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Published:October 16th, 2009 11:50 EST
Obama teaches English in Japan?

Obama teaches English in Japan?

By Geoff Dean

 I have been teaching English in Japan, mostly Tokyo, for some twenty years. Not that you care, I`m sure, but it is germaine to the topic at hand. I am always apprehensive when a new teacher moves in and muscles in on the fertile territory that is English language instruction. And recently, according to the New York Times, some of my worst fears are being realized. The new teacher in town in none other than President Obama, himself.

 As if he didn`t have enough to do, between a losing Olympic bid and becoming a sudden Nobel laureate, between health care reform and global warming and choosing a new dog, he has taken up English teaching in Japan. To be fair, it wasn`t his idea and he probably isn`t even aware of it, but there he is in every bookstore in Tokyo. Books with titles like "Speech Making, Obama-style", "The Best of Obama`s e-mail Correspondence", and "Learn English Grammar from Obama". The authors take advantage of Obama`s popularity and pair it with equally popular English conversation study to come up with surefire best sellers.

 On a personal level, speaking personally, I have experienced the onslaught in most personal terms. Some of my students, showing no loyalty to their faithful instructor, have asked me, "Why don`t you speak more like Obama?" or "How can I learn to make a speech like Obama?" One student actually, believe it or not, claimed to have memorized the inauguration speech. Some others have asked me to explain certain phrases, lifted from, where else?, Obama`s speeches.

 Even my youngest students are not untainted by the scourge. It has become common for kids to shout "Yes, we can!" at foreign passers-by. It`s happened to me, on occasion. I`m not making this up, unfortunately. When I ask a question, kindergarteners often respond with, "Yes, we can." For instance, "Do you like ice cream?"  "Yes, we can!" "Are you sleepy?" "Yes, we can!" Sometimes, I ask questions like, "Can we all speak English?" just to make the answer match the question.

 The funniest part about this to me is that, although I was here in Japan, teaching English, throughout the entire eight years of the Bush Administration, kids never shouted "Mission Accomplished" at me and no one ever approached me to ask how to learn to speak English, "Bush-style". Too bad, too, because that, I`m afraid, is much closer to typical native speaker English.