Friday, November 28, 2008 10:06:08 PM
Japanese students come in all forms, shapes, and sizes. Some will be talkative, others will be quiet, some will be outgoing, others will be shy. However, there is a majority of students who will give the bare minimum needed in order to answer your questions. This is very common, indeed, and it can be frustrating. You generally have to find a way to get them to answer in full sentences and give you more information. After all, they are there to practise English, not to be interrogated. There was one student I was teaching every morning on Sundays, and she had chosen me as her teacher. These were 'man-to-man' lessons, which means just the teacher and the student. This student was one of our quietest students, and never had anything at all to say. One particular day, I was feeling quite chirpy and decided to give the student the choice of either textbook or just conversation. Silly mistake with this type of student, as she had nothing to say. Here is how it went.
Me: So, Saori, what shall we talk about?
Saori: (pause) Anything.
Me: Ok, let's get to know each other. Do you have any questions you want to ask about me? (bear in mind, she hardly knew me, and didn't even know my nationality)
Saori: (Looks out of the window, up at the ceiling, at the blank wall) No.
Me: Ok. I'll ask you about you. You are a student. What do you study?
Me: Wow! That's great! Are you going to be a lawyer when you graduate?
Me: Oh? Well, what will you be? Will you help people in legal matters?
Me: Ok. So what will you do?
Me: Oh. Ok. So why are you learning English?
Me: Right? Have you been to any foreign countries?
Me: Ok, where?
Saori: France. Spain. Italy.
Me: Right? Which was the best?
Me: Really? Why?
Saori: Don't know.
Me: Ok. Have you been to any English-speaking countries?
Me: Ok. Do you want to go to any English speaking countries?
Me: Right? Which ones?
Saori: Don't know.
This sort of thing was common, especially in kindergarten and primary schools, where the kids had a limited grasp of English and generally talk this way anyway, but this lady was 21, was studying law, and was one of our highest level students. She just had nothing to say.
Monday, August 25, 2008 7:01:37 PM
In most language schools, lessons start with a warm-up to get the students used to speaking English. This usually consists of general chit-chat like, "What did you do at the weekend?" or "What's new?" and so on. With new students, the teachers would generally get the students to ask the teacher questions about his/her hobbies, favourite foods/sports, etc. One guy was sat with me one day and he was struggling to think of questions to ask me.
Hiroyuki: What's your name?
Me: My name is ***.
Hiroyuki: (long pause)What do you do?
Me: I'm a teacher.
I HOPE he was just practising!
Monday, August 11, 2008 1:55:24 PM
When I had my own school in Japan, in addition to languages I was also teaching a course on Basic Computer Skills for some of my students. I had told them that whenever they needed help with something they could call me and, if I was free, I would walk them through the process. One night, quite late, a young lady called me with a problem.
Yuki: Hello Sensei, I have a computer problem. I can't connect to the internet.
Me: OK. Are you at home?
Yuki: Yes. I'm using my sister's laptop.
Me: Oh? Not your own?
Yuki: No, hers is better.
Me: Ok. Is it wireless?
Yuki: Wireless? I don't know.
(I show her how to check, and it isn't.)
Me: OK. Is the ethernet cable plugged in?
Yuki: Ethernet cable? What's that?
Me: It's the cable that comes from the modem.
Yuki: Er, the modem is downstairs, next to the telephone.
Me: OK. This PC is not wireless, and the modem is downstairs? Can you normally connect to the internet from upstairs?
Yuki: Yes. We've done it lots of times.
Me: Who usually sets it up?
Yuki: My sister, I think.
Me: Ok. There must be an ethernet cable about 20 metres long in your house, because if you are not connected by wireless you need a cable.
Me: Are there any cables coming from the machine?
Yuki: Er, just the power cable......
Me: Ok. You need to find the ethernet cable and plug it in.
Yuki: What does it look like?
Me: It's probably grey, and it looks like a telephone cable.
Yuki: Ok, I'll look around for one.
(5 minutes go by and she still can't find one)
Me: Can you not find it? It must be near the computer somewhere.
Yuki: I'm in bed.
Me: In bed? Do you share a room with your sister?
Yuki: No, why?
Me: When you are upstairs, where do you use the computer, usually?
Yuki: Well, usually in my sister's room.
Me: (Laughing politely) Well, that'll be where the cable is!
Yuki: Oh....., but she's asleep.....
Me: OK, so you won't be able to get on the internet tonight then.
Haha, poor girl!
Sunday, August 10, 2008 7:02:10 PM
There was a guy in a class at NOVA, very talkative and quite pleasant, but VERY difficult to understand. He didn't have a Japanese accent, in fact, his accent was almost perfectly American, but he sounded like an overdone impression of James Cagney - so overdone, that it was really hard to understand him. He usually liked to try to dominate the class and speak as much as possible about topics he liked, without paying any attention to the other students. It was always a case of classroom management when he was there, basically. One day, the other two students in the class were two Japanese housewives in their 50s, both of whom had lived in America for over 10 years and spoke perfect English. They were talking a lot and trying to get him involved, but he was basically just looking away from them and paying no attention.
