A few things have been keeping me busy since returning from the Sapporo Snow Festival a few weeks ago. I’ve been working with a senior student at the high school for a speech contest that was held on Feb. 16th. The theme was, amazingly enough, “internationalization”. For most of the 15 year olds participating, this meant talking about their experiences as or with exchange students. Two of the speakers had spent some time in America… the take home message about that country was two fold:
1. “Americans are very religious and will hang a flag on anything”
2. “Some rude American boy addressed me as ‘Hey, Chinese!’ instead of
‘Hey, Japanese!’, or even, God forbid, by my actual name”
I have to say, I’m not exactly thrilled that this is the extent of what our country has to offer Japanese exchange students. Maybe the nicer fuzzy stuff doesn’t make for as good a story…?
Anyway, I’ve been preparing with my student, Tomatsu, for like a month and a half. We discussed ideas for his speech, which he wrote and translated into English pretty proficiently all by himself. We edited, worked on pronunciation, speed, inflection, emotion, and general public speaking skills. Not only did he work on these points, he worked on them every day. We would go over particularly difficult words or vowel sounds that don’t exist in Japanese, and I would see obvious improvement the next day. He has a great ear, and I am so impressed with his work ethic and desire to speak English well.
That’s why is was particularly great when he came home with a trophy. Third place, baby! Not bad, considering he was up against experienced competitors, many of whom go to the advanced English school in Akita city. I am so proud. Give it up for Noshiro, WOOOOT!!!!
The week after the speech contest, I worked all week at Junior High #2, where I had two astonishing moments in class. You’d think that the word “sweater” is fairly innocuous, right? We were teaching this word to a room full of 8th graders, when my co-teacher stops to discuss sweat, and sweater, and were they related?… a natural enough tangent. Then we start discussing the Japanese drink, “Pocari Sweat”, and my thoughts on the appropriateness of the name (um… a sports drink? Yum?). Then, in Japanese, this conversation, unbeknownst to me, takes a screaming 90 degree turn, and I hear the word “animal” in Japanese, and I’m thinking “what the heck…” and then I get this:
“Stephanie-sensei, do you know the Japanese drink, Calipis?”
“Do you think that drink sounds like “Cow piss?”
Fabulous. How exactly does one professionally answer that question? The worst part was, in the States, class would have been over at that point. Talking about cow piss with 13 year olds in class would have been a great way to ensure mayhem. In my school, they just sat there politely and discussed it. Maybe “piss” has a different ring to it in Japanese?…
Later that week at the same school, I ran a class by myself, as my co-teacher had to go hunt down a missing student. We began with a game where every student (9th graders) had to think up a question to ask me; it could be anything, and points were awarded by difficulty of question. Usually for this kind of activity, students will parrot questions from dialogues in the book, like “What do you want to be in the future?” and “Which do you like better, dog or cat?” Then I get this gem:
“Stephanie-sensei. You look like you are in shape. How many times a week do you exercise?”
For a split second there, I swear I thought I was being hit on. I have to say, this question was a side splitter for me, as a) it was coming from a 14 year old girl that I see maybe once every other month and b) there is no way that she got that from the book, and that just tickles me pink.