English Conversational Skills have always been of paramount importance in broadening my outlook and the understanding of cultures other than my own. Hi, I’m Mark Smith, I teach English in Japan and it is my experience that to be able to speak to those of nationalities other than my own is invaluable in the pursuit of a happy and rich life.
Although born in Germany to British parents I grew up in Australia, an English speaking country which has historically grown its population by supporting immigration. As such from a very young age my life included Italians, Slavic nationals and Netherlanders. This early introduction to European cultures opened my eyes and ignited a fire within my heart to seek, appreciate and learn to love cultures other than my own. Of course, in my youth, all of my cultural interaction was based on English Conversation. Australia asked those of any culture to adapt their daily lives to speak English. The ability to speak English, therefore, became my tool of choice in studying European culture. At that time I didn’t really understand the significance of this ability.
In 1989 I came to Japan to work in International export. Within months of arriving in Japan, the true power of language struck deeply into my being. I needed Japanese to support my work and so was sent on a 6 months intensive Japanese language training course. My class was made up of 23 people of 20 cultures and I was the only English speaker. On day one, I couldn’t understand anything anybody was saying. And, within moments of this course beginning, I was shaken to my core to learn what it was like to not be able to speak the common language in use.
I needed help with vocabulary and so politely raised my hand, the teacher looked at her note pad for my name, “Yes Sumisu-san?” (my family name Smith converts to Sumisu in Japanese) and then I asked my question in English, to which she replied in Japanese “This is a Japanese class, please speak only Japanese”. Of course I didn’t understand what she had said to me and now I was really confused. Panic.
Within a week my classmates and I were asked to introduce ourselves in Japanese, and we did. That was a true awakening for me. Just days before I could not understand anything my classmates were saying. Now I knew their names, where they came from and a little about each one of them. How did I know this information about people from more than 20 nations? Because we all shared a common language, Japanese. As a class we grew stronger in the Japanese language every day, we all graduated and that was great but the real joy of my course was yet to come. At the end of class party I was easily conversing with people of 20 cultures and we were having deep and meaningful conversations. My heart was exploding with the joy of learning about the lives of my new friends.
Of course, this is a story about a man living in Japan and learning to speak Japanese, however more importantly it is a story about a group of people who chose to learn a common language to enrich their lives. English is the most commonly spoken language in the world and as an Export trader, the English language supported my working in tens of countries. To those wishing to know more about the people outside of your own culture I highly recommend studying the worlds common language, English.
Mark Smith, English Coach, Smith’s School of English