Thursday, January 11, 2007

It's a New Year with New Plans...

Or maybe not. But I do have a new spread of classes and some new pressures to deal with.

But my Mondays should prove interesting because I'm teaching a new class, with this one student we've had for about as long as I've been there.

She's hilarious, always laughing and smiling. Her English is pretty scattershot but while she protests that she's too shy (pointing at her face and saying, "I'm shy," while cackling with laughter), she's actually very bold and outspoken inasmuch as possible.

We talked about our New Year's fun, and while I was telling her about how the Emperor was smiling, she said, "I think it's made smile."

By which she meant, "fake smile," but I understood and that's the whole point of communicating. I told her they all fake their smiles, the American politicians, the British monarchy, everyone. She replied, "European cool, American cool, Japanese not cool."

When we were talking about Tokyo, she said, "Stink," then got on her little electronic dictionary and looked up the word "garbage" and said, "Tokyo have garbage stink." She also doesn't think much about Osaka's smell, either.

And the whole time she's cracking herself up. She also apologized at the end of class for not having studied at all during her vacation. I told her not to worry about it because I didn't study Japanese during mine.

My kids' classes are the same and they all seemed happy to see me. The two boys I teach on Mondays are like a manzai team, but with no straight man... unless it's me. The joke's always on sensei. But every class is like their first.

Identical question each week: "How was school today?"

Identical response each week: "Huh?"

Tuesday, I taught the Wonder Twins. Fortunately they were in good humor this week. Usually, it's one good, one evil. Not that they ever act up; they're phenomenally well-behaved. It's just they have mercurial moodiness and you rarely get two happy twins, just one genki and one subdued. This week, they could not stop giggling and hitting each other. They received the new Wii game system for New Year's... maybe that's why they're both feeling good.

The Wednesday junior high girls were the same as usual, polite and hardworking. They're at the point where we can have conversations. While discussing New Year's, I said "koshitoshisoba" instead of "toshikoshisoba," which was probably the highlight of the class where they got to correct the teacher.

The two little girls Thursday made it difficult to stay focused with all their laughing and jumping under the table. Hopefully, today's class will continue the good feelings.

Last night I taught a level 1 student, a nice guy who's into motorcycles. After class, I heard him tell my boss, "Muzukashii desu." Which means, "It was difficult." My boss, Mr. A told him something about "nihonjin," which means, "Japanese."

Hopefully it was something like, "Japanese people always lack confidence when learning English," rather than something like, "Your teacher is an idiot who doesn't know how to teach Japanese people."

We're at the point where my bosses and the students probably should be careful what they say in front of me, even when they're speaking Japanese. I'm slowly beginning to understand bits and pieces. I don't know if they do this, and it's something I wouldn't do and feel uncomfortable about when gaijin do it with me in English, but sometimes when you use your native language around people who you think don't understand it, you let slip little candid comments better left unsaid.

And certainly better left uncomprehended.

Actually, the guy did very well in the lesson; like most beginner students and many advanced learners, he lacks confidence. The topic was introducing yourself, which he could already do. I gave him some follow-up questions to create a natural first meeting conversation, just simple things like, "What do you do?" and "What do you do for fun?"

Otherwise, a conversation would be like this:

Person 1: I am John. Nice to meet you.
Person 2: Nice to meet you too.
(They stare at each other for the rest of the day without speaking)

Here's what we practiced:

Person 1: Hi, my name is John.
Person 2: My name is Taro. Nice to meet you.
Person 1: Nice to meet you, too. Where are you from?
Person 1: I'm from America. How about you?
Person 2: I'm from Japan. What do you do?
Person 1: I'm an English teacher. And you?
Person 2: I'm an office worker.
Person 1: What do you do for fun?
Person 2: I like to ride motorcycles. And you?
Person 1: I like watching movies and playing baseball.

The end. Not the deepest, most natural conversation. Quentin Tarantino would never write this dialogue in one of his movies... or maybe he would, with about 50 f-bombs thrown in. But it's not a good idea to throw too much language at a shaky student at the start. Otherwise, you'll overwhelm them and they'll think, "Holy crap, English is even tougher than I thought!"

Instead, we'll practice this until the student is able to at least meet people with a level of confidence.

No comments: