Happy New Year! This post is a bit of an experiment; I decided to try out reacting to a prompt. If you’re interested in reading something a little introspective, take a peek under the cut!
I have favorite age groups and levels of ability when it comes to teaching people English. One of them is the ages between 7-9. These are kids who are old enough to know better, but young enough to happily do dumb things with you in class so long as you show actual enthusiasm for it. As students get into the preteen age, you see them slowly and inevitably start to withdraw as they try to figure out what on earth is happening to them. Understandable, we’ve all been there. (Unless you’re five, in which case, I’m amazed at your reading skills.)
But unfortunately, it can cut into their language learning in some ways, especially when a few get hit particularly hard with the need to Play It Cool.
I was this kid; in German class I learned how to say “I don’t understand”, “I don’t know”, and “I don’t speak German” early on so I could deflect any questions the teacher asked me. My teacher at the time was gracious enough not to press the issue. But looking on it, I regret it because of what else I might have been able to learn if I had tried.
I find myself facing the situation as an instructor, and don’t think I’m nearly as gracious.
Teachers appreciate the student who speaks up every time, even if there are mistakes, because then we can help you say what you want to say. If you say nothing, we have no means to help you, and so your skills just… become stagnant.
So, with that in mind, I want to give a shout-out to all the people out there who attend language classes but, for whatever reason, find themselves unable or unwilling to speak up in front of classmates. I’d also like to give a little reassurance/advice:
Mistakes are actually a really important part of learning a language. Think back on when you were a kid. The plural for cat was cats, and for dog was dogs, but for mouse wasn’t mouses, so an adult in your life likely had to correct you on this once or twice before you got it down. It’s normal, and nobody will make fun of you for saying something goofy in a language class.
Saying something, anything, will help you and your teacher more than hiding away. If you don’t get the grammar point, ask for help. If you don’t know the vocabulary, do your best to say a word similar to it, or ask if you can peek at a dictionary. Gesturing, drawing a picture or, at the very end of it all, asking if you can say the word in your native language are all other techniques. Don’t give up until you have the word you’re looking for.
I’d like to share a story from when I was learning Japanese.
We had started with a warm-up question about rules for the road. Don’t drive too fast, wear a seatbelt, etc. I was following along okay with it, or so I thought, as someone described what you shouldn’t do on a sidewalk. Suddenly, the teacher turned to me and asked me a question. Thinking we were still discussing sidewalks, I said something like, “My neighborhood in the States doesn’t have sidewalks, so we had to walk on the road and it was dangerous.”
Everyone started giggling.
I was confused until a friend pulled up her dictionary on her phone and showed me the word I’d used for sidewalk: it was actually the word for sunburn. The teacher had changed the subject earlier and been asking if people in the class easily get sunburn.
I tell you what, though, I’m never forgetting either the word for sunburn (日焼け) or sidewalk (歩道)!
What’s your language learning mistake story? What do you wish you’d done more of when you were learning a foreign language? If you’re a teacher, how do you help coax students out of “playing cool”?
Sticking to things is hard. Stuff can be super interesting when you first begin with them but it’s so easy to lose steam. Whether you’re studying for a test, setting a new personal record at the gym, or just trying to roll out of bed at a reasonable hour, everyone has their one thing they wished they were better at.
For me, blogging has always been one of those things.
Which is why I’m very excited to announce that this is my 100th post on WordPress!
Hey, guys! Two weeks sure passed by fast. It’s that time of year when work picks up, the weather cools down, and absolutely everyone wants to get together and Do Things. I’ve been going on adventures in my area and struggling with a big Will I or Won’t I question–will I take the JLPT this December?
Hey guys, how’s your summer going? Is anybody else relieved that the humidity is slowly but surely starting to die down? Just me?
In my two visits to Taiwan, I’ve dipped my toes into several areas outside of Taipei proper. Yilan. Yangmingshan. And for today’s topic, Sun Moon Lake.
When I was studying abroad in Tokyo, I lived in a one-room apartment in a four-story building with a bunch of other foreign students. I’m sure there were some Japanese folks living there too, but we never saw them. It was a great setup, really; we all had our own private spaces, but the building also had a common room with a computer, free wifi, a microwave, and a couple really old, beat-up couches for us to hang out on. I spent many a weekend morning in there using the wi-fi to chat with my family while some poor hungover classmate lay face-down on the opposite couch.
