For most schools in Japan, this week is “Final Test Week”. One thing that I’ve been in charge of conducting is the Interview Test. I’ve chosen a selection of questions from the past couple of months, and have been assessing each student’s responses. One of the grammar points that I’ve included is “I have ____”; “I have a cat. I have two CDs”. It’s pretty simple and it’s taught early on in the curriculum. But about fifty percent of student responses have been frustratingly ruined by a chart-topping song.
Every week or so, I’ll walk into class and be immediately greeted with the most bizarre English phrase or comment from a student. Not stuff from the curriculum, but those lifted from TV personalities and comedians. Back in September of last year, one of my students rushed up to me a said “I have a pen..…”. To which I congratulated him and replied “Me too”. At the time I didn’t think too much about it, except for the randomness of it all. It wasn’t until I watched one of the many variety shows and witnessed the sight of a moustached man in leopard print singing about combining fruit with stationary, that I realised what the student was referencing.
The latter half of last year was dominated by one Japanese comedian and his song. Pikotaro, or Kazuhito Kosaka, is a 43 year old Japanese comedian who dons a leopard-print outfit, dances and sings. His major hit has been a song called “Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen” or “PPAP”, that involves a rudimentary dance and catchy synth beat. The lyrics, if you can seriously call them that, are as follows;
I have a pen, I have a apple
I have a pen, I have pineapple
Pikotaro largely owes his success to Justin Bieber, who shared his “music video” via Twitter. As a result, it didn’t take long for PPAP to make it’s way onto computer screens, TVs, radios and the CD charts. The mere utterance of “I have” seemingly opened the doors to simultaneous song and dance. After a couple of weeks, it became a virus seeping into every facet of Japanese culture; television, the media, school and commercial products. It drove me nuts.
But let’s get back to the point. The song consists of the grammar I have ____ which proved to be a timely opportunity to educate the students alongside something culturally relevant. Yet when you listen to and read the other five lines of the song, you’ll notice that he states “I have pineapple”, removing the required a . This is a common mistake made by students that requires a simple explanation about countable and uncountable nouns. But the bigger problem is the way “I have a” is sung. With the beat and Pikotaro’s questionable pronunciation it almost sounds like have and a are one word. So whenever we want the students to answer with “I have ten CDs”, we’re welcomed with a “I have-a ten CDs. Of course, this has resulted in students dropping marks and laughably arguing that the fact it’s in a popular song means that the English must be correct.
I’m all for Japanese comedians to use English as comedic material. But if you’re going to, make sure that it’s a least correct. Please. Oh won’t somebody please think of the children!