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.



small sacrifices
September 14, 2008, 5:12 pm
Filed under: Japan, Teaching, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , ,
Coffee in Disguise

Coffee in Disguise

I’m not entirely sure which demographic this coffee targets. Clearly, the rainbow themed packaging would have a different connotation in the United States. I won’t even mention the Freudian “Suntory Boss” logo. Although, I will admit, on its own I think the Boss logo is cool– this may be inspired by the fact that on some of the ads, they use a picture of Tommy Lee Jones. I’ll drink any coffee that is Tommy Lee Jones approved.

Regardless, inside that purple top is a Transformers action figure. He is small and there is some assembly required, but he comes totally free with this coffee. Thus, I purchased the can and am now the proud owner of both a caffeine buzz, and empty rainbow coffee can and a Decepticon action figure. I am not surprised I fell for this gimmick, in spite of the packaging.

The ad wizards have known that  free robot action figures have been my Achillies heal in the past. It’s not like my house is swarming with them, but I am confident that somewhere in Corporate America there is a Dossier titled, “Ted and the McDonald’s ‘Free Toy Robot’  Happy Meal Giveaway:1988-89” that floats around and is occasionally cited in grandiose power point presentations.

I won’t go into too much detail, but with the exception of the time they interrupted “Muppet Babies” to show the protest in Tienanmen Square, all of my memories of that year consist of greasy hands and Chicken McNuggets. I may have consumed thousands of Chicken McNuggets.

In fact, if the advent of the TV-Talk Shows and Fast-Food backlash had come a bit earlier I’m sure my experience would have merited a free trip to the Maury Povich Show where studious audience members would have berated my parents with shameful insults while I, oblivious and greasy, played with robots 4-7. You can’t blame my parents though. My desire to collect the entire series of robots was instinctual, primal and  unstoppable.

Old habits die hard and I’m sure the next few weeks with my find my blood pumping caffiene and my apartmetn litered with preference-ambigous rainbow cans.

(Note: I now have two, and had to talk myself out of #3 this evening also, it appears this advertising agaency Suntory has chosen have recieved some accolades for their work: Award for Tommy Lee Jones)