Monday, November 10, 2003

Doing more thinking about the word "foreigners". One of the teachers with whom I have contact from time to time expressed their opinion about reasons for students to learn English. And as often is the case, the argument for "being able to talk to foreigners" came up. My conclusion is that "foreigner" is a word with very broad meaning, and without careful usage, usually gets used in lazy ways. My guess is that Matuzawa and this teacher used the word because they got lazy, and just used it to generate certain connections in the listeners' or readers' minds. Here's the reply that I gave after I made comments about the usage.

My suggestion is that you refrain from referring to nationality AT ALL. Let me give you some reasons.
1. Mombusho, (the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology) does not mention "foreigner" or "people from other countries" in their course of study. That is maybe the only thing they did right. The problem here is that we are all foreigners. If you step off this tiny island country, you too are a foreigner.
2. Let's look at our seminar. How many English teachers are there? Around 10? How many "foreigners" or "people from other countries." Let's say for argument's sake that there are two, Andy and I. If you speak to everyone in class, 80% of the people you spoke to were Japanese. Only 20% of the people you spoke to were not. My guess is that our students, if they find themselves in positions where they use English, some of that English will be used with Japanese nationals. If we assume that English is only used with non-Japanese, that will lead to some very unusual conversations.
3. Another problem is the assumption that all foreigners speak English. Many cannot, and others do not even if they can. Let's be more specific. I'm American so I can speak English. I have friends who are as American as I am, but couldn't speak English until they went to grade school, because everyone in their family and in their neighborhood spoke Spanish. We have the right to use any language, or no language, at any time, regardless of our nationality.
4. Why refer to nationality at all? Is it important some how to communication? Culture is important, but culture is only partially defined by nationality. Language choice is important, but that is only partially defined by nationality.

I humbly suggest that you use the word "people."

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