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Japanese English 3

Nicolas Cage is a cool actor. I enjoy watching his movies. But why does he pronounce "accept" like "except"? Does he do it on purpose?

OK, folks, the first chapter of "How To Speak English Like A Japanese" is over. The second chapter may come in the near future, or not. Stay (un)tuned, guys.

There seem to be a number of sites on the Net focusing on Japanese English, or Engrish. I don't know what they are actually getting at, but it means a lot to know what native English speakers think about the way Japanese people speak or write English.

As M pointed out in her comment, by examining the patterns of mistakes made by non-native speakers, you can see the characteristics that must have a lot to do with their mother tongues and cultures. In this sense, I'm interested to know what kind of errors people from other countries, and native speakers as well, tend to make in speaking and writing English.

For the Japanese, learning English is harder than you might think. The same thing can be said to native English speakers learning Japanese. I'll discuss it in my blog every now and then. So, well, stay (un)tuned.


When the first time I spoke Japanese, the Japanese said I was as if singing or practicing Peking Opera. I too had the "watashi wa" problem, with the intonation waved from bottom of "wa," went up sky high at "ta" and slope down to "shi." Due to lack of oxygen, then had a quick jump "wa" again. Gosh. Sounds seasick, huh? I can laugh now, but not at that time.

native speakers of english are moving the language are progressively refusing to decline the small proportion of nouns and pronouns in english that need to be declined.

I increasingly find it stilted to say 'whom shall I say is speaking?' when I answer a telephone call for someone else. These days it is most likely to be Who'll I say is speaking?. Asking for something at the table is more and more rarely 'may I have another piece of pie?'; it is likely to be 'can I have another piece of pie'.

Even native speakers can't cope with the problematic verb 'must'. Ask your students about the past and future tense of this one. Distinguishing the correct use of 'shall' and 'will' is beyond most now. The 'correct' use has always varied within the UK anyway.

Very frequently one hears 'between you and I' (which to my ear grates horribly) presumably because they think that prepositions do not distribute over conjunctions.

One hears 'he must of' for 'he must have'. It seems very odd to me that one can mistake a preposition for a verb.

In written english "your" is frequently substituted for "you're".

A mistake I sometimes make is to say "you're exhausted like me". This is a result of treating 'like' here as a preposition, and wanting to put the pronoun in the accusative. In fact 'like me' is standing for 'like I am', so the use of the accusative is wrong.

One thing that has almost disappeared from the language is the use of the subjunctive. Nobody says 'I wish I were an astronaut': they use the simple indicative 'was' instead of the subjunctive 'were'. I can't really blame them. But I imagine it causes problems for english speakers learning foreign languages which make fuller use of the subjunctive.

Ken Loo, I know how hard it is for non-native speakers of Japanese to aquire the flat intonation peculiar to Japanese speech. Hope you'll blog on your language learning experience.

Hi, Steve. Thanks you very much for the nice info. I like to read tips on current English usage. It's interesting that native speakers will make a kind of mistakes that non-native speakers wouldn't do. Oh, and "I wish I were ..." is no longer used now? It's kind of surprising to me.

"I wish I were" *is* still used, but "was" is more commonly heard. That doesn't make it right, however. Same goes for words like "daylight-saving," for example. People tend to make it plural. And while that's been wrong for so many years, dictionaries are starting to acknowledge that as an acceptable alternate.

Thanks, Jennifer. I'm relieved to know "I wish I were" is still alive anyway. I think I've heard of the "daylight-saving(s)" issue. So people tend to associate the noun "savings" as in a "savings account", don't they?

As far as I know, in the standard American pronunciation, 'accept' IS pronounced the same as 'except'... Since the initial vowel is unstressed, it just becomes 'uh'.

Maybe non-native speakers are more prone to pronounce words based on their spelling...?

Hm? What I heard was like 'ek'sept', nowhere near '[schwa]k'sept'. Anyway, American pronunciation often goes too far. And yeah, as a non-native speaker teaching and learning English, I don't like to pronounce "accept" and "except" in the same way.