Monthly Archives: September 2012

Earthquake Drills for the Tall

I realized something the other day for the first time. My height, in this country at least, puts me in a greater amount of danger than some other people. I don’t mean the usual, ‘mind your head’ warnings as I go through doorways (though they have certainly nearly knocked me on my arse a couple of times) it’s actually related to earthquakes.

I recently began working for a very large school and so just the other day, conveniently as the thermometer was climbing to a crisp, thirty-five degrees, my school decided it was about time we had that earthquake and fire drill we’d initially planned to hold last term that unfortunately had to be cancelled; due to a typhoon.

My kanji still being a work in progress the other English teachers explained to me that there would be an announcement fifteen minutes into the lesson and at that point I’d have to make sure that all the kids dived under their desks in readiness for an imaginary earthquake. Also, that in order to set a good example I too should clamber under my desk.

Here’s where my problem occurred. I have a standing desk. Said standing desk has a small shelf beneath it, designed presumably for storing a binder or something and as such there are certain height restrictions.

The manufacturer will no doubt be happy to know that said binder will no doubt be safe in the event of an earthquake. It may be a touch blood splattered but it’ll in good nick nonetheless.

However, as I’ll be in no condition to apologise for the Jackson Pollack effect due to my untimely demise  I really ought to do so now.

Sorry.

P.S. I’ve signed the folder, so it should at least triple in value after I’m gone, right?

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Fluently Worrying

In my daily life I think a lot about language. How to use the Japanese language correctly, my choice of vocabulary and grammar when addressing my students in English, my use of tone and expression, the physicality of my language, it all gets thrown together in a jumbled mess of simplified English and broken Japanese.

The thing is, this mess needs to convey an idea that doesn’t come naturally to most people and certainly not to Japanese teenagers.

The idea that in order to learn a language you have to not only be unafraid of making mistakes but care enough to want to fix those very same mistakes.

It’s a difficult balance.

One thing I don’t do is sugarcoat it. I don’t pretend that what they’re studying is easy, that it has a sense of logic that they ought to be able to grasp easily. Language doesn’t work like that and a language born of so many people and cultures as English is a hodgepodge.

More than that it’s a sadistic, cacophonous, beautiful, shambles of a language.

And I love it for it.

However, for teenagers this cluttered lingua franca is encountered in an environment where the wrong answer is to be feared because a wrong answer symbolizes more than, ‘I don’t know right now,’ it often feels like it means, like it displays to the entire room, ‘I will never know the right answer.’

I can remember that feeling well from High School French or Spanish classes where we were dragged through a textbook kicking and screaming, ticking boxes and attempting to build on linguistic steps when the foundations hadn’t fully dried yet.

If you take a quick ride on any train in Japan it would be abundantly clear that this kind of feeling continues to linger on long into adult life here. Dotted around every carriage are advertisements for an endless variety of English conversation schools promising to improve an obviously faltering and feeble grasp of the English language.

If I could change one thing about Japan it’d be these blasted adverts. I’d replace them with ones that say,

English is hard. It is not impossible. It takes at least three thousand hours of regular study for a native speaker of a non-European language to reach an advanced level. Please stop worrying and enjoy your day.

Better yet, what’s the Japanese for Keep Calm and Carry On?