Teaching In Socks

a “whole” in the logic.
When viewed from afar the arrangement of our educational theory seems a bit off. We tell you children to stop asking questions and instead reward those who cam memorize answers. We ask them (and our asked ourselves) regard the information we are taught as indisputable facts. Then in college and perhaps in High School we are informed that the facts we have digested for the past twelve years are–in many cases–not facts per se, but instead simplified solutions. Suddenly questions are more valuable then answers and just as the whole thing starts to unravel we throw you in a nine to five and tell you to forget about it.
I suppose that’s why, at this age,  I am just starting to discover the humor and chaos in language. It could also be that as a language teacher I encounter more often and have developed an eye for it (but let’s face it as the above paragraph indicates I’d rather whine and moan about how it was Mrs Goldman’s fault in third grade). The fact that I learning a new language is probably a heavy contributer to this new found perspective as well.
Unless I was listening to George Carlin comedy bit, I never really questioned the logic of language– even in college. I mostly just sat in awe of people who could manipulate words and conman sentences well, hoping that someday I could do that for a living as well.
Then I came to Japan. The other night a student asked me to check an email they had written in English. In it they made a small typo, typing “the hole presentation” when them mean the “whole” presentation. We had a small laugh about how silly this was. Afterwards, it occurred to me that homophones  are the most damning evidence that language is human, and flawed(besides all the other reasons). We have a one word that mean “entirety, everything” and it sounds exactly the same as a word that means “a void”. This is just lazy, and careless.  Let’s not  even debate the logic behind the phonics of “whole”–it takes a sever ump in logic to arrive at the conclusion that a “wh” combination can make both an “h” and a “w” sound ( e.g. what).
I also spend a great deal of my time studying (okay, 30 minutes a day) Japanese grammar and trying to perfect my understanding of grammatical structure only to often find out that people don’t speak (or write) in perfect grammar; English speakers are guilty of this as well.
I’m not saying we tear the whole thing and rebuild, but we need to realize the foundation we have in place–with all languages across the board–is dangerous. I realized the other week, that on occasions when I’m not paying attention to my anunciation or intonation (which is all the time) I have the habit of asking the check-out lady at the super market for “two, flat owls”. “Fukuro” means means bag. “fukurou” means owl.
Now, I’m lucky; the check-out ladies are pretty understanding (or hard of hearing) because I have yet to receive any owls, but let’s imagine that I did. Owls are vicious devil-birds capable of anything within a 180 degree frame of reference. I on the other hand have no experience raising carnivorous birds and a fear of things attack my head from above.
Simply because some  lazy linguist made an inadvertent error–the is no other logical explanation, you cannot connect owls and bag etymologically–during the naming of things millenniums  ago we now have either two dead owls or one mangled white boy. Must this senseless violence continue or commence simply because we are too lazy to fix something that is broken? There is a seemingly infinite amount of sounds we have yet to use and other that are greatly underused.  Why does “X” get off so easily? Why stop at 26 letters? why not more?
I think at this time it’s only appropriate to announce my candidacy from President of the United States (and the World) on the platform of creating a 27th letter. It could looks like a dragon face! or a dragonfly or a dragon fruit! who knows?  I’m thinking the letter will have a “jh” or “bykl” but I am willing to negotiate this–my running mates, however, two vicious  supermarket Owls, are not.
(Ed note: I would like to apologize for this blog in Advance. i really have nothing to write about this week and I feel like the guy who writes the back page for the American Airlines in-flight magazine; American Way.  Next week I promise more interesting content as I probably will have achieved a new level of consciousness and have the ability to write blogs with my mind powers. )

baby steps/blame Canada
February 19, 2009, 4:30 pm
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Let me begin by explaining that the default personnel set up for my English school is this: one native English speaking teacher (me), one Japanese English speaking teacher, and one manager–to work on recruiting new students, and renewing students contracts and making sure the school is profitable.

Managers are always Japanese, and apparently it is rare that they stay at a particular school for very long. If they are successful, they get moved to bigger schools, and if they aren’t well…  When I first arrived, the default personnel scenario was in place. But within two months the manager was asked to move to another school (not because she was successful) and never heard from again. Sans manager, the other teacher and I were forced to pick up some slack– and in terms of dealing with students this meant the other teacher had to pick up more slack because out of the two of us she was the only one who spoke Japanese. Then in December, we got another Manager, who was capable and successful.

Unfortunately, after two months, the powers that be, recognized her talents and transferred her to another school three days a week.  Also, those same three days a week, the moved the other teacher to another school because she didn’t ave many students here. Thus creating a new, reformed  power hierarchy at my school that consists of just me, alone, by myself.  This essentially means that I am running someone else’s business in a country where I don’t speak the language.

As you can imagine, on occasion, this is ripe for farce.

Thus, in between faxing some forms (usually the manager’s job) and frantically trying to prepare for my class (my job), I was greeted by a visitor from the city office (I was stoked I could understand that much!). He was a wonderfully nice gentleman, who, happened to be friends with one of my students. He also knew less English then I knew Japanese.

He came armed with a series of pamphlets written Japanese, He explained each one, in Japanese pointing pictures of old people cooking and young Australian and Japanese children making arts and crafts together. It became apparent to me that he was in charge of some cultural exchange program, but beyond that I understood little of what he said.

