Mitani: When I was a teenager, I loved 70’s British hard rock like Black Sabbath, Uriah Heep, Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple. I wanted to visit the UK and I found a government student exchange program to study English in the UK. So, I went to Tokyo from Kyoto to take the exam. There were about 150 people who were chosen from all over Japan. When the examiner came to the class room, he said “Good morning” in English. Then, he explained the test but everything he said was in English. I couldn’t understand him at all. I heard someone laughing and they understood what the examiner was saying. I said to myself, “What? These people understand what he’s saying?” and I realized the big gap between myself and other students.
“When I was a teenager, I loved 70’s British hard rock like Black Sabbath”
ZERO: How was the exam?
Mitani：Unfortunately, I couldn’t pass the exam. I enjoyed learning English and listening to hard rock, so I wanted to work for an American guitar or synthesizer company. I knew that I couldn’t speak English well enough to work in the US, so I started working for a domestic electrical instrument maker. A few years later, I visited a trade show in Frankfurt, Germany. I stopped over in England as well and I finally had a chance to experience an English only speaking environment. I could see and understood what was written and I traveled using the London Underground too. However, when a store staff talked to me, I couldn’t understand her at all. (laugh) English is the common language in the UK so people talked to me so fast, but in Germany, not many people spoke English well. When I asked people in Germany, “Can you speak English?” they replied “No! No! No!” I realized that German people cannot speak English so well either so that made me feel relieved.
ZERO: Now, you have many international friends, right?
Mitani：Yes. If I look back over my life, I have always had contact with people from other countries. For example, when I started working for my own company, I hired someone who was Indonesian and who was studying Japanese. I was developing music software programs at that time so we always talked about programing in English. After that, I met an American guy who loved rock and Japanese martial arts and we started working together. He understood 50% of my Japanese so I taught him Japanese and he taught me English. It was nice working and studying languages at the same time. At first our levels were equal but gradually his Japanese got better because we both lived in Japan and my English level got lower. (Laugh) After he left, I made friends with musicians who were from Los Angeles and Australia. We communicated via email and Skype. Sometimes, I visited them in Los Angeles and our friendship became stronger. So, from the age of 30, I have always had contact with people from other countries who can’t speak Japanese around me.
ZERO: How do you think you can improve your English?
Mitani： I think it’s nice to have foreign friends who can’t speak Japanese and then communicate with them via Skype. Nowadays, we can talk and see each other online. If you can’t understand what they are saying, you can type “What?” You don’t have to worry about it. The point is, to talk about things that you like. For example, if you have a friend who likes hard rock, you can ask “Did you listen to the new album by…? What songs did you like?” etc. If we talk about a topic we both like, we can continue the conversation without any problem. If you don’t have anything in common, all you can say is “Hello. Today’s a nice day.” If you can find something in common like soccer, that’ll help you to speak in English. It’s very interesting to experience other cultures, so please try.
Yoshiyuki Mitani is the CEO and Chief Editor of Music Network Incorporated. He’s also the guitarist in a Black Sabbath tribute band called Blood Sabbath.
Purchase Rockstar English Stage 1 to read an exclusive interview with Yoshiyuki Mitani about what he does on his weekends. You will also get a bonus FULL COLOR poster of Yoshiyuki Mitani inside the book.