Japan learns English from Obama speech textbook

Mon Jan 19, 2009 11:40pm EST
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By Yoko Kubota

TOKYO (Reuters) - President-elect Barack Obama's speeches are proving a best-seller in Japan -- as an aid to learning English.

An English-language textbook, "The Speeches of Barack Obama," has sold more than 400,000 copies in two months, a big hit in a country where few hit novels sell more than a million copies a year.

Japanese have a fervor for learning English and many bookstores have a corner dedicated to dozens of journals in the language, many of them now featuring the new U.S. leader's face.

"Speeches by presidents and presidential candidates are excellent as listening tools to learn English, because their contents are good and their words are easy to catch," said Yuzo Yamamoto of Asahi Press, which produced the best-selling text book.

"Obama's is especially so. His speeches are so moving, and he also uses words such as 'yes, we can,' 'change' and 'hope' that even Japanese people can memorize," he said.

Speeches by President George W. Bush and former nominee John Kerry's four years ago did not have the same appeal, however, and nor do those made by Japanese politicians, Yamamoto said.

"In Japan, we don't have politicians who have such a positive influence. That's why we have to turn to a foreign president for someone in whom to place our hopes."

The 95-page paperback features Obama's speeches in English from the 2004 Democratic National Convention and during the Democratic Party primaries, in which he defeated Hillary Clinton. They are accompanied by Japanese translations.   Continued...

<p>Obama products are pictured on display as people shop for souvenirs the day before President-elect Barack Obama is to be sworn in as the 44th President of he United States, at Pentagon City Mall in Arlington, Virginia January 19, 2009. REUTERS/Molly Riley</p>