This was a bit depressing; I have now been living in Japan for seven months, and have been taking private Japanese lessons. I study hard and try to speak when I can, but progress is slow, frustratingly slow.  Every Japanese person I try to speak with is always patient and really understanding, and I try to be patient with myself as well, but I’ve encountered few things as difficult as trying to have a productive conversation with someone when we don’t understand each other”s language. It’s like playing the worst game Pictionary or Charades every three seconds, except you don’t even resort to such games because you end up drawing an entire stick-figure conversation or imitating Riverdance.

As soon as he moved away from the explanation of the pamphlets and into free form conversation the structural integrity of our conversation collapsed.  The thick blanket of the linguistic impasse swiftly covered the room. I could see drops of sweat forming on his forehead as I tried to faun understanding to make him less nervous as he tried sentences in both quick Japanese and bits of broken English.

We got to a final sentence with only two words I understood, “Canada”  and “food”. I asked him to repeat the sentence, but I was still to grasp those two words. Realizing we had hit the cul de sac of this conversation I panicked and I did what I usually do in these situations and said “yes”.

Now I  know from a specific Seinfeld episode that this is a bad habit to have, but in situations of international exchange, I have the propensity to panic (I would make a terrible diplomat).

After I said, “hai”, he shot me a look that I briefly interpreted as meaning he understood that I did understand, or that I had just agreed to something.

Did he want me to tell him some Canadian foods? Were they going to make some Canadian foods and did he want me to come? Did he want ME to teach people how to make Canadian food and more importantly did he think I was Canadian?

After he repeated the question again for my benefit, I sucked in my pride and told him that the manager would be back on Friday and she could help translate. We exchanged formalities, he unnecessarily apologized for stopping in unannounced and he promised to come back on Friday. Afterwards, I thought about Canadian foods my list consist of this: Canadian Bacon, Poutine (gross) and some form of Canadian Syrup, also, maybe Ketchup flavored chips (does that count?).

Later my student, the who was an acquaintance of his, came to class and I asked him what his friend had requested. My student clarified everything, saying he wanted me to to either give a speech about Canada or teach peopel how to cook some Canadian foods. I replied to my student, who is very fluent in English, that I would be happy to do that, but I’m not Canadian. He blinked a few times, tilted his head–much in the way a canine does when it’s confused and said, “really?”.

depressing things: 2, Ted: 0 (maybe I get a half point for sucking in my pride instead of insisting that I would agree to teach a Canadian cooking class).

Also, I’ll find out tomorrow if the offer still stand to teach a ethnic American cooking class. If so what should I cook for the class, tacos or pizza?

American Jokes and Language Inspectors
September 29, 2008, 12:44 pm
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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.

Aristotelian junk and other observations
August 20, 2008, 2:59 pm
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Last week I had two days of intense training in Osaka. Two, eight hour days of company brainwashing delivered to me in a binders worth of literature and a litany of British-accented training exercises(unfortunately, nothing territorial army related). By brainwashing, I mean we kind of played kid games for half a day and pretended to know what we were doing cramped in a tiny room in a tiny office for the remainder. It was generally a good group  of people and there was minimal violence to report.

While I didn’t get to see much of Osaka, the small part I did venture into was very engaging. It was like New York, but if the majority of New York still loved reggae music. They love Reggae music here.

However, I’m glad I’m not currently placed there. It would be a lot to handle and I fear I would succumb to the fairly tempting foreigner community and provision the city provides without building up a basic knowledge of anything inherently Japanese. Frankly, I think this would be a tragedy.

I enjoy that fact that when I attempt to procure a cell phone in Ako, it requires most of the store’s staff (5-6 people) and a phone call to a DoCoMo employed Translator only to have me walking out the door an hour later with a phone I don’t know how to use (and this was no way at the fault of their efforts). Quick aside: I tshould be noted, that I did I do learn that I can charge things to my phone bill at the convenience store and other retail outlets simply by placing my phone on top a little pad on the counter. I’ll be sure to document in detail the brilliant disaster this will inevitably inspire and what I have accidentally purchased once it happens– feel free to start a pool of when and what in the comments section of this post (I’m putting 500 yen on womens stockings and August 25th, it’s just a hunch).

Linguistically, it’s nice to be isolated. I think it’s important that while I’m teaching a language, I also happen to be learning a language myself. It’s starting to provide insights, and at some point, it might even improve the way I teach.

I already realized, for example, that I had been incapable of asking a simple question in English.  I often complicated a query by generating the question in a, “What do you think…” or “When do you think…” format as opposed to the using the simple “When” or “What” most intelligent people enjoy.

Perhaps I’m trying to make my questions sound more interesting, or maybe I’ve decided everything opinion and conjecture and I like to subtly recognize that in my speech. It might even be a friendly Midwestern habit of making sure we ask questions in a polite, non-binding manner. Regardless, it muddles up the question with an unnecessary word or two and rightly confuses the hell out of Japanese people.

They just don’t do that, nor do they understand why someone would. Economy of language is as highly prized as the family shrine. You want to know where the luggage is? you simply say, “Luggage is where?” (Nimotsu-wa doko dess-ka, for those scoring at home). It’s quite brilliant. At leats more brilliant than an egregiously overextended passion for reggae music.