Okay, here’s an anecdote from the wonderful dinner we had tonight (despite the fact that there were people smoking off and on in the restaurant).
My brother, his girlfriend, and I all had dinner with my brother’s private student tonight. He’s this older Japanese guy, perhaps in his fifties, who is quite fun and silly, and who loves his family and my brother. At one point in the night, we ended up on the subject of the pronunciation of English words in the Japanese style (Katakana English, as we like to call it), and specifically the struggle for Japanese people to say the word “chocolate” like a native English speaker.
My brother’s student was determined to pronounce chocolate like a native, and so we kept having to say it ourselves, and then analyze and critique the student’s pronunciation. Most of the time, there was some special vowel added to the middle of the word, because Japanese doesn’t have consonants side-by-side (only “ts”, “ch”, and guttural stops written as a double consonant [e.g. “tt”, “kk”, etc.]). So, instead of the native’s “choc-lette”, it tended to come out as “cho-koe-lay-toe” or “cho-ku-ray-toe” (They also don’t have R’s or L’s in Japanese.).
Back and forth, back and forth we went, my saying “chocolate,” followed by my brother’s student saying “chocolate,” the two pronunciations forever being different from one another. But the student and my brother’s girlfriend, being Japanese speakers and non-native English speakers, couldn’t quite hear the differences. Whereas my brother and I heard the difference every time, resulting in a good amount of laughter and face-making (You know how you make a face when something isn’t quite right? That.).
The student even called over two of the waitresses at one point, explaining the situation to them, and asking them to listen to me and him saying each of our versions. ‘Did the pronunciations sound the same to them?’ he wanted to know. Yes, they did. However, when I then said both versions myself, they heard a difference. So, having lost that bit of the battle, he had them try to pronounce chocolate like native English speakers. No, they couldn’t quite get it right, that middle “cl/kl” sound being the constant culprit in the matter. This, of course, created and even greater flow of laughter in our corner of the restaurant.
There is a Japanese comedian who goes around to places (I’ve only seen and heard of ones in the US, but he might go elsewhere, too), asking for different things, but using Japanese English and odd translations. For example, he walked around New York asking for a “boat-plane” or “sky mamma”. He was, naturally, looking for a naval aircraft carrier. The Japanese characters individually mean “sky”空 and “mother”母, and it is, of course, a sort of boat with airplanes. The whole purpose of his show, of course, is to be silly in interacting with the Americans who have no idea what he is asking. Having talked about this show earlier in the night, I eventually wondered what might happen if this guy were to try ordering the Japanese version of “chocolate” in, say, a coffee shop or restaurant.
My brother and I did our darndest in listening, but we couldn’t hear the words as people who didn’t know what was being said. That is, we understand and are accustomed to Japanese English, and so couldn’t figure out how it would sound to people who don’t understand Japanese English. So, we decided to send a voice message to my mom, recorded by my brother’s private student.
“White chocolate, dark chocolate, bitter chocolate…. please!”
(rather, “Waiito chocorayto, dahku chocorayto, beetah chocorayto… pureezu!”)
Naturally, my mother had no idea, no matter how she tried, what on Earth was being said. Then, when we went for some other variations, – that is, his attempts at pronouncing it as a Native English speaker – she thought he might have been saying something about a certain kind of energy used in Reiki.
As one can ascertain from that, his “native” pronunciation has some room for improvement. He declared that his homework was to practice only pronouncing “chocolate” all week. He even has a voice memo of me saying, “Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate,” on his phone for reference. We’ll see if he ever manages that native-sounding “choc-lette”.
Now, for anyone concerned about the fact that, ‘Well, chocolate does have an O in the middle,’ recall that that is not the point. They are not saying the word differently out of righteousness for the fact that the O is there and therefore must be pronounced, but out of the fact that the “cl/kl” sound is just somewhat impossible for Japanese folks. It makes for some pretty funny-sounding words in English, if you ask me. 😛