Housewife 1: He's a bit quiet. (Turning to him)Are you OK?
Without a word, he jumps up and walks out of the class, leaving the startled ladies and me sitting there, shocked. I thought, 'Bloody hell, he's going to complain and this will come back to me for bad classroom management. Not MY fault he was sulking!'
At the end of the lesson, sure enough, I saw him sitting with one of the staff. Later, my assistant manager took me asside and gave me a slight telling off and told me that, as an apology, this guy had been given a Level Check to see if we can put him in a higher level. He came in next day to do the check, and I was the one who had to mark it. To my small pleasure (because I was annoyed he had lodged a complaint even though it was his own fault for not attempting to get involved), he actually failed. These tests are multiple choice, so there was no way I could have rigged the results even if I had wanted to. He just simply failed. I grinned as I passed the test over to my assistant manager.
The following week, the guy came in, in MY class, in the higher level, chirpy as ever! The rookie that I was, I was a bit annoyed, but I should have realised that this was all about keeping customers and not education. Actually, the higher level was too hard for him and he quit coming after a couple of months. It's OWN fault.
Just a note: with some students, being of a higher level is a badge of prestige, and not an actual reflection on their ability.
Saturday, August 9, 2008 8:04:13 PM
It was time to go home, and we were going through passport control at Kathmandu Airport. Males and females were separated for checking luggage and pockets and everything. It came to my turn and the soldier looked through my bags and asked me to empty my pockets. All I had was some cigarettes, a lighter, and a few coins. The soldier then frisked me and found nothing.
Soldier: Sorry, you can't carry a lighter on a Royal Nepal Airlines plane. I have to confiscate this.
Me: Eh? But I tried to travel here from Japan with two lighters and they took one off me at Kansai Airport, saying I could only take one.
Soldier: No, they were wrong. You are not allowed to have any.
Throughly annoyed with having to travel on a 6 hour flight to Shanghai, have a 4 hour stop in Shanghai Airport and then board the plane again for a three hour flight back to Kansai without being able to have a single smoke, I rejoined my wife and we went to the boarding gate.
Me: They took my ONLY lighter off me!
Wife: Haha! So you won't be able to smoke in Shanghai Airport!
Me: It's not bloody funny!
We got on the plane (the same plane as we got on when we went to Nepal) and started the flight. All the way through, now fully conscious that I couldn't smoke for 13 hours, I was really on-edge. We touched down in Shanghai Airport 6 hours later and we all went to the waiting area for the next plane.
Me: Look! Over there! There is a smoking room! It's full of people! Maybe one of them has a lighter?
Wife: They are probably all people who were on our flight. No-one else is here. I doubt anyone has a lighter.
Me: Well, I am going to find out!
I walked over to the smoking room (rather quickly) and stepped inside. It was full of Japanese men, all looking round at each other to see if anyone has a lighter..... My heart dropped. We'd all had the same idea. I checked my pockets again. Surely I must have a lighter because I usually carry a few of them. There must be one somewhere. THEN, I found a little book of matches, the type you pick up in hotels and restaurants! The soldier must not have noticed it in my jeans pocket, because it was flat! I pulled it out, and *TSCHICK*, lit my cigarette.... Suddenly, at the sound of the match, ALL eyes were on me! I passed it round and suddenly I was the centre of the party! After the book ran out, for the next four hours people were using other people's lit cigarettes to light their own. There was a real feeling of camaraderie probably not experienced since in the trenches of World War One!
Tuesday, August 5, 2008 8:33:36 PM
Travelling back from Nepal, on one of the only two planes that Royal Nepal Airlines has, I noticed that the stewardesses were the same ones as the journey to Nepal, 10 days earlier. After a few hours in the air, the wife looked up at the ceiling on the plane. Water had been dripping on her.
Wife: Water is dripping on me from the ceiling of this plane.
Wife: Have a look out the window and see if it's raining outside.
Me: We're going 500 miles an hour, ABOVE the clouds! Even if it WAS raining......! DOH!
Sunday, June 8, 2008 11:42:40 AM
I was flying back from Japan for a holiday in UK for Christmas, and by sheer coincidence a mate who I was working with had booked the same flight to come back with his wife and her sister. We managed to get seats next to each other and were enjoying the flight together. After a certain amount of beer, my mate decided he wanted to visit the toilet.
Dave: I'm just going to the toilet. I'll be back in a minute.
(I get up and let him out, then sit back down. A minute or so later, there is TERRIBLE turbulence and the two ladies we were travelling with are holding onto each other. I must admit, it was a bit scary. After it's finished, Dave comes back in a very wet suit.
Dave: I don't believe that!
