“The author would be gratified if this book could make the reader realize that it today’s world, when highly developed systems of communication and transportation have brought the world’s nations closer and closer, it is a mistake not to know any foreign language, and infinitely worse to have only a superficial knowledge of a foreign language.”
Corresponding with my recent enthusiasm for Japanese literature, I was browsing the Japanese politics and history section when I stumbled onto Takao Suzuki’s Words in Context: A Japanese Perspective on Language and Culture. Thinking, “how perfect” after a recent conversation about translation I checked it out and ultimately found myself with a very unexpected but gratifying book. Words in Context was previously published as Japanese and the Japanese and provides a collection of essays that will interest anyone interested in linguistics, anyone who has studied a foreign language, or anyone fascinated in the interconnections of various cultures.
Words in Context is made up of six essays that largely explore the relationship between the Japanese language, and thus people, and the English language, and thus people (though Suzuki certainly provides a plethora of references to other languages). A prominent point Suzuki makes throughout the text is that the contemporary (though it has stretched back for at least a century or two) manner that language is taught is negligent of the culture’s nuances and subtleties. This ranges from “the structural nature of words versus their definitions” (i.e. dictionaries attempt to define a word but seldom does a dictionary every express the meaning of a word) to interpretations of cruelty between cultures (i.e. the treatments of dogs in England versus Japan) and even down to the nitty-gritty uses of adjectives, nouns, verbs, and pronouns.
My singular complaint of the text is that I wish Suzuki had more concretely expressed how foreign languages should be taught. As an individual who has briefly studied German and currently am studying Spanish and have struggled with both of these languages, I do wish and find it amiss that Suzuki did not explicate a superior system of learning. That is, it’s perfectly alright to point out the flaws in a system but it is immensely more helpful if suggestions for improvement are included.
Words in Context was a delightful read and over the course of reading it I have become increasingly interested in uncovering the nuances in Spanish.