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Japanese Nobel Laureate Stresses English`s Importance

Posted February. 04, 2009 08:54,   


“I’m sorry, I don’t speak English.”

Professor Toshihide Maskawa began his speech this way at a lecture at Stockholm University Dec. 8, 2008. The audience burst into laughter.

The Japanese scholar who cannot speak English was the talk of the town even in Sweden. He then continued his speech in Japanese and the audience followed the subtitles on the screen behind him.

When he was honored with the Nobel Prize, Maskawa said that if he had to speak in English, he would not go to the ceremony, which has a tradition of awardees speaking in English.

The Nobel Prize Committee allowed Maskawa to speak in Japanese at the ceremony. That does not mean he cannot understand English. He reads papers in English and even points out problems. The problem is he can only read English.

In an interview after the awards ceremony, he said, “I was frustrated because I wasn’t able to talk to world-class scholars there. Things cannot get better if you can speak English.”

He also said young people should develop English fluency, adding the inability to speak the language is synonymous with isolation in a globalized world.

On if he will learn English, Maskawa, 68, said, “At this age?”