the nikku

reflecting on ESL/EFL and its relation to faith

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Whole lotta photos

This weekend I got an SD card for my cell phone. So here are some photos that have been sitting on my cell phone for the last month or so:

For more details, see my flickr site.

And now, with more memory, I can take better quality pictures!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Good Students

First, look at this photo! It's Apple Park here in town. See the mountains?!? This was two weeks ago, and it's not quite this warm or beautiful anymore. But it's still great. The Japanese class had a BBQ there and we picked some apples too. People here love apples the way people in Iowa love corn. Actually they probably love them more, apples are cuter. Anyway.

Right now all my good students have one thing in common: I didn't teach them. All my good students are motivated by something. They love western music or movies. They took a trip to the US, or London or Australia and loved it. Or they know someone who lived or studied abroad (I am also surprised at how many people in this town have been to the USA). For these students I am only a medium. I provide a way for them to improve themselves.

Other students are just generally curious about me, or they want to try out their English skills on a "real person". I have to find a way to turn that curiosity into motivation.

I played the elementary school game "Around the World" with my advanced freshman today. I used pictures of -ing verbs instead of math flash cards. For those of you who don't know, in "Around the World" you put two students together and flash a card to them. The first one two answer moves to the next students desk. The object is to make it back to your seat. It was a big hit! And it improved their speed.

Hopefully it will work as well with the regular freshmen. I go to the advanced class by myself, but I go to regular with a Japanese teacher. I need to work closer with the freshman teachers...

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Being a Foreigner

The other thing that bites about being a foreigner is that you are perpetually at a loss for critical details. This week is "Chrisitian education week", and since I`ve been to all the meetings, I know exactly where I`m supposed to be. I just don`t know when or what I should be doing. And really this isn`t so bad, I just ask someone who can read the schedule. But it gets really old. I feel like a four year old asking, "Are we there yet? Are we there yet?". Except it`s like this: "Where am I supposed to be now? What do I do here?"

Speaking being a foreigner is like being half a baby. No one exactly understands you, and you don`t really understand them, but you repeat a lot of what they say.

This Monday I did a lesson on feelings for the freshman. "How are you? I`m happy because..." I thought I`d give them a break because the last few lessons have been a kind of difficult. But it was boring because it was to easy for them.

Also, this Monday at the English meeting was the editing of my listening test I wrote for U-sensei last week. Except I didn`t know it was a listening test. Umehara-sensei just said, "here is last year`s test, can you write one that is similar?" So I did.

And it didn`t get ripped to shreds or anything. I`ve been at the meetings for editing the entrance exam, and I know they do the same thing if not worse to their own work then. But it just sucks knowing that someone is saying something about something you wrote but you don`t know what. Besides that, you`re smart enough that you could have fixed whatever they are talking about on your own - if you had known the details. Yeah, being a foreigner is kind of like being a baby. You understand a lot - or at least think you do - but you can`t really do much.

Afterwards in the office a student who was visiting another teacher tried talking to me. The conversation wasn`t much "Hi, how are you? Are you busy with homework from M-sensei?" But afterwards she said to her friend, "kakoi ne!" -> "Isn`t he cool?!?". And teenage girls say impulsive stuff like that all the time, you just learn to ignore it. That`s part of being a high school teacher. But I was really feeling like crap, and she made my day. She`ll never know. :)

I had supper with K-sensei again tonight. But I find her conversations draining. She talks really fast, in Japanese and English. And that`s okay in English because I can keep up. But the Japanese is another story. And I kind of understand, it`s hard to be slow and simple at something you know so well. But after the Japanese class and hanging out with H-chan and E-chan, I know there are people out there who are easier to understand - so the time isn`t so draining.

Tomorrow night is another Japanese class. I put all the words I learned from last time on notecards, and I think I`ll take them to class and try and make sentences or something. H-chan found the notecards amusing, and she helped me study while we were waiting in line at the art exhibit.

By the way the exhibit was amazing! I found out I like the artist too. They just sell his worst work at gift shops in town - I don`t get it.

I also went to the fish market this weekend. I`m gonna go back and take pictures this weekend. I don`t have time to put in any new pictures right now, but you can check my flickr account for the few new ones that are up now. Later!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Weekend

On Friday I had sushi with the new JETs. It was cheap sushi, but it was actually better than the cheap sushi I had near A-chan & J`s house in Tokyo. There I got a fresh dose of sarcasm. It`s funny sarcasm doesn`t really exisit in Japanese, and it took me about a half hour to get used to it again. But what really got me was that I hadn`t missed it. I only noticed it was gone after I saw it again.

