Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Dalai Lama has the courage to speak "broken English". Do you?

Last month, His Holiness The Dali Lama visited Japan. My friend Larry Cisar  invited me to see the Dali Lama at the Foreign Correspondents' Club press conference. Unfortunately I had to work that day. I hope I can see him the next time he comes to Japan.  I am always moved by the Dalia Lama's words. I was especially happy to read the words quoted in the image below. His words made me think. If a great man like the Dalai Lama is willing to risk losing face (顔が立たない, 恥をかく) by speaking "imperfect" English, why are so many English language learners afraid to practice speaking English? Why is it such a source of embarrassment to them? Ichirou has lived in America for many years now. He uses English in his day-to-day life, but he never gives interviews in English. Why? Is he better than the Dalai Lama. Are you better than the Dalai Lama? Of course not. If the Dalai Lama has the courage to speak broken English so should everyone. ダライラマが出来るなら、皆も出来るね。

Image by Garr Reynolds and JUDIT KAWAGUCHI

You can see the entire quote in the image above in Japanese. Please click this link:
These images were made by a great teacher called Garr Reynolds. I've learned much about giving presentations from him. Mr. Reynolds used a photo from an article about the Dalai Lama's visit on Judit Kawaguchi's Blog.

Have courage. Practice what you learn, not only English, but everything you learn, and make a contribution to the world.


  1. Compelling examples here, Michael.

  2. Hello, Mr.Stout. This is Micki from Kanto. I come here from your twitter, and I am really agree with you. It is true many Japanese afraid to be ashamed, even there are many nations live together with us today. Since I was high school, I've been wondered that.
    I don't know why they do so even I am Japanese though, maybe they think being ashamed is dying or something like that?!

    Whatever, I do speak "broken English", too. hehe
    Micki x

  3. @Claudia: Thank you for visiting my blog, and thank you for your comment. Do your students in Argentina feel ashamed to practice speaking English?

    @Micki: Your English is great, and so is your attitude. I'm so proud of you. I think you are a model language learner too. I wish I'd had more opportunities to work with you in the classroom. I'm very grateful to Mr. McClue for agreeing to bring our classes together for a lesson. I remember that you were great. Mr. McClue said many good things about you. While I never had a chance to be your classroom teacher, I met you many times in the computer room, and I remember our conversations with fondness. Thanks again. I hope you'll comment on my blog again in the future.

  4. Michael,

    Nice reminder! So much about teaching is just getting our students to that psychological level of just "spitting it out".

    I've always enjoyed, "Broken English" and one of the reasons I love flying so much is "Globlish" and hearing all the speakers from other countries communicating in English with each other - each in their own way and usually fearlessly. I even pretend to be from some exotic local sometimes, just so they will speak to me in their fearless fashion.

    Which leads to the point - a lot of it has to do with "power". A lot of students will speak with other nationalities and just "spit it out" but when it comes to doing so with a native speaker, they freeze (I used to with my French and it took years to get over it). There is something in us that thinks we will be looked down upon etc... so we shun it.

    If anyone knows of any poignant studies on international discourse and power, I'd welcome them.

    I'd like to know what your students think about the difference in how they feel, speaking to strange native speaker as opposed to say a strange guy from Thailand (in English)?


  5. Danielle4:14 pm

    If only the quote didn't refer to English as a universal language! We need to focus on communication, and also the respect we give others by speaking their language - even imperfectly.

  6. Hi David,
    Thanks so much for your comment. You ask a very interesting question. Perhaps I'll ask my students in my Global Issues Class. Through the course of this year I've learned that many of the students in this class have never been overseas, and many have no desire to go overseas. The most common reasons given were the food, a lack of knowledge of foreign cultures and a lack of ability using English. I didn't specifically ask them about other Asian countries and they tend to see the world as just Japan and America, but maybe they would feel more confident speaking to a non-native speaker. Interesting question. Thanks!

  7. Hi Danielle,
    Thanks for your comment. I very much agree that native speakers of English should show respect others by learning their languages and speaking them, even if we speak them imperfectly.

  8. Well David I decided to ask my Extension Center students your question. The Extension Center classes are for people in the community surrounding Toyo Gakuen University. Most of the students are older learners. Our last class was last week and I asked them your question. One man agreed that it was scarier to talk to me, a native speaker than another Asian speaker of English. On the other hand, another woman said she didn't think there was any difference. In fact, I was the first native speaker teacher she had ever had. Not a scientific study, of course, but it seems that some agree with you and others do not.