A former geisha becomes Kimono Mom and learns English

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The following note and video were sent to me by Bill Benzon.  The video is too long (19:15) to make as the main content of this post, but it is captivating, and I warmly recommend it to anyone who is interested in the topics it covers, especially English language learning by Japanese.

The video features Moe, the former geisha who successfully transitioned to Kimono Mom.  Among her interlocutors is a woman from Brazil who has a lot of interesting things to say about Portuguese (especially how different the grammar is from English).  Aside from discoursing on language teaching and learning, Moe is very good at talking about food and cooking for her little family, so if you like that sort of thing, hop on her channel (see below) and you will have many popular videos to choose from.

Here's the note from Bill Benzon introducing us to Moe's English learning video:

You might find this video interesting. It’s by a YouTuber who calls herself “Kimono Mom.”  She’s a Japanese woman with a young daughter. She makes videos about Japanese home cooking, but also more generally about her life and family. She’s learning English so she can provide an English language voice over. In this video she talks about how she is learning English. 
She begins by telling us, in English, what the video’s about. One thing she does is take an online course in conversational English. Then, starting at 11:31, she explains how she produces the English-language voice over. It’s a painstaking process that involves, among other things, an app called YouGlish.
She’s been on YouTube for about 2 years and has over a million viewers,. She says about 80% of them are female, which makes sense given their content. They are generally fascinating.
Note: Since I don’t speak Japanese, much less read it, I watch her videos with closed captions. I assume they are driven by AI for translation and transcription.

Moe's English language learning video (over half a million views): 

How I study English | Make Video in English

Moe's YouTube channel

Kimono Mom

Analytics for Moe's channel:

  • Subscribers

  • Total Views

  • Average Video Views

  • Total Videos


Selected readings


  1. Peter Du said,

    November 8, 2022 @ 8:44 am

    For more context on Bill’s expertise: https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=kamzGO4AAAAJ&hl=en

  2. Terry K. said,

    November 8, 2022 @ 9:16 am

    When she starts speaking in Japanese, she a couple times includes the English word "speaking". I'm curious why. Any insight from those who know Japanese? There's nothing in the English subtitles that suggests to me why she'd say this word in English. I do know (from the subtitles) she's talking about speaking English, in terms of the actual act of speaking it.

  3. Mike Grubb said,

    November 8, 2022 @ 10:45 am

    @ Terry K.,

    Much as I'd like to contribute substantively to your question, I'm not a Japanese speaker. I can offer that, in J-Pop, it's not uncommon to hear individual English words amidst Japanese lines of lyrics. (Although you'll also hear whole phrases and lines in English, too.)

    While VHM has addressed English loanwords in Japanese — and this might be an instance of that — English words are sometimes used in Japanese media for the cachet of including the "exotic" to seem more worldly or sophisticated, even when there isn't a lacuna in the Japanese, in the same way English speakers might drop in Latin, French, German or other terms amidst English sentences, even if a perfectly cromulent English word would suffice.

  4. gds555 said,

    November 8, 2022 @ 11:05 am

    It’s perhaps worth pointing out here that “Moe” is a two-syllable name, i.e., “Mo-e”. Not knowing that, some readers might find it difficult to eradicate from their minds the image of this stringently trained Kimono Mom giving her little daughter Sutan a two-fingered eye-poke whenever the latter does something her mother objects to.

  5. DMT said,

    November 8, 2022 @ 2:02 pm

    Terry K –
    She isn't just talking about "speaking English," she's specifically talking about "speaking" in the context of language classes. I imagine it is quite common for students attending language classes to spontaneously use the L2 word for certain topics related to language learning – e.g. someone studying Mandarin might say, "My tingli is still not very good." (tingli = listening ability)
    Outside contexts related to English language education, "speaking" is not a commonly used loanword in Japanese.

  6. Michael Watts said,

    November 13, 2022 @ 5:33 pm

    I imagine it is quite common for students attending language classes to spontaneously use the L2 word for certain topics related to language learning – e.g. someone studying Mandarin might say, "My tingli is still not very good." (tingli = listening ability)

    That isn't really something I would consider saying (though it is perfectly accurate as a description of me); the English vocabulary is too readily available. I am well aware of the Chinese word 听力, but I would only use it if I were speaking Chinese. I tell English speakers that I function well in writing and not in speech. There would be no point in telling them I had weak 听力 even if I had the urge to (which I don't); they wouldn't understand that.

    However, it is very common for foreigners in China to refer to streets by their full Chinese name (e.g. by saying "nanjing xi lu" instead of "west nanjing road"). You just think of the whole thing as being the name of the street.

  7. Philip Taylor said,

    November 14, 2022 @ 2:29 pm

    « However, it is very common for foreigners in China to refer to streets by their full Chinese name (e.g. by saying "nanjing xi lu" instead of "west nanjing road"). ». Certainly true for me, but equally true for me in all of the languages which I speak — ulica Solidarności, Rue d'Amsterdam, Schneerener Straße, Katwijkstraat , … I would feel seriously weird were I to partially Anglicize any of these.

  8. Michael Watts said,

    November 15, 2022 @ 9:08 pm

    I didn't mean to claim there was anything special about Chinese.

    The Chinese themselves don't appear to be aware that this is what foreigners think, though; subway announcements in English always refer to "west nanjing road". The name 南京西路 is meaningful to them, so they want to translate it.

  9. Philip Anderson said,

    November 17, 2022 @ 5:41 pm

    Although I wouldn’t generally translate a street name, like cities there are streets with official, multilingual names, e.g. Victoria Street = Heol Buddug in Welsh (from British Boudica, meaning victory). That’s presumably what the Chinese announcers think.

  10. Philip Taylor said,

    November 18, 2022 @ 4:15 am

    I have a feeling that such bi-lingual street names are also found in Cornwall (where I now live) although I cannot think of a single example as I write. It may be that there are simply far more Cornish street names than one might expect, given that only a vanishingly small fraction of the population are actually capable of speaking Cornish.

    "Actually capable of speaking" rather than "Speaks", by the way, because unlike Welsh and Gaelic (both Irish and Scots), etc., I do not believe that anyone in Cornwall (or anywhere else, for that matter) speaks Cornish as a normal part of daily life. Much the same situation obtains, I believe, w.r.t. Manx.

  11. Tomas in Kyoto said,

    November 23, 2022 @ 4:17 am

    Note: technically, she is was not a geisha, but a maiko. Maiko are younger and wear louder clothes, hairstyles, and makeup. After working as a maiko for some time, some women may graduate to the level of geiko ( Kyoto-ban for geisha).

    I haven't watch the video with "speaking", but I wonder if she is referring at that point to a specific aspect of her education. For example, maybe she takes lessons that are divided into sections focusing on reading, writing, listening, and speaking such that her teachers tell her things like, "In 'speaking,' you did very well today.". This is the only context I could imagine where a Japanese speaker might substitute the English word speaking.

    (On an unrelated point, look at that double period above. The first one is what I typed, and the second one was auto-inserted by my Android OS keyboard. Why does Android put periods and commas after a closing quotation mark? It is slowly transforming the way I write, as can be seen in the inconsistent use of commas with closing quotation marks. Any LL reader have an answer about this quirk of Android?)

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