family. We ate soba, a buck wheat noodle waiting for the new year comes.. Having it with family members at the last moment of new year-eve is kind of a typical Japanese culture. Eating noodle means having a long life in the future.

When new year comes, we greet each other saying ” A Happy New Year” and we adults must give some money to the children,  Including my 3 children, there are 6 kids so my wife and I had to prepare the money beforehand. Insert the money into pretty envelopes and hand them to the children. This is the happiest moment for kids and staying up late until new year comes is worthwhile for them for that reason.

Coming home, I rushed to my bed and had a sound sleep.

The dinner we had on the 2nd day of the new year was okonomi-yaki, which is also a typical Japanse dish. My daughter is very good at making it and she served us as on the photo.

It was tasty.

I enjoyed the dinner she made and drank a couple of glasses of sake, rice wine.

I’m having good holidays.

Hope you are the same.

Traveling Abroad

I will have traveled foreign countries 11 times when I visit Finland next January since I started to get involved in the company where I am working at now.  When young, I had some experiences to trip around Asian countries such as China, Tibet, India, Nepal and Thailand. I also have an experience of working in France as an assistant manager of Food and Beverages at a hotel franchise as well. But traveling overseas on business was the first time for me when I went to Czech Rep. in March 2010 due to my translating job at an Agricultural machinery exhibition.

I had taught everyday English to people for over two decades then I met my current boss, Kazuo Oshima who came to my class with his wife and daughter.

Last year, I changed my job and moved to this company. Since then, I have traveled in UK, France, and Germany. Accompany and I extended our trip to Austria, Switzerland and Luxemburg last month.  It was amazing for us Japanese that one can get across the border of 5 nations by car during that 3-day-trip!

Being away from home for 7 to 10 days every other month, I got used to flying long time but the degree of jet lad I suffer is getting severer. Actually I got a serious cold while I was staying in Germany last month and it was really tough for me to travel around those European countries. It took me 2 weeks to get over the cold and fatigue from the jet-lag I was suffering.

I think everyone who travels abroad should have extraordinary experiences in the unknown countries and this is why I love travelling. It’s obviously better than sitting at a desk in front of the computer screen. Stunning sceneries, tasty local food and drinks, fresh air and feeling those distinct cultures are the best part of travelling even though the trip is on a business and the schedules are tight.

I’m a little excited with visiting Finland and Denmark for the first time and the trip will be from 23rd January to 10th of February. It will be the longest business trip for me.

What will I miss the most when I am away from Japan?

Yes. They are miso-soup, rice, sake and my 9 year-old daughter.