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.

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.