Teaching English in Japan.

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October 14th 2009
Published: October 14th 2009EDIT THIS ENTRY

It feels like I am burning a candle on both ends now - one full-time job, one part-time job, one volunteer job, hot yoga almost every day, and at least one cultural outing per week. On top of that, I am trying to read and write. No wonder now at 3 pm it feels like my eyes are about to close and if they do, they won’t open for another week. My head feels kind of empty too - even the same thoughts that used to run around in circles are gone. In a way it’s good. Maybe it is a belated result of vipasanna meditation boot camp I undergone in March. Today was an easy day at work, although waking up in the morning was unusually rough. I had only three classes and watched the second episode of Lost with my lower level High School grade 2 students. The second period was my youngest bunch - my Jr. High Fuji 1 girls. We are continuing with 'there is/there are'. Man, why is the plural so difficult for the Japanese? Or maybe I am just a bad teacher and don't explain things well? Some students are still struggling with when to use 'are'. I hate going the same things over and over again. I don’t know how people can do this kind of job for more than 3 years - it really wears me out. Maybe I just don’t have enough patience for stupid people and I want to move at a faster pace, but we always end up going at a turtle pace with a couple of smart students like Akari being totally bored.

I think the main problem is that my students don’t know their own language. It is impossible to learn a foreign language without knowing your own. When I listen to them, I notice that they don’t really talk in sentences to each other, but resort to words that kind of sum up the general meaning. Another problem is that they don’t read, but play VIDEO GAMES all the time! Their brains are not used to processing sentences and imagining what’s happening. They are conditioned by the visual representation they are used to through games - the images someone else has thought up for them. I think, as a result of this, their brain is very different from the brain of someone like me who was reading books from the age of 5. Their Japanese teacher tells me that they have difficulty understanding the differences between verbs, nouns and adjectives. It is kind of surprising for me because when I was a student in Russia we began the sentence analysis in the 3rd grade (10 years old) I don’t remember anyone struggling to distinguish between different parts of speech.

Some Japanese teachers tell me that it is not important in language learning and with this I totally disagree. How can a student make progress in English when he or she cannot use a dictionary? Knowing what part of speech you are looking for is the first step without which you will be totally lost and it is especially true with those electronic dictionaries that spit out so much information. Moreover, how can you use new words to make sentences when you don’t know how they function in a sentence? How can we even start talking about the word order of English language, so different from Japanese, if the students can’t tell a verb from an adjective?

There is a stereotype in Japan that the Japanese people are good at English grammar、but not at speaking English. I think this is totally not true. One can say they are better at grammar because when it comes to speaking you can’t squeeze a word out of them, but they are not good at it.

This is why I prefer watching Lost with my students - they are totally hopeless and I don’t want to go crazy talking about adjectives.


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