why people in the world study english
So I had a strange experience today as I was about to enter the grocery store. There was an Asian woman with a baby in a stroller and two toddlers that she was trying to herd through the automatic door. As I fell in behind them I was surprised to hear the woman say something to the toddlers in Japanese. I asked her, “Did you just say ‘Hayaku’?” (“Hayaku” means hurry up in Japanese. Having studied and taught Japanese martial arts for many years and also having grown up with Ja...panese-American friends, most of whose parents and grandparents had been forced into relocation camps in the U.S. during World War Two, I know a little bit of the Japanese language.)
On hearing my question, the woman turned around with a look of absolute terror on her face. “I so sorry, I so sorry,” she kept repeating nervously. I didn’t know what she was so sorry about, but I guessed it might have been about her toddlers not passing through the entrance door fast enough.
“Shinpai shinaide,” I tried to reassure her, using the Japanese expression for “not to worry,” but now she looked confused instead of frightened. “Eigo ga wakarimasu ka?” I asked if she spoke why people in the world study english. She answered saying, “Not good. I so sorry, I so sorry. Man say to me ‘This America. We speak English’.”
I suddenly realized what the situation was about. The woman must be visiting from Japan, where many people are fluent in English as well as Japanese, but where many are mainly conversant in Japanese alone. It began to dawn on me that an American must have chastised her for speaking Japanese and she was afraid that I was about to do the same to her. I tried using “Shinpai shinaide” again and the woman launched into rapid fire Japanese, none of which I could understand, except for occasionally hearing the word “America.”
We were blocking the store entrance and, as people were now approaching to enter, the woman gave me a quick bow of her head and hustled off with her children. I kept hearing in my head what the woman said: “This America. We speak English.”
Having been born and raised in Chicago, I thought about how I grew up hearing so many different foreign languages spoken in my friend’s homes and in various neighborhoods. I remembered hearing Polish, German, Russian, Czech, Lebanese, Finnish, Swedish, Filipino, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, Italian, Hindi and more, and the thing was, nobody thought it unusual or troublesome to hear different languages. Everyone seemed to recognize and accept that this is who we were as Americans: people from all over the planet come to live in one place.
I find it deeply troubling that in 2016 a visitor from Japan was frightened at having been “caught” speaking her native language instead of English. Welcome to the Michigan paradise and the dark side of living in “Murica.”