RAMSAY: I’m Japan, and my official language is, you guessed it, Japanese!
AZUZ: Not too much of a surprise there. But Japanese students do study other languages in school, just like you guys might take Spanish or German. For many people, the best way to learn a language is to hear it spoken. So, some Japanese English teachers are turning to a well-known speaker for assistance, someone you might be pretty familiar with. Kyung Lah reveals the voice that’s helping the Land of the Rising Sun learn English.
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KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In this high school English class in suburban Tokyo, the teacher is relying on an outside voice.
OBAMA: The world is watching what we do here.
LAH: You may have heard of him.
OBAMA: The world is paying attention.
STUDENT: The world is paying attention.
OBAMA: We say, we hope, we believe.
STUDENT: Yes we can!
LAH: Their textbook is an English language book and CD set featuring the speeches of Barack Obama. The students mimic his speaking style and take grammar quizzes from the president’s election night victory speech in Chicago’s Grant Park.
OBAMA: It belongs to you. It belongs to you.
ASATO MAEJIMA, STUDENT [TRANSLATED]: The way he speaks is different from us.
LAH: Their teacher says that difference is inspiring them to learn English. The book isn’t just a hit in high schools. It’s a bestseller across Japan, a nation that’s embraced guides on learning English with gusto, but never like this. This book has sold so well that the publisher has followed it up with a sequel, this one featuring the president’s inaugural address. This one is #1 on Japan’s version of Amazon, this one is #2, based on book reservations alone.
OBAMA: Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real.
YAMAMOTO YUZO, ASAHI PRESS, DIRECTOR [TRANSLATED]: “People wrote us letters saying they were moved and they cried,” says the publisher. “Obama is giving Americans hope, and Japanese people feel it as well.”
LAH: Japan’s own lawmakers, quite a bit more subdued than the American president. Most readers don’t understand all the words, but the publisher says the speeches still manage to capture the Japanese imagination.
OBAMA: Yes, we can.
SHIZUKA ENDO, TEACHER [TRANSLATED]: “It’s not just English,” says this teacher, “it’s communication.”
LAH: Beyond language, and proving beyond borders. Kyung Lah, CNN, Tokyo.