Friday, May 9, 2014

English Class? But You Don't Even Speak Japanese?

     That is definitely one of the most common phrases I have said to me. How can you teach someone your language when you don't even speak theirs? I will admit it was pretty daunting at first, but I realized that most people here were as nervous to learn and speak English as I was to teach. I will say, everyone was very enthusiastic about the classes starting. Every time I was in the employee cafeteria, staff would come up to me and tell me how excited they were for the classes to begin, so that gave me the boost of confidence I needed.

     In Japan, you have to do a lot of preparation and research before you do a lot of things, so the classes started off with "orientation" classes. With Hata-san, my manager at the Paul Rusch Memorial Museum, and Urakabe-san, my manager in the international relations department, as my "teacher's aides" a.k.a. translators, we held three different informational classes to gauge people's interests, what they wanted to learn, what time and days worked best for them, and what they wanted to accomplish by the end of my time here. They were very informal gatherings, ones I always started off with "This is a safe environment, it's ok to make mistakes here. I'm not going to laugh at you for anything because I don't want you to make fun of me for my Japanese." Hata-san and Urakabe-san were there to interpret what people didn't understand. From all the information we gathered from people, we decided to have a beginner's English class every other Monday and an Intermediate class every Thursday. Many Japanese people have taken English during Junior High, but they have lost a lot of it and I have noticed some of the English is a little outdated. A question I had was about the proper time to use 'supper' vs when you would use the word 'dinner'...Those are my favorite conversations to have. Most people wanted to be able to think first in English by the time classes were over, which was an entirely new concept to me, but what I thought was the most interesting thing to me was that a lot of people wanted to learn how to speak like an American. Turns out Japanese people are interested in learning our mannerisms and how we talk with our hands and how we stand while we're speaking. You don't think about those things until someone points them out. Oh, and there was also an overwhelming request to learn about American Pop Culture, which I was happy to oblige. My favorite idea suggested was that we have a field trip to a karaoke bar and everyone is ONLY allowed to sing English songs.

List of questions to determine how to set up the formal English classes--and phrases that needed explanation.
Discussing class objectives
     So with one to two classes a week, I am pretty busy. People choose whichever level they want to join and I encourage them to come to both if they can. I am a pretty laid back teacher, not like some of the language drill sergeants you had back in high school. The format of class is usually the same, we have a topic we discuss with a worksheet to fill out and then usually we just kind of branch off from there. I use the topics as a kind of jumping off point. People are very interested in the terms I use that I don't even think twice about, phrases like "right off the bat", or "killing two birds with one stone", or trying to translate an English play on words that makes me laugh hysterically and it just doesn't translate to Japanese. The first week for both level classes was "Introductions and Greetings" where we discussed the most formal way to greet people all the way down the "Hey. What's Up?" Of course I don't encourage them to use this in their daily conversations, but they are always very curious about the funny things foreigners say. Other class topics have included 'Learning Small Talk'--telling them it's not usually proper form to ask someone their age in a first meeting setting, 'Talking about your Favorites'--the term 'favorite' is a term I have noticed that many Japanese don't know from their previous English classes, 'Telephone Etiquette'--people wanted to know how to speak to foreigners when they call, "Days of the Week and Months"--being able to tell people when their reservations are or tomorrow the shop is closed, and "Talking about your Family"--I have found that trying to describe my family and how people are related is difficult and the fact that we have about eight hundred different ways to call our "mother" and "father." I love when I teach something and they ask questions about a topic I didn't even think about teaching to them, but it really makes me so excited to see that they're thinking beyond just the information I am giving them.

Beginner English--that's the attendance sheet there. There will be awards at the end of the year for best attendance and most improved!
First formal Beginner English Class.
I always write the date the way Americans do--some people didn't know there was a difference, which can lead to confusion in the hotel.
First formal intermediate English class--that is GM in the suit. He is the general manager of Seisen-Ryo and the Paul Rusch Memorial Museum.
     My favorite class so far definitely has been teaching about the question words "Who, What, When, Where, Why and How". In my last care package my dad had sent all of my People magazines I had received up to that point, so I had about twelve issues or so just sitting in my room, so I decided to bring them to use as textbooks. It actually worked out perfectly because that night it was only women that came and they all were the ones I spend the majority of my time with, Hata-san, Urakabe-san, Hoshii-san--my manager at the hotel, and Kaori--the pastry chef I work with in the kitchen. I had them go through the magazines and come up with questions for each of the question words. It could be about anything they found in the magazine. Some of the questions were "What is a socialite?" "When did the Academy Awards start?" "Whose dress to the Oscar's did you like best?" "What is a 'bodice'?" (As you can tell these were all issues from Awards Season) It was neat to see how much of American culture they actually knew. I think America needs to be more aware of what we are putting out there because foreigners know more than we think. Class usually only runs about an hour, but we ended up being there for two and a half! I had a lot of fun because we all called it a girls' night. Some people may say that's a silly way to teach, but I am always trying to find new ways to explain American culture while still being fun.

Everyone said they love American magazines so much because they always smell nice--Japanese magazines don't have the perfume ads like we do
Devouring American culture
     My next English teaching project is to help another coworker, Murata-san, teach English to junior high students from Hokuto City that are going on an exchange trip to Canada in August. I told them I was more than happy to help, but I know nothing about Canada except their our non-confrontational neighbor to the North. We had our first meeting this past weekend and the kids all seem so young. There are eighteen students from nine different junior high schools in Hokuto City, ranging in age from 12-15. I am really looking forward to it because teaching the staff at KEEP has been one of my favorite jobs here and seeing the kids and how eager they are to learn English made me really excited!

Well until next time,


1 comment :

  1. English is one of the most important languages in the world. It can even be said to be the single most important language.Other languages are important too

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