Nov 11, 2006

What it is I Do

So, I feel like I should give some explanation as to what I do here in Japan, and clarify the title of this blog- I work for an Eikaiwa, a conversational English school. All Japanese people get at least two years of formal English training in primary school, and many study beyond that into secondary school and university. However, most of the English education that they get emphasizes formal and grammatical aspects of language, and actual conversational skills are usually lacking. So, there are plenty of Japanese people who can tell you what the present perfect continuous is, but can't tell you how their weekend was.
This doesn't surprise me. I remember taking French in high school, and I spent quite a lot of time conjugating verbs and other such busy work, and much less time talking. Likewise, I can read french decently well, but can't speak it worth a damn. It seems that many Japanese people can also read and write English pretty well, but speaking is a totally different matter.
So, there are schools like mine that are all about teaching conversational English, stuff that's actually used by native speakers. I actually taught a whole class on using things like "um,""uh,""oh," and "hmm..." last week. It was way more difficult to teach than I initially thought.
Most of my students are college types and professors, which is nice. They're eager and interested and generally have a better grasp on English than most of the older people that I've talked to. Also, they're fairly easy to relate to. One of my students, whom I will henceforth refer to Mr. Hardcore, is an engineering student who is perpetually wearing the insignia of some dozen bands at any given time. Yesterday we spent a good while talking about how it was way too bad that Rage Against the Machine broke up (I know, that was a while ago) and that Audioslave is somewhat poor substitute. I've also got this married couple who are both doctors, and are just brilliant. They seemed very reserved at first but they "get" whatever I'm talking about very quickly. Smart ones, those doctors. So, my students are mostly very cool. (Drunk and Violent seems to be a nasty exception.) Some of them stare at me and say "What mean?" a lot, but mostly I think they have a good time.
And then there are the kids. More on them later.
A few of my coworkers, though, have mentioned that this place isn't about the language. "It's Dancing Monkey Time," said Mr. Ecuador, "I seriously think that a lot of people come here to hang out with Westerners, or to just be exposed to American culture. It's considered cool to say to your friends, 'I'm taking English lessons.' So they're here for the Dancing Gaijin Monkey." British Girl said pretty much the same thing, refering to classes as "Happy Gaijin Time." "Don't fall into the trap of thinking that you're a real teacher," she said, "if you help them learn English, great, but remember that this job is just a means to an end to be in Japan." I don't know if they're right about this or not. Not yet.
Now, there are a fair amount of students who are studying for English language qualifying tests, and Mr. Hardcore and others seem pretty intent on furthering their career goals by becoming fluent. I've told my students that they can ask me about whatever they want regarding English, and a few have taken me up on the offer, which has been cool. But I think that both of them may be partly right, that some people do just come here for the "OMG! Gaijin!" factor.
I've yet to become cynical about this. On the other side of the equation, I'm working for this company simply becaus of the "OMG! Japan!" factor, so I think that there's a sort of balance there. I am fascinated by Japanese culture, and if they wish to be fascinated by mine, then I think that's quite the fair trade.
In the meantime, I actually kind of enjoy getting paid to talk to people, hence the title of this blog, I am a Hired Tongue. I'm in Japan, selling my language to fund the venture. And a language, unlike a kidney, is something that you can keep when you sell.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Colin has given us your blog address. What a pleasure it is to read about your adventures. This sentence is one I will quote to students from time to time: "If I can drunkenly navigate a foreign country's train system and make it home in the middle of the night, I think I can do a lot in life."

janis & Clark