Ahh, good times.
I kept my room pretty spartan, because I was only intending to live there 6 months. Therefore I didn’t see the point in making everything look nice. After all, I’d just have to tear it all down again soon after, right?
But not everybody followed this train of thought. Enter my French classmate, who I’ll call L-chan.
L-chan was a friendly, outgoing lady who loved food, loved company, and seemed to love studying in Japan. We somehow hit it off, and I was lucky enough to be invited into her apartment a few different times for tea and snacks.
And oh wow, what a room.
The first time I walked in, I was hit with the scent of it. The place smelled like homecooked food, and tea, and cinnamon. She must have used softeneer on her sheets, because I could smell that too. Everything was full of color; rather than stick with our allotted sheets and curtains, she’d spent her own cash to get what she wanted. In short, the room felt like a home.
“Your place smells so good,” I said to her, and she beamed as she hustled me onto one of her two tiny chairs for tea. As she got separate strainers for our tea and set out honey, milk, sugar, and separate teaspoons for us to use, I marveled at how very Adult she seemed to be. From someone who had until that point lived at home and had just hit 20, I thought it was like magic.
Someday, I said to myself, I want a home just like this. A place that feels like a home not only to me, but others.
Fast forward. L-chan and I have sadly not been in touch for ages (here’s hoping she’s still doing well and still making delicious crepes!). I’m in Japan, living in a slightly larger apartment (two rooms instead of one).
My room is not what you’d call “adult”, but it does look colorful. Purple bedsheets, wintery kotatsu covers, corkboards full of pictures of people I have come to know.
As for the smell?
This morning I made banana chocolate chip muffins. Last week I made peanut butter and molasses cookies. I use my slow cooker for roasted garlic chicken dinners or chili or pumpkin soup on the regular.
And I have friends that, every time they come over, say, “Your place smells so good.” They settle in at my kotatsu table and I’m able to provide matching sets of chopsticks, or wine glasses for fancy drinks, or mugs for tea. Basil and succulents line my windows. “I wish my place smelled like yours.”
Just like L-chan, I find myself beaming with pride.
Look at me being all Adult.
Today I waltzed into my nearest AEON Mall and bought myself a new shirt and pair of pants without a second thought.
A lot of you are going, “Yeah, and?” Let me break down why this is a big deal for me.
I’m pretty average in size, at least for an American white woman. I generally grab medium-sized stuff off the rack back home, so I never really need to worry about things fitting- just fitting correctly. In Japan, though? When I first got here it was a miracle if anything fit at all.
If you go into your average boutique in the shopping arcades, you can expect to find sizes ranging from small (S) to extra large (LL). Here’s the thing, though- sizing here is different from the States, and as a general rule you’re going to have to go up at least one size in order to fit. So if you’re a medium, you better start with a large.
(This doesn’t necessarily apply to foreign brands like H&M or Gap, which tends to show the US and European sizes on their tags.)
But what do you do if you have a butt, or something else that gives you shape? Better go up a second size. Only now, we’re getting close to being sized out of the average shop.
The first few times I shopped in Japan I was very dispirited about the whole thing. Nothing fit, or rather, it might fit- but in a way that looked gorgeous on a Japanese woman and horrible on me. I refused to even consider buying pants here at first- I would only buy them from home when I went back to visit.
But in the past year or so, things have changed.
While there are still plenty of limitations on what I can buy here (many self-imposed; drapey clothes look lovely on the locals but baggy and frumpy on me), I’ve found myself figuring out how and where to get the clothes I need. For example, if you need clothes with a bit more wiggle room, AEON Malls tend to offer plus-size sections. There are catalogs and online shops that offer bigger sizes even if you can’t find them in the stores. H&M has proven to be a godsend, housing not only clothes that fit but ones with colors beyond wine red or soft pink. Zara sometimes offers things at a reasonable price, but I personally don’t shop there as it isn’t my style.
If all else fails, women can take a peek into the men’s section for things they are struggling to find in their size, but the shape of the garment may not be what you need.
If you live in a foreign country now, how goes shopping for clothes? Does everything-or nothing– fit you correctly? What about shoes, which is a whole other can of worms?