the nikku

reflecting on ESL/EFL and its relation to faith

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Reading Books

I recently had a book about Japan recommended to me by a friend who also
lives here. This isn't so rare, it has a lot of interesting insights and
history that I never would have learned by talking to people. Even
Americans aren't proud of everything in their history and culture. ;)
But I had this thought, and I think it's worth sharing:

"You can read books about Japan your whole life, and not really know any
Japanese people. You can spend your whole life talking to Japanese
people and never understand anything about Japanese culture."

I think what is really needed is balance. But as you learned when you
had to walk the balance beam in gym class, it's harder than it looks.

Friday, May 23, 2008

best compliment of my life

I think I just got the biggest compliment of my life. Here it goes:

Nickが大好き。一生懸命に勉強してるから。そな人が大好き。

"I like you Nick because you put your life into your (English classroom)
studies. I like people like that."

Sometimes you doubt yourself, you know. And even if you don't, you
wonder if anybody notices. It's good to know people notice.

Yeah, that made my day. :)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The information age and reading, writing and arithmetic

We live in the information age, and one of the problems we have found
with the current era is that there is too much information. And we need
a way to sort and organize it. And more importantly, figure out which
information isn't useful.

In the world, Japanese students spend the most time at school. They're
second only to (South) Korea. However, they only learn "facts". They
learn to repeat reading, writing, and arithmetic. There is very little
discussion, and very little critical thinking. I talked to a teacher the
other day who is concerned about the lack of critical thinking in the
Japanese schools. He sees the problem, but he doubts the system will
change. There are too many standardized tests and other red tape holding
the system together.

On the other hand, American schools could use more standardized tests
and regulations. Maybe. This would help to keep crappy teachers in line,
but would slow good teachers down. Anyone like happy mediums?

However, "No Child Left Behind" is just stupid. Of course we would all
like to help every child, but some students will get F's. That's life.
And we can't slow down to help those students. If we do, all the other
students will get bored and get easy A's while they are waiting.
Challenge is an important part of education. Any education text will
tell you that.

When I was in high school. I wasn't all that good at communicating (or
thinking critically), and I would waged that most high schoolers now are
the same if not worse. In fact, one of the reasons I started to like
English Writing classes was because I could develop and organize my
thoughts - as well as dissect the arguments and stories of other writers.

Now we have TV's, the internet, cell phones, etc. etc. Now more than
ever, critical thinking is important. And if Japan wants to become a
world leader, again, they need to develop these skills.

However, Japan is also the fifth most peaceful nation
(http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20080522a3.html), and free
thinking usually leads to unrest.

Most peaceful countries:

1. Iceland

2. Denmark

3. Norway

4. New Zealand

5. Japan

6. Ireland

7. Portugal

8. Finland

9. Luxembourg

10. Austria

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Late morning nap

It's true what they say about midday naps...

I came back from my second period class and I had a headache, so I took
two aspirin and went to my third hour class. After my third hour class
my headache was even worse - near migraine.

I told the teachers in my office, and they insisted that I go rest in
the nurse's office since I was free first period. I went in and slept on
the bed for most of fourth period, and I felt better. Once more, it's
true what they say, midday naps do give you more energy throughout the day.

...Or at least mine did.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Chinese Students

Today two students from China came to our school to "promote
intercultural relations" between Japan and China. We were really nervous
about how well they could speak English, but as it turned out, the
government sent a translator (we found out this morning when she
arrived), and the students spoke English at least as well as our
students. ...thanks to everyone from the English fellowship who prayed
for us. Aside from me misspelling one of the Chinese girl's names on the
board, everything went really smoothly today.

In English class we made small groups and talked with the students in
English (their translator was also interesting to talk to). It was
really great for my students to see that they can communicate with
people from other countries using English. The one downer my students
had was "we can't properly explain Japan in English".

There's a lot of Japanese culture that is a short word, but requires a
long explanation in English. I usually just gloss over this in lower
classes - I just let them use the Japanese words (onigiri, bento,
kyudou) in the English sentences. But my heart went out to my students,
and I think I need to start not glossing over Japanese cultural
explanations.

As it turns out, we got the two Chinese students because two of our
families applied to be host families. Unlike Americans, Japanese
families generally regard being a host family as a great privilege (but
just the same, few families volunteer). It sounds corny, but all in all
it was a great day of cultural exchange.