The following ad for the Gaba language school asked Japanese people to fill in the blank: “If I could speak English, I would…” Ads with quotes from “real people” in Japan are often written by copywriters, but even if these aren’t actual answers, the responses provide a glimpse into the process of a Japanese company selling English to possible customers. Click on ad to see a larger picture.
Here is a translation of the first several responses:
I would live in Hawaii with lots of dogs.
I would go by myself to shop in London antique shops.
I would eat all the desserts in the world!
I would go to [my company]’s foreign office and become project leader.
I would buy the materials for aroma therapy and mix them myself.
I would open a shiatsu massage parlor in Hollywood for celebrities.
I would lecture the loud foreigners on the train.
I would raise my children in America: one will be an artist, one a computer programmer.
I would go work in a foreign marketing firm.
I would start a dental office for foreigners.
I would run a surf shop in the Gold Coast.
I would live in a house where I could wake up and dive right into the pool.
I would want to increase my income by 100x.
I would publish a weekly manga magazine in the English language world.
I would look for a job in California that would end in the evening and I could go to in shorts.
I would do a satisfying amount of experiments at an American company that provided research money.
I would become a wife of a foreigner and raise kids in California.
I would become a buyer using my own tastes and fly around to all the world’s fashion shows.
I would challenge myself in New Zealand’s pro rugby league.
I would go across America on my graduation trip.
After I retired, I would go live with my wife in Canada.
I would watch DVDs without subtitles.
I would watch musical after musical on Broadway in NY.
I would become the world’s expert on the JFK mystery.
I would lead global-level M&As and retire in my 30s.
In the future, I would want to not be isolated from my friends in the Space Station.
I would introduce Japanese traditional arts to the world, ceramics and knitting.
I would make all my subordinates Americans and start a hamburger joint with great atmosphere.
Seeing that most of these answers have little to do with English itself, for a certain segment of the population, English language ability appears to become a psychological barrier to dream fulfillment. For example, why can’t you raise your children as artists and computer programmers in Japan? Why can’t you live in a house in Thailand where you dive right into the pool when you wake up? Why can’t the guy yell at the loud foreigners on the train in Japanese? Whether these tasks are impossible in Japan or even possible in America, this ad posits that there are Japanese who feel that a lack of English prevents them from leaving Japan and the expectations/limitations of Japanese society. A far cry from “not wanting to learn English” (so thinks Momus), English ability embodies the realization of impossible dreams for the upwardly mobile. Or in another light, they are blaming their pedestrian lives on their lack of English ability. Regardless, the ad is preying on a Japanese “English complex,” which the company assumes to exist and hopes to exploit.
Towards the end, there’s one more interesting entry:
“I would become a real B-boy.”
The Postmodernists love to claim that Japan is ideal because there is no concept of “authenticity” (an elitist form of subtle discrimination!), but if this is a real quote, perhaps we can extrapolate that the Japanese are aware of the demands for authenticity, but choose to ignore them because they have no other choice. To even begin exploration in hip hop, they must abandon the idea of “keepin’ it real.” For this one (possibly imaginary) hip hop fan, only those with links to the mother tongue can be “real B-boys”: are the Japanese-only types “fake”?