“It’s better if the teacher can’t speak the student’s first language.” Really?

I’ve been in the teaching game since 2011. My experience is mainly teaching Japanese students, along with a smattering of Chinese and Korean folks who are based in Japan. Several times now, I’ve come across the belief that “Native English teachers shouldn’t be able to speak the learner’s first language. It’s better that way, because then the learner will be forced to communicate only through the target language.”

Not “teachers shouldn’t speak the learner’s L1.” They “shouldn’t have the ability” to do so.

I find this to be a very strange distinction, because of course the goal is to get the learner to use the target language as much as humanly possible in a given lesson. This means if the learner straight-up asks me, “How do you say 海外 in English?” I answer with, “Can you explain the word to me?” The learner then comes up with something like, “Well, not in Japan. In other countries.” At that point I can say, “Oh! Abroad!” and that’s the end of that. The learner has not only learned the word, they have “earned” it by explaining in the target language what they wanted to say.

And surely, a teacher is capable of doing that regardless of whether they can or cannot speak the student’