I just had the funniest idea. Since the beginning of time or at least since Japanese language was created and there has been interaction between Japanese people and English speaking people, Japanese have had to endure the persistent problem of the infamous “R” pronunciation required in English. Of course the “R” phoneme at the end of English words is pronounced a little differently in Britain and America but the “R” used at the beginning of words and near the middle does not vary much between them. All the while this problem has existed the Japanese have been busy borrowing English words with “R” in them and applying the closest set of sounds they have to approximate it. That is the RA, RI, RU, RE and RO syllabic phonemes of Japanese which are actually much closer to the “L” sound.
So, I’ve got this crazy idea that the Japanese should change the current ROMAJI writing for their current RA, RI, RU, RO sounds to LA, LI, LU, LE, LO, and then use the RA, RI, RU, RO with the appropriate English pronunciation for “R”. If grade school children and preschoolers were learning this sound from age 4 and borrowed English words starting with “R” were being pronunced correctly by the Japanese in Japanese sentences, imagine how much more confidence our Japanese students and their Japanese teachers of English would have to speak and teach English. This would not yet address the voiced and unvoiced “Th” sound but those are easier to learn.
What a simple idea that is! If the Japanese are serious about implementing English education in elementary school and believe that something should be done to make learning English easier, this small change to Japanese would be a huge step in that direction.
Does anyone have the number for the ministry of Education? Well maybe the first step is to propose it in Japanese in a Japanese newspaper to see if there are any like-thinking Japanese who would support this idea. I will work on it from that direction.
Al Bartle (Smith’s School of English – Okamoto)