US president an English teacher to Japanese students

February 22nd, 2009 - 1:50 pm ICT by IANS  

Barack ObamaNew York, Feb 22 (IANS) Apart from steering US economy through difficult times, finetuning strategy on two wars and resetting geopolitical equations, US President Barack Obama is also helping many Japanese students learn English.
In Japan, students practice reciting Obama’s speeches, noted the Wall Street Journal in a report from Tokyo, with the headline: “Learning to Speak Better English: Yes, We Can!”

The report described a gray-haired Japanese student struggling with a line from Obama’s famous 2004 speech to the Democratic National Convention that catapulted him into the national spotlight.

The student read on: “They … would … give me an … African name, Barack, … or ‘blessed’. ” English teacher Makoto Ishiwata corrected the student, “Not ‘blessed,’ “bless-ed’.”

The Obama speeches have become the latest fad fueling japan’s long, and oft-frustrated, passion for mastering English, the Journal said.

Ishiwata, who heads an English language school called Kaplan Japan, draws almost 200 students a week to his “Obama workshops”. Pupils recite Obama’s speeches line by line, using a check sheet to record progress. Accel English, another Tokyo language school, encourages students to emulate Obama, memorising and repeating aloud chunks of his speeches at least 50 times before flipping to the text to see what he really said.

“The Speeches of Barack Obama”, a book with a CD and a glossary, sold 480,000 copies in Japan in three months. Its publisher Asahi Press then hired four translators and published a book based on Obama’s inauguration speech.

While instructors have used unconventional English learning materials before, such as cooking classes in English and watching TV serial “Friends” with a translated Japanese script, Obama’s speeches are particularly well-suited, teachers and students say, because he speaks slowly, with good pace and rhythm, and enunciates well.

“Other speeches may be better for learning vocabulary, but Obama’s speeches make me excited about speaking English,” Nobuhiro Murauchi, who listens to the US president’s speeches four times a week in the bath, was quoted as saying.

For Ishiwata, 48, it is a full circle: he first developed an interest in the language by listening to the speeches of Martin Luther King Jr., Obama’s role model.

He admits there’s a bit of Obama fatigue in his classes. “Many students are getting tired of listening to his speech only, because they have been listening to Obama every day for seven months,” he said.

So now he is thinking of introducing other famous speeches that he has memorised, including Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address.

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