English-Speaking Elite (How To)

by Translation Guy on July 19, 2010

Tak Fujii made his name on the Internet last month with an incomprehensibly bad English-language presentation at Konami’s E3 press conference.

Tak is a manager and producer in Konami, and has previously worked as an audio director and specialized in localizing games in different languages. One of us. Not sure if I’ve even met him or not.

This is a follow-up on my post about how growing global English fluency means that interpreters are no longer required by many of my clients.

Right now, because we are working on presentation issues for one such client, Tak’s career-making moment struck a chord when I watched it on Wimp a few days ago. Plus, it seemed like another chance for Translation Guy to pig-pile on an internet meme gone viral for my own selfish promotional interests.

So, for the usual set of mixed motives, I sent it off the YouTube link to Diane Boardman, my accent mitigation expert. Diane coaches our clients who need to present in a second language. Since we can’t show you a real one, I asked her to do Tak:

“Subject: Tak Fujii, Producer, Konami Digital Entertainment

“This gentleman has speech sound (phoneme), stress and grammar difficulties, making his presentation overall very difficult to understand….

“I ran this by a native Japanese speaker (bilingual English/Japanese) and she had a problem understanding him!

“Some typical difficulties/differences are:  the substitution of ‘s’ (phonetically written as /s/) for the voiceless (no laryngeal vibration) ‘th’ phoneme.

— ‘thirty’ sounds like ‘sirty’ (when the /r/ is pronounced at all)

— substitution of the voiced /z/ for the voiced ‘th’ as in the pronunciation of ‘with’ as ‘wiz’

–/r/ and / l / difficulties – substituting one for the other

“Vowel difficulties: Example: the use of /a/ (as in ‘father’) for /^/ as in ‘but’

“Some dialogue that was just plain incomprehensible except for a few words:

“(1) Fast. Online cope more you compete with online leaderbles…

“(2) Grammar/Phoneme: ‘Please check out our cope mode in our after the press conference is available.’

“(3) Various phonemic substitutions: ‘Lub you grace’ (Is this supposed to be ‘Love you guys’??)

“All in all, his rate was very fast except when he wanted to emphasize numbers or exclaim ‘wow’ or say ‘extreme.’  This coupled with his frequent use of phonemic substitutions, additions of ‘uh’ after words with consonant endings (at times), inappropriate stress patterns, and grammatical issues, would probably result in making comprehension by his audience difficult, stressful and tiring.  This is not something you want when you’re trying to sell your product.”

If you watch the video, it’s pretty clear that the audience was clueless. Either that or someone had slipped Thorazine in the water. We’ll know for sure when we get back the lab results. But let’s assume for the time being that no one knew what he was talking about. So, communication fail? Yes? Or maybe not so fast.

You gotta love Tak. For me, as soon as I see a guy in dreadlocks, I figure we have to have something in common (both Bob Marley fans). If we had given Tak an interpreter (not that anyone asked), people would have understood exactly what he meant. But could our very best interpreter help Tak communicate his enthusiasm, passion and high spirits to a stick-in-the-mud audience, or would the interpreter-presenter dynamic just have squeezed out all the good juice in his presentation?

The next guy on this reel is Naoki Maeda, whose English is even worse. He sounds like he’s following a phonetic script of a teleprompter.  The Konami PR guys paired him with Tom Magaro (TK), who is no interpreter, but essentially repeated everything that Naoki said, so that people could understand him. It worked, I thought.

In fact, interpreters would have been a problem. When does anything with interpreters go viral anyway?

My father’s personal motto was “patience, persistence, and practice.” The way he said it, I always thought it had something to do with sex, but if you look at the rapidly changing manners of good communication on the Web, my Dad’s old school virtues don’t cut the social media mustard. Gotta keep the juice flowing, since something better is only a click away. I’m afraid that multilingual, just for timing issues alone, sucks the energy out of a virtual room. Bad English is an improvement. Tak’s awful English has transformed him into a global sensation.

I close with some famous quotations:
“One million troops”
*whisper* “EXTREEEEEME”
“You’ll be sucked”

Thanks to Diane Boardman for her help on this post.


  1. Juan Honores says:

    First of all: there are some rules of communication, everyone should respect: 1. Treat others (even opponents) with respect and patience, behave with dignity – you gonna like this way of talking after some practice 2. Treat people as you’d like to be treated. 3. Dirty slang and its “substitutes”, insults (even hidden) are not acceptable in any form and, thus, are forbidden. As well as abundance of speach patterns, with lots of idiomatical expressions – not everyone is fluent in English.

