Teaching In Socks

Constructive Creativity

During teacher training, someone will undoubtedly bring up a situation highlighting how it’s difficult for our students to be creative. The trainer will say, “great question!” then we’ll delve our way into a spontaneous brainstorming session on how to create appropriate creativity channels, provide guidelines, and encouragement so that during a role-play, or in response to a general question the class isn’t stuck with three minutes of dead air while a student tries conjure up what he could possibly buy at a supermarket.

This training exercise can be quite helpful. There are few things more awkward than waiting three minutes for someone to say,”bananas” or “cereal” (really in any situation, not just the classroom). However, sometimes the tone of how this issues is approached and handled assumes there is a national “creativity deficit” in Japan.

I understand that Japanese culture is often more concerned about the group versus the individual, and conformity has it’s place social interactions, but I think in this case the “cultural sensitivity” perspective is taken too far. Japan may have slightly different customs, but Japanese people are still self-aware individuals, who watch television and live in the information age.

To verify my point, I fail to see how a country that can produce a movie like “Tokyo Gore Police”, is lacking in creative spark. Here, is a movie about mutants who can manifest lethal weapons from their own flesh wounds–and the Special Police force that hunts them down. Have we seen this movie in America before? France, you cinematic weirdos, you have anything like this?

dont worry mom, I havent seen this movie.

don't worry mom, I haven't seen this movie.

Let’s not forget this is also the country that brought us Voltron, Transformers, electronic pets, and every other shocking game show tidbit you can imagine.

While I would agree that there are individual cases where students lack a bit of imagination, I think the primary reason thsse long pauses arise,  is that when asking a student to be creative in English, I am asking them to use both sides of their brain simultaneously. Lnagauge and fantasy don’t originate from the same hemispheres. By asking a student to put a language pattern into their own spontaneous hypothetical situation I might as well be asking them to do interpetive math.

“Here are some numbers and functions. Scatter them wildly according to how this Coltrane Solo makes you feel, but make sure it follows a percievable, object-based function.”

Go ahead, be crazy and sane at the same time, try it.

I concede using both sides of the brain when learning a language is clearly an essential part of attaining fluency. Let’s not confuse it for some national cultural abnormaility, doing so would be a bit crass. Complications with total brain usage are not limited to a specific nationality, we’re all human

The other day at my Japanese lesson I was asked to pratice and langauge pattern and come up with some questions to find out what kinds of an object my teacher likes. Basic stuff, “what kind of music do you like?”, “What kind of food do you like?”

Under pressure, and with a limited vocabulary, on the fourth go-around I asked, “What kind of tigers do you like?”

Shocked, she fired back in english, “what kinds of tigers are there?”

“Shiroi (meaning white) and….” I paused, “How do you say ‘regular’ in Japanese?”

Sometimes I’m surprised more heads don’t explode in my classroom.

American Jokes and Language Inspectors
September 29, 2008, 12:44 pm
Filed under: Japan | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
One for every State, Sufjan!

One for every State, Sufjan!

I found this in a used bookstore in Himeji today. How appropriate; the book’s prominent display must have been deliberate. I flipped through it, and here is the only joke I can remember offhand:

Knock Knock

Who’s there?


Aleutian who?

I need Aleutian for my feet.

Aleutian Islands jokes, brilliant!

Also, over the past few days I have seen some pretty interesting English signs.

In my Kyoto pictures, some of you may have noticed the “No Smorking” sign. I don’t know why, but “No Smorking” kills me. Personally, I propose we change the word “smoking” to “smorking” I think this potential change has countless benefits.

In Kobe the other day, I passed by a fairly fashionable pizza parlour. Outside, they had their menu written up on a chalkboard. Next to the pizza selections, there was a section with the header “Paste”. Unappealing culinary images appeared in my head. They had to mean “pasta”.  I asked my Japanese friend to confirm the the items under the header were indeed pastas and not some form of edible paste, and we both had a brief laugh.

Finally, I was in a department store in Himeji today with some friends. We were on the ground floor, Women’s Accessories, which was plastered with many signs next tables of hats reading, “Knit or Far?” I was perplexed by the possible relation of these two words. What could one have to do with the other?  I asked my Japanese friend, who looked at me like I was an idiot. “You know, Knit or Far?” Then it clicked for me, they meant “Fur”

These incidents got me thinking: I wonder if American businesses bungle the words when they produce literature in other languages?

It only took me a short time to realize this was a stupid questions. As much as I like to patriotically tote the brilliance of my homeland, we can’t even keep the “R”  in “Toys R Us” facing the correct direction. Not to mention that our understanding of our native grammar frequently has a few glaring defincies (this blog often included). Furthermore, we have Taco Bell restaurants nationwide. I’m sure the “Drive Thru” (seriously) menu at that establishment has some linguistic combinations that might be lexicogrpahy hilarious and digestively horrendous for native spanish speakers.

Language detective & Other news
September 24, 2008, 7:47 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , ,

I’m heading to Kyoto for an extended weekend. Hopefully I’ll return with a boatload of pictures and a luggage case full of spiritual enlightenment. I heard a rumor that they have a few temples and shrines there.

I know I mentioned a while back that I was going to stage some sort of elaborate thesis on Japanese politics and the value of honor within Japanese society, however, I have returned to the old philosopher’s crux that the more I think about it, the more I realize how little I know. I’ve only been here two months, so maybe this is a subject I will return to when I feel more qualified to do so. I’ll certainly provide some highlights and insight on the upcoming Japanese Prime Minister election, especially if my students offer me any interesting information on the subject.  So far I’ve mostly received sentiments of cynicism on their part. I can’t blame them, they have had something like thirteen Prime Ministers in the last twenty years. I’m surprised they remember who is in charge, or that they haven’t turned the whole election into an American Idol style competition.

In the meantime, today I stumbled into an unfortunate episode of “Ted Reilly, Language Detective”. During some pleasant lobby talk with another teacher and one of my students about text message abbreviations, the other teacher shared an anecdote about the encounters of her father as a young boy in Japan, with the arriving American GI’s. Her father told her he could remember three things they used to say to him, but he spoke no English, so he didn’t know what they meant.

The first one was “sunavubit”, which she had realized was probably “son of a bitch”. (Everyone in the lobby shared a polite chuckled when she said this.)

The second saying her father had remembered was “gudaamut”. She had determined that this was “god damnit”. (The students and I laugh, pretending to be shocked by the language.)

The third saying her father would recall, was “caasuuka”.  The teacher then says that has never figured out what the one was and she is interested to know what it was and what it means. (All eyes in the room turn to me)

“Do you know?” asked the other teacher.

I stupidly replied honestly, not even remembering to inflect any sort of reluctance and answer until half way though, “Yeahhhhhhhhhhh, I know what it means

My student, curious, eagerly urges me on, “What does it mean?”

“You know, it could be a lot of things actually…” I said.

“My father probably did something to make them angry, right?” asked the teacher.

“Well, you know, the army has it’s own language and it’s own way of speaking, it’s not necessarily a bad thing….”

“But it wasn’t a nice word, was it?” she finished my sentence.

“No, not really” I said, sheepishly.

I guess there were both better and worse places we could have ended the conversation, but we decided to do it here, at that point, I was comfortable with that. These days they might deport me for saying the word in question to a room full of Japanese women. Later, when I used the school computer I saw that the teacher had tried to use “Yahoo:Answers” to figure it out on her own. Someone should tell her about Google, although I doubt she wants to Google this finely crafted bit of slang.

You know, I knew this war thing might lead to an awkward moment or two, but I didn’t realize it was going to be a weekly occurrence. Thanks FDR.