Friday, 16 September 2011

The language of Shakespeare and everything but

A large part of my time in Japan – too great a part, I begin to fear – will be taken up by teaching English. It’s something I’ve done before, indeed a lot before, and has a tendency to be either wonderful or dreadful. When you have a student who is good, interesting and interested, it can be a highly rewarding experience (and the money is just a bonus, naturally!). When, however, you have a student who is cripplingly shy, refuses to speak, knows no English or won’t show what he or she does know, it is worse than pulling teeth and, though I’m not a dentist, feels like it takes just as long.

I have three (or four, or five, depending on the definition) jobs at the moment: (1) – I’m teaching for a group of concerned mothers who organise a little after-school school for their children at one of their homes; (2) – I’m teaching for two companies, run by spunky old ladies to the south of Chikushino; (3) – I’m teaching lawyers and judges legal English in Fukuoka High Court (and elsewhere I think). In addition to this, I have to teach, as a condition of the Tsusuki scholarship, three afternoons a week at Linden Hall, an elementary and junior high school owned by the same people as our university. This has cheesed us off somewhat (they don’t have cheese in Japan really, so tofu-ed us off?) because the guys in the year above us only had to do one afternoon. More to come thereupon.

Job (1) is extremely sweet. I get to cycle across paddy fields, in the shade of Homan-zan (Mt Homan) to my boss’s house. There, she feeds me (lots of tea, and unnameable foodstuffs) and leads my lessons. I teach children of ascending ages, up to two seventeen year old lads preparing for the University entrance tests.
These entrance tests are killer: I read the texts. Did I understand every word? Just about. Did I understand the texts? Not fully. Do I expect Japanese seventeen year olds to understand them? Absotively not. My work is cut out, but theirs has a positively razor edge.

Job (2) is pretty adorable too. For one half, I go to this strange blue bunker, with a Union Jack hanging from the entrance, where a lovely sixty-year old lady welcomes me coffee and conversation, some of which might even be described as Japanese.
My first student is a late-fifties, early-sixties lady who, though extremely nice, made a big show of being nervous. She kept talking about how nervous she was that I was a new teacher, hunching her shoulders and even trembling a little. She muttered “is difficult, is difficult” a hundred thousand times and, whenever I asked her a question, no matter how simple, her dramatic response was always “Oh dear God”. Still, things warmed up towards the end, and she gave me a lift to the Seven Eleven down the street to get some dinner (King prawns and vegetables with crispy noodles). Also, it turns out she baked me a cake, which I ate after dinner. It was called a Castillo, or something equally Iberian sounding, and is a speciality of Nagasaki.
My second class was a mixed bunch, a high school student, a university student, a housewife and an architect. Their levels were very good, and they were very enthusiastic. Before I knew it, I was back on the JR line to Tempaizan.

Job (3), though exciting, gets stranger and stranger. At first, I wished that I had found out about it earlier. It’s the most lucrative of the jobs I’m doing and, with regards to my future plans, is the most relevant. It’ll be pretty cool to get to know some Japanese lawyers. On the other hand, it’s difficult to fit it into my schedule (I’m doing 9-10 in the morning in Hakata, then racing back to Futsukaichi for lessons at 10:40. I’m also doing one evening a week straight after teaching the kids at Linden Hall). The lady organising it seems to think that my schedule is hers to do with as she pleases and keeps asking me to do times that I’ve already ruled out, and keeps wanting to ‘introduce me to’ (by which she means, teach) various people at awkward times. She also has a habit of obsessing somewhat about my appearance and doing the classic Japanese order-thinly-veiled-as-suggestion thing: “maybe you should wear this next time…” &c. Still, it’s not too bad, pays well and could be interesting.
I’ve done one lesson at the court which was alright, although the students (fearful of making mistakes, I think) rarely spoke. Do you understand? Nobody move! Yes? Nod very very slightly! Are you sure? Look at the table? Ok, Mr X, tell me about this. Uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuurrrmmmmmmmmmm….

The cutest part of the week is when I have to teach at Linden Hall, the primary school owned by the same organisation as our university.
The headmistress, who is very young to be a headmistress, is very nice indeed and very helpful and has offered to help us with our Japanese homework. She’s dedicated to her job, which makes a refreshing change I’d say. I was initially pained to learn that I’d be spending two afternoons a week in the elementary school and one in the junior high school, but, for the moment, it’s perfectly pleasant.
As with a lot of things in my Japan-life thus far, things seem to take much longer than they need to. For instance, although we spend upwards of three hours in the school, we’re only actually with the kids for around one hour. The rest of the time we kick back in the staff room, drink barley tea and practise for making the “right-it’s-time-for-English-club” announcement on the tannoy system.
The kids get a bit rowdy, but they’re mostly super cute. They remind me of little manga characters, big eyes, bouncing around, often pretending to be ninjas. Some of them are shy, and some rude though. One girl narrowed her eyes, turned round to me and whispered “I don’t like you”. Charming seven-year old. She then proceeded to flick me in the side of the head and stick her tongue out at me. This has taken me a while to get over.

Job (2) had a reprise tonight: I went to Shimoori school, owned by the other lovely lady. I taught two little boys for forty-five minutes, who were as cute and mischievous as nine-year old boys should be. Getting them to sit down was a challenge, but they were instantly mesmerised, shocked, awed, amazed and intrigued by the fact that I could double-joint my thumbs. This gave greater impetus to my command to say “ttttthhhhhhhhhhhuuuuuuuuummmmmmmmmmmmmbbbbbbbbb”. They loved it, and are probably even now putting their thumbs in clamps and vices, trying to snap their thumbs into shape to show me next week. They also loved the word “button”: they think it sounds like “bottom”. I’ll admit to having a chuckle myself. The [immature] leading the [immature].
Next I taught three adults who, well, didn’t speak English. Not even a bit.

On the Shakespeare theme, Linden Hall does a production of the bard every year. Last year was Hamlet (I think). I remember Stefan “Mister Stefan” Liberadzki telling me the story of when he was teaching some Japanese students who put on a production of Macbeth. The punch-line was “Is this a digger I see before me?”.
I think we’ve settled on doing Julius Caesar or Much Ado About nothing. My preference is for the former: mini-Japanese kids in little togas, pretending to stab each other and trying to say “Et tu Brute?” What is not to love? I ask you. 

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