EXILE is a very popular 14-man music group: 12 dancers and 2 vocalists. Given how hugely popular they are, it always used to surprise me when students who told me they were big EXILE fans couldn’t tell me what “exile” meant. When I would tell them that it means 「追放」they always reacted with surprise. They don’t get why the band is called that either.
For me, not knowing what your favorite group’s name means is the perfect example of what happens when a language is used as commercial glitter. When ALTs say that students don’t have enough chances to listen to real English, I think, is the problem that, or the opposite? I think they have too much English floating around, both of the grammatically correct kind and the “all your base are belong to us” variety. I think English in Japan has become a part of the background noise, like the hum of electric appliances. You never notice that they are constantly making a sound until there’s a black out.
Maybe there’s also a certain level of naiveté involved, but I hesitate to reach for this conclusion because I think it’s a bit condescending. Is it paranoia that makes me think, “don’t wear clothing with text you can’t read,” “don’t repeat things whose meaning you don’t know,” or just good sense?
Today my English Club girls put on a CD. It was kind of rowdy rock music so I asked what it was. They didn’t really know, so they just pointed to its jewel case by the stereo. I go to look at it: it seemed to be a band composed of foreigners and Japanese people. On the cover it said 「女の子募集中」(“Recruiting Girls”). I flip it over to check out the track list. One: “Drink Beer.” Inappropriate, but not too bad, I thought. Two: “Whipped!” Then my eye drifts over to three. It was “Stinky P***y.”
My jaw hit the floor.
I debated with myself if I should tell them what that meant. On the one hand, I think, as girls they should be aware that there’s this language that’s not very nice to them so that they can avoid promoting it. On the other, I wondered what they would think of the fact that I knew how to say that in Japanese off the top of my head.
Ultimately I did tell them. I think they should know in general because this stuff is out there, and I don’t want them to embarrass themselves by saying bad words without knowing they’re bad words, or by saying they like certain music without knowing what that music is really about. Can you imagine a potential host family’s reaction if these girls went abroad and took a CD with such tracks as “Drink Beer” and “Stinky P***y” as an example of the music in English that they listen to? And I do hope that it’ll make them think twice about what it is they’re listening to, and sometimes buying. I want English to stop being just more background noise.