Wednesday, 15 October 2008

My Japanese Education (Part I)

Every now and then, I'm always amazed at the things I learn from my students. Every time that happens, I get really excited. Little do most people know, being a teacher means being forever a student.

Today my Japanese students taught me about "gratin," of which I didn't know what it was but my colleague did me a favor and googled the word. Gratin is a type of casserole. Well, the word alone is nothing to be excited about, but let me explain. Last week I was getting disheartened about the subject I'm teaching, ESL or English as a Second Language. I felt unmotivated that I'm teaching something so, so basic. Last year I was spouting Shakespeare sonnets. This year, I'm doing apples and oranges.

I miss doing gymnastics in my mind and having intellectual discussions with my students. My skills have been reduced to asking the simplest questions like "What's this?" or "What's that?" Never mind the whole higher level thinking. Picture word recognition is the key. Spelling. Ummm... That's another story when you try to explain the difference between "rice" and "lice," of which you may have to mime picking something out of your hair with your thumb and forefinger, make a disgusted face, and eventually flick it in the air, although some of my colleagues may opt to put it in their mouth for entertainment purposes.

On the flip side, I'm speaking a new language. I can now confidently say "sit down" and "be quiet" in Japanese. Counting from one to six, I've mastered that too.

Today a fifth grader made me laugh. This whole week, I've been teaching the same lesson on food. Most students would come up with typical food like rice, chicken, and salad on their menu. But not Yuki. He kept asking me non-stop how to spell red wine, beer, lobster, caviar, king salmon, shark fin soup, and fondue. Things that actually made me salivate.

I've also noticed the difference in attitude between Japanese and Indonesians. Indonesians put so much value in learning English. They gobbled up everything I taught, whether in a proper school or in an after school program. But not here at the Japanese school in Thailand. English is an add-on subject. Many students don't seem to care if they don't speak a lick of English, especially at the junior high level. Knowing English isn't considered a form of superiority to the Japanese. That is the first time I've encountered such a culture. So much pride and love for their own culture and language. It's not surprising that Japan is one of the world's leading countries. You can see it in their people. The discipline in how they eat is also mind blowing. I remember getting told off for chewing gum, during my free time. It's like gum and every kind of candy are forbidden on the premises. In other first world countries, kids struggle with the problem of obesity. Oh, not the Japanese. They don't even allow the kids here to eat snacks during the day. No other drinks except water and tea, which makes some of their teeth yellow. There's no canteen in the school. Every student brings their own food or order it through a Japanese catering service. They also don't drink soda. It's just not their habit! No wonder why Japan could recover so well financially after two nuclear bombs--by reducing their people's diets to the bare minimum. In all honesty, their level of discipline is not something to be trifled with, of which has led me to have much respect for my Japanese colleagues regarding work ethics. Sometimes I wonder if their bodies were made of machine.

Once again, I'm adjusting, the practice that seems to be the pattern of my life, and making the most of my opportunities. Learning from what I see and seeing them in new ways.

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