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Here’s a thought, 横浜では、英語しか話されていないと考えてみてください (Yokohama dewa, Eigo shika hanasarete-inai to kangaete-mite kudasai, imagine you could speak nothing but English in Yokohama).

What kind of city would it be? Do you think it would be more attractive to foreign residents? Would it make Japan more of a player on the world stage?

日本では少子高齢化が進み、人手不足が問題になっている (Nihon de wa shōshi kōreika ga susumi, hitode-busoku ga mondai ni natte-iru, Japan continues to face a decreasing birthrate and an aging population, and labor shortages have become a problem). But this could perhaps be solved by bringing in more 外国人労働者 (gaikokujin rōdōsha, foreign workers).

Many countries strive to attract and retain talent from abroad in order to remain competitive in a global economy, but what if those workers leave because the native language is considered too difficult to learn?

英紙ガーディアンによると (Eishi Gādian ni yoru to, According to British newspaper The Guardian), Finland has this same problem. High taxes, a complicated immigration process and difficulties with the language lead many foreign students to return to their home countries after their studies. フィンランド語 (Finrandogo, Finnish), known locally as スオミ (Suomi, Finnish), has 15 grammatical cases and is notoriously difficult for non-Finnish people to learn.

Juhana Vartiainen has a solution for one of those problems: Make Helsinki, the capital, an English-only city.

Vartiainen is ヘルシンキ市長 (Herushinki shichō, the mayor of Helsinki) and he has criticized the country’s efforts to attract 海外からの高度人材 (kaigai kara no kōdo jinzai, highly skilled professionals from overseas), particularly in the field of technology. This led him to suggest making Helsinki an 英語都市 (Eigo toshi, English-language city).

This way, he says, 「英語を話せる人は、フィンランド語やスウェーデン語を話す必要がない」 (Eigo o hanaseru hito wa, Finrandogo ya Suwēdengo o hanasu hitsuyō ga nai, People who speak English won’t need to speak Finnish or Swedish).

Given the already high English-fluency rate in Finland, 英語の公用語化は可能かもしれない (Eigo no kōyōgo-ka wa kanō kamo shirenai, it might be possible to make English an official language). However, the decision would still need to be made at the national level, and there is no guarantee that 英語の公用語化 (Eigo no kōyōgo-ka, making English an official language) will convince foreign students to stick around.

Can the widespread use of English really make a city more attractive? This is usually a good topic of conversation to bring up in Japanese classes or with your friends, but try discussing it in Japanese.

When you want to start a conversation about something you’ve heard, you can call attention to the topic by using the verbs 知る (shiru, to know) or 聞く (kiku, to hear).

With friends, start your conversation with “知っている?” (shitte-iru?) or a “ね、知ってる?” (ne, shitte-ru?) Both translate as “do you know?” or “did you know?” in English, with the ね (ne) acting as a way to call attention to the fact you are speaking. “聞いた?” (Kiita?) works in the same way and more literally translates as “have you heard?”: 聞いた? ヘルシンキは英語しか話さない都市になるかもしれない (Kiita? Herushinki wa Eigo shika hanasanai toshi ni naru kamo shirenai, Did you hear? Helsinki might become a city in which only English is spoken).

When your speech calls for a higher degree of formality, like with a teacher or work colleague, it’s better to use 知る and 聞く in their ます形 (masu-kei, masu form): 知っていますか?テレビ番組によるとヘルシンキ市長は英語の公用語化を目指しているため、ヘルシンキに英語しか話さない町を作りたいそうです (Shitte-imasu ka? Terebi ni yoru to Herushinki shichō wa Eigo no kōyōgo-ka o mezashite-iru tame, Herushinki ni Eigo shika hanasanai machi o tsukuritai sō desu, Did you know? According to a television program, the mayor of Helsinki wants to make English an official language, so [he] wants to make it a town in which only English is spoken).

Note that, at the end of our more formal example, the phrase そうです (sō desu) is used. そうだ (sō da) is an auxiliary that indicates the information expressed by the preceding sentence is what the speaker heard. It can be used for factual information, hearsay or rumors: 彼は英語の先生だそうだ (Kare wa Eigo no sensei da sō da, I heard he’s an English teacher). It can be paired with the compound particle によると (ni yoru to), which is used to mean “according to” or “based on.” In the previous example, the speaker is relaying something they heard on television.

It’s also important to note that そうだ can also be used is to express conjecture based on what the speaker sees or feels. For example, 先生は元気そうだ (Sensei wa genki sō da, The teacher seems to be doing well).

The 英語都市のヘルシンキ idea is currently causing discussion on the web forum Reddit, with one user weighing in: 「私の経験では、英語を知っているだけではヘルシンキでは苦労しました。英語の公用語化を目指しても、この状況は変わらないでしょう」 (Watashi no keiken dewa, Eigo o shitte-iru dake dewa Herushinki dewa kurō shimashita. Eigo no kōyōgoka o mezashite mo kono jōkyō wa kawaranai deshō, In my experience, I had a hard time in Helsinki with just knowing English. Making English an official language would do little to nothing to change things).

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