Me: What happened? Did you feel the turbulence?
Dave: Yes, I bloody fell off the toilet! There was water all over the floor, as well, for some reason! I'm not flying with Japan Airlines again!
Me: (slightly missing the point) It's not THEIR fault there was turbulence.
Dave: I mean the TOILET FLOOR!!!
Saturday, June 7, 2008 4:06:17 PM
I was teaching a class of four people at NOVA, and one of the students in the class was a 14-year-old girl (Sonoko) who was always really sleepy. She was very bright, but she couldn't stay awake because her parents were sending her to too many cram schools and she would be awake until 3am doing her homework for her real school. This is common in Japan, with the 教育ママ (Education Mother) type of family, where they try to educate their kids so much that it's affecting their education in a negative way. Anyway, in this class, she had fallen asleep, so I let her sleep because I felt sorry for her.)
Me: So, class, do we have any questions before we start on the textbook?
Sonoko: (suddenly waking up) Teacher!
Me: Er, yes?
Sonoko: I read the newspaper yesterday and it said Prime Minister Hashimoto had said that over the next 100 years, income tax will rise to 75,000%!
Sonoko: Yes! This is a terrible place!
I had no idea what this meant, so after the lesson I discussed it with my fellow teachers, who all agreed that it was impossible. She came to me after my following lesson (she had fallen asleep in the lobby) and apologized that it had been a dream....! Poor kid.)
Friday, May 30, 2008 10:47:16 PM
My Japanese ex-wife was obsessed with Walt Disney. She had so much stuff that was all Disney, Mickey Mouse clocks, Donald Duck toilet seats, and she even wore Disney underwear - a REAL turnoff! My mate from England was getting married in Chiba (near Tokyo Disneyland) and he had invited us to the wedding. He had booked a hotel room for us and paid for both that and the train journey - this is how much he wanted us to be there.)
Wife: So, we will be staying the two days in Chiba, the Sunday and the Monday?
Me: Well, yes, we have a hotel room booked for us. My mate says we can tour the temples in the area on the Monday.
Wife: Well, my mum said, as an early birthday present for me, she would get us tickets to go to Disneyland on the Monday.
Me: Your birthday is not until a month later. We can go any time.
Wife: Yes, but my mum says it means we won't have to pay for the train tickets, seeing as we are already in the area.
Me: Hang on. This is my mate's wedding. You have a birthday every year. We can go any time.
Wife: Yes, but, well, I've been looking forward to it.(This conversation continues for about 10 minutes and we are getting nowhere)
Me: Wait! He is paying for us to go to the wedding. That is how much he wants us to go, and all you can think about is Donald Duck?
Wife: OK, fine!
Me: (sensing a tantrum)
Ok, look, I will talk to him about it.
Wife: No! I don't want to go now! You've ruined it! You've ruined my birthday!
Me: No, look, I will talk to him. I'll see what he says (hoping he will understand I married into a family of retards who have no consideration whatsoever for anyone else. I got on the phone there and then and spoke to him about it. He said it was OK)
Right, I've spoken to him and he says it's fine.
Wife: (snivelling like a spoilt child)
No! I don't want to go now. You were right, it was selfish of me.
Me: Well, I've already told him now, so we might as well go ahead with it.(She gets up and goes into another room, and time passes for about half an hour until she comes back to say 'thank you', then wanders off again to tell her mother.)We ended up going to Disneyland. My mate was cool about it because he knew she was an idiot. The whole trip to Disneyland was a waste of time, anyway, because we only managed to get on three rides in the whole 8 hours we were there, the place was so packed. It took two hours of lining up just to buy a strap for the mobile phone! Do yourselves a favour, men, never marry a woman with a childish obsession!
Saturday, May 24, 2008 12:56:21 AM
(Teaching a Japanese family whose 10 year old daughter goes to an English speaking school. She has only been going for a few months, and every day her homework is to make a small speech in English to say to the teacher. This conversation was during the evening meal that they cooked for me whenever I went to teach, and the girl was sitting opposite me and the father. The father was trying to supplement what the daughter had written in Japanese for me to translate for the following day's speech at school. She had got as far as 'I was surprised to see squirrels in the garden in England. I had only ever seen them in the zoo in Japan.' The father had supplemented it with 'I also saw rabbits and horses here.' The daughter, looking from the other side of the table and therefore seeing the written paper upside down, pointed at a word.)
Daughter: (pointing at the word after 'rabbits') What is that?
Me: 'Ya' (means 'and' in Japanese)
Daughter: (pointing at the next word) And what is that?
Me: 'Uma'. Horse.
Mother: You should know that! It's one of the first things you learn to read at school!
Daughter: But I'm looking at it upside down!
Daughter: What does 'ya' ('and') mean?
Mother: (suddenly in hysterics) 'Rabbits AND horses!!!'
Daughter: (red faced, but laughing) Oh.....
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