The following is the speech I presented (English version) at our annual “I pledge to do my best this year” ceremony. All the Assistant Language Teachers (ALT’s) in our city attended and gave speeches in Japanese in front of the top bosses of our city.
Many words lose their meaning when subjected to translation. No where is this more apparent than here in Japan where 和製英語 (waseieigo), or Japanglish, is abundant. Native English speakers here find themselves doubting their understanding of their own language. Re-learning it, sometimes from someone who doesn’t even speak it. Atakku, taipu, pikuappu, pepaadoraiba, sumaato, shapen, sukinshipu, baikingu, baiku, yanki, hai tenshon, hai tachi, maibooru, naishu, faito, imeeji, furiita, CM, PMV.
I could go on, believe me, but Okimoto sensei told me I only have 4 minutes tops.
Miraculously, some words make it to Japan and retain their original meaning. A good example of this is the word: communication.
To my native english ears ‘communication’ reminds me of a similar word: ‘community’ which implies more than one person. Therefore I naturally connect the word ‘communication’ to something that happens amongst two or more people. But my curiosity got the better of me and I wanted to find out if this connection of mine had any validity. When I checked the etymology of the word communication I found out it means to make common, or in very simple terms it means to share. Turns out I was right! Being correct in my assumption gave my rapidly degrading English abilities a welcomed and much needed boost of confidence.
So when asking the question, “What do I communicate to my community?” you are really asking, “What do I share with my community?” As of today, August 23rd 2011, I have been sharing with this Takashima community for just over 3 years. As I begin my 4th I look back at what I have shared and quickly turn my glance forward to what I have yet to offer this place I call home.
Consider this question: What have I shared with you? (pause)
You don’t have to say it, but think about something that you and I have shared.
Something intangible like an experience, or moment in time.
Something tangible like a book and DVD perhaps (pause)
I’m willing to bet English is not what you are thinking of. Even though that is why we are all gathered here today in this official appointment ceremony, to officially acknowledge our duty to share English with the children of Takashima. You see this is my point. What I share with you is far more than English. Language is but one small part of communication, one small part of what we share with each other. Language is but one small arena. The idea that everything that happens in here (point to head) and more so here (heart) can fit in this small arena, is ridiculous. When I think I can fill the oceans. And when I feel I can fill the universe. And so can you, (look at someone else) and you, (someone else) and you, (everyone) everyone does this. Therefore to think of language as the sole avenue for communication is to cheapen human potential and cripple the mind.
We humans are products of millions of years of trial and error. We have had ample time to fine tune ourselves and our environment. Yet even today we are still finding new ways to share with each other. Advances in technology, discoveries in science and new insights into our past constantly widen that ever so small arena. No matter how complicated, varried, or large our avenues for communication become, our languages will differ, but our hearts will remain the same. I think we should spend more time practicing how to communicate with the latter.