  2. Prinster says:

    That guy looks like a Japanese hippie…

  3. Alexis says:

    In the board I work as a supply teacher in the Immersion program is taught in a regular public school, but the teachers are french speaking instead of english speaking, so the kids are still together at recess time. That said, the kids in the immersion program are far better behaviour wise than the english speaking section of the public school program. They actually have a FI program at one of the most notorious schools in the board that used to be a section 20 behavioural school and it had FI at that time as well. As a parent, I’m not sure I’d want my kid in the FI program and then also out at recess with the behavioural kids at that school.Being a teacher in our board has given me a chance to see what really goes on at a lot of schools and has opened my eyes to where I do and do not want my son going when he’s of age to attend school.

  4. Emily Ross says:

    The “For” argument holds that having a single language referee disadvantages a side that does not “natively” speak the same language as the referee, if their opponents do speak the same language as the referee

  5. Mia says:

    Woah, that guy has a job??!?!?

  6. Cindy L says:

    In the pool stages of the last World Cup, there were six games in which neither side was English speaking, and 16 games in which only one was. 13 countries spoke English, the others spoke Japanese, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish, French, and Georgian. There is no way you could get top referees sufficiently qualified linguistically to cover all the unpredictable language requirements.Using even a small number of foreign phrases under pressure requires practice. Air traffic control long ago accepted that English should be the only language used internationally and rugby has no practical option but to follow suit.

  7. I am sceptical about the change if parent or kids do not change their snorbish attitude against the language. No matter how creative the teaching can be, kids cannot master the language without the fundamental of practicing – read/listen/talk.

  8. I think Ministers needs to show proof in saying that using English has been ‘effective’. Where are the findings from empirical educational research? There hasn’t been much research conducted on when, how and the frequency of using EL in teaching CL, much less in measuring the ‘effectiveness’ of such pedagogy.

  9. Ive just came back from a b-day lunch , it was a Korean place. The waitress didn’t speak a lick of English, friends of mine have also been to Mexican restaurants where the people taking the order speak broken English

  10. Knowledge does not belong to any one nation. It is a treasure which is shared by everybody on earth. However, only through language can obtain this treasure. This can provides further concrete evidence of importance of importance teaching Mathematics and Science in English. A survey conducted indicate 95% of scientific material and journals are presented in English even approximately 50% of the are written by authors who are non-native English speaking. In addition, most websites which integrate explanatory style of conveying information regrading scientific and mathematical matters are created with English as the main medium of communication. logically, in considering the evidence given students have a wider access to scientific references science English is used as the medium of instruction in teaching these subjects thus inevitably broadening their knowledge base.

    • Ken says:

      Jovito, corrected the spelling of “created” and replaced “bank” with “base” to clarify your useful observations.

  11. The English language is generally considered as an international language in the lingua franca of the the global community. Due to the situation and several other rational reasons, the Ministry Education of Malaysia implanted the teaching of Mathematics and Science in the English language in 2003. Since then the English language played an integral role in the pedagogical aspect of the teaching of these subjects and has conjured up one germane inquiry. What Importance of teaching Mathematics and Science related subjects, which were previously taught in Malay, in English

  12. OldHippie says:

    Mauro Rivera (Argentina), Bryan Arciero (Canada), Naipolione Locoloco (Fiji), Gia Amirkhanashvili (Georgia), Marius Mitrea (Italy), Akihisa Aso (Japan), Andrew Karani (Kenya), Marcin Zeszutek (Poland), Joao Mourinha (Portugal), Igor Nikolaichuk and Vladimir Volovik (Russia) and Aruna Ranaweera (USA). Just what language(s) do proponents of multi-lingualism suggest should be in use?!

  13. Danial says:

    English is essential in presenting scientific and mathematical concepts of an international level. Before ending this article, it is imperative to stress upon here that irrespective of the global rank of the English language we as Malaysian should not mind and consider “Bahasa Melayu” or Malay as an inferior language. It is our national language and as such it is the language which binds our pluralistic together in harmony. Scince and Mathematics are vital academic discipline to such extent that mastery of them is prerequisite for the formation of a technologically advanced nation. So let us together utilize the knowledge we procure for the benefit of mankind and glory God’s name.

  14. Austin says:

    Well, English as an international language has become an essential part of our survival. If you go to abroad, either you know their native language or not but if you’re aware of English language you can somehow manage to be a part of that circle.

  15. People will always educate their children in what they perceive as the power language. Success . . . means belonging to the elite; to belong to the elite you must speak the official and international language. As soon as they can, that is what even the most down-trodden of minority language speakers will aim at, for their children even more than for themselves.

    • Ken says:

      Great point, Darren. I’m posting on that soon. Looking forward to your comments.

  16. Eddie Alva says:

    That was…hard to watch. Looked like he was nervous, though I doubt he would have spoken any better if he wasnt. :( There is one thing that I want to point out! I have Tagalog, Bulgarian, and Japanese speaking friends that have had trouble communicating with some of my English speaking friends, yet I don’t see why. My bulgarian friend has a thick accent, and his grammar isn’t great, nevertheless, it’s very understandable to me. Why is it that I have always been able to understand broken English better than others?

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