Then we went to an arcade, and H beat me at Tekken5. She beat me pretty badly. :(

But somehow I had had my fill of them, and then I went to karoke with A and the college group. A is supper busy now. And I should be too. I really should have worked more on my lessons on Saturday, but I didn`t. I`m about four days ahead, but I need to work on making my lessons more interesting.

BTW, in Japanese the word for fun also means interesting, and vice versa.

On Saturday I went out with H-chan and E-chan. We went to an izakaya and two bars. H-chan is pretty good at English, and she really wants to learn more. She has a lot of heart. She`s second only to O-sensei. By the way, O-sensei has started picking me up in the morning because it`s too cold to ride my bike. We speak Japanese on the way to school. Between him, H-chan and the Japanese class I`m learning way too much Japanese.

O-sensei tries to teach me too much Japanese though - the same thing I`ve been doing to my students. Oops. And actually that`s pretty common among the Japanese people who try and teach me. It`s easy when you`re teaching something that`s a part of you. This weekend I also talked to B. B runs a fashion and "used clothing" shop near my apartment. B is Nigerian, but he married a Japanese woman. He`s pretty insightful for a business owner. He told me yesterday, "teaching is hard work, because you have to be patient and explain just a little of something you really love. It`s really hard work."

Today H-chan is going to a famous art exhibit with me, even though she`s already been there. It closes today, and she said I shouldn`t miss it. People have been coming here from all over Japan to see it, but I think I might be the only person in Japan who thinks it`s just okay. Even the JETs all think it`s amazing. But H said, "it`s way better than whatever you expect." So maybe I`ll be delightfully suprised.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

New Friends

This weekend I met more people than I have ever met before in my life.

On Thur night I went to the Japanese class for foreigners at the cultural center. I met the more JETs, the Mormons, a few college students, and the other Kyodan missionary and his wife.

On Fri night A invited me to a uni party for new exchange students and people interested in international stuff. There were over eighty people there. I met about six new people plus a handful I had seen the night before at Japanese class - some were students, some were not.

On Saturday I went to a little place called "Cafe de Lotta". There I met H-chan and her friends. She's a twenty something nurse at a local hospital, and she smokes just like a nurse. She said she really wants to learn English and she has a lot of heart. H-chan told me she lives at "Cafe de Lotta".

On Sun I skipped church and went to a BBQ for the Japanese club. It was pretty fun, but all the groups kind of stratified. Koreans in one place, English speakers another, Philipinos another, and Japanese too. It's still really hard for me to have a social conversation in Japanese, but I'm learned a lot of Japanese this weekend.

That night I was going to go to the rumored "English service church" I'd heard about with the missionary and his wife. I stopped by "Cafe de Lotta" on my way to be picked up, and sure enough, H-chan was there again. We had a coffee and a good chat for a half hour and then I left.

At church that night I met a load of English speakers, most were teachers - from all over the prefecture. One girl had actually seen me at the college party on Friday! The church was VERY evangelistic - almost too evangelistic.

Last night I saw members of the same group at my internet cafe. They say they have a Bible study there every Monday. Weird that I've never seen them there before. They asked if I wanted to join them, but it was 8:20 pm, and they had started at 7pm, so I said maybe later.

Actually, I don't really want to join them. They didn't have any Japanese people with them, not one. A whole table of foreigners - some of whom have lived here for years. And it just would have felt weird to sit at a Bible study table full of foreigners in the middle of downtown. I get the feeling the workers there were saying to themselves, "Oh, that's what white Christians do, they have Bible studies." Which means they say a lot of big words, and it doesn't make any sense, but it sounds cool.

Anyway, more on that later. My second chapel speech is tomorrow, wish me luck!


BTW, look at this, and see how the USA has changed in the last one hundred years. Somehow it makes sense how we've sprawled and blown up so much.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Language Lessons

I just got done with another lunch with K-sensei. I really appreciate her help (and her food), but she talks so fast, and teaches me so many new words at once. With NO review. I even asked her to slow down many times today, and she didn`t. Maybe she feels like she does. This is probably how my students feel. And she knitpicks my Japanese! Oh, I hate it! I will remember this when I am teaching my students.

I also went to the Japanese Class sponsored by the city government thursday night. I had heard rumors about it before, but some Mormons actually told me the exact details about when and where. :) More on them later.

I also met the missionary from the other Christian school in town at the Japanese class. He and his wife are taking me to their church tomorrow.

A. invited me to a party for "new foreigners" at the university yesterday. I met some cute Japanese chicks and a few interesting international students (besides A). The cute chicks are the same age as my little brother. Not sure how I feel about that. But my friends said not to worry. :)

I felt so nervous at the party, college students, and I realized how little of a Japanese conversation I can really hold. But we went out afterwards and that really does help language skills. I met a girl named A-chan, and as the night went on her English, which had been crappy, became amazing. And I think my Japanese got better too.


On a side note, there was a health screening at school and we had to drink barium for an x-ray. Japanese people pronounce something between b and v, and also something between an r and l. So barium quickly becomes valium in a conversation. Kind of funny. Maybe you had to be there.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

To Tokyo and Back

I took a short trip to Tokyo this weekend. I visited my wonderful friends from college. I can`t wait to repay their hospitality. We went to a park in Shinjuku (Sarah, it`s only 200 yen and it`s really outdoorsy), ate some great food and drink, and just plain hung out.

Other highlights:

I met a man with three cell phones on the way down. He says DoCoMo is the best in Japan and Vodaphone is the best internationally. AU is just not good. He sells snack foods internationally and gave me a free sample.

I met a family from the airbase in Aomori, and a professor of English from the local university. The professor told me all the ins and outs of the public school system and how it`s decline is related to the drop in population. But dang, after being in Shinjuku, I can see how crowded Japan is. And I can see how they call a city of 170,000 people rural.

I bought my first omiyage - small gifts, usually cakes, given as "souveniors" to people who could not make the trip. Not only is it a great shopping culture. It`s just plain nice. There was a pile of omiyage in the teacher`s office after the break. I just added to it. One teacher told me, "next time bring Tokyo beer omiyage." We all had a good laugh.

K-chan`s father in Tokyo brought me an omiyage of his own, and we exchanged. Although I left his with H-chan because I didn`t want to lug it around the train with me. When I visit again I hope there will be some left.

O-sensei seemed sad that I hadn`t told him I was going to Tokyo. He knows the area well, and he is proving to be more amazing everyday. I gave his homeroom some omiyage too. Mostly to see the look on their faces, and because the box was exactly the number of students in his class.

I took down a good chunk of the book Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami - recommended by O-sensei. It`s better than I expected for a novel. Lots of sex, but blatent truth about permisuity, not so much gratification of the act itself. He reminds me of the author Walker Percy. Lots of emotional highs and lows, and plenty of twists and wit.

K-chan and K-chan were nice enough to hang out with me at Tokyo station while we waited for my train, and they helped me reschedule my ticket. I love them even more now.

Friday, October 06, 2006

free granola bar in the USA

On Lara's Blog I read about
a free granola bar, but they only
ship to addresses in the United States. :(

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Classroom inertia

So the worst part of my freshman classes (other than the fact that I have of 30 students crammed into one room) is keeping them talking. I've been starting each class with pronunciation practice on a certain sound. For instance, the "v as in video" sound is very hard for Japanese students. They can do it, but they really have to concentrate.

The problem with this exercise is that it is boring. But this exercise is BADLY needed. The other thing I've been learning about is review. Students need review badly. I've been reading that it takes at least six different exposures to a word to remember it. And I read about an opening review game of matching cards with questions and answers. Students have to find someone with a matching card.

This would be a great idea, it would get students talking - inertia is great! But if I do the pronunciation practice, my students are back to boring. I thought about moving the practice to the end of the lesson, but then the students cannot use what they have learned during the lesson. So my dilemma is: which do I want more, students speaking a lot or speaking well?

EDIT -> Actually, maybe I can do the pronunciation practice, and then the opening mixer. But two openers is a lot of time. I'll think about it somemore.

Also, check out the blog When in Tokyo. She is a student who is infatuated with her first experiences in Japan - in a good way. And she is an involved writer.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Significant Memories

I was writing my second chapel speech today, and I remembered a great memory from when I first arrived:

I arrived over Obon break, and there were three students attending an extra English course over the break, so they came along with me on my tour of the school. When we came into the chapel O-sensei said, "this is where you will be giving speeches", and pointed to the stage.

The chapel was a dark place. The alter hid the eastern morning light, and the south facing windows were overshadowed by the tall school building not 50 m away. Rays of sunlight accented the noticably dusty air.

I asked the students, "Do you like chapel?"

"No." K-chan answered, shaking her head definativly.


"It smells...old."

And standing here now I can tell you, that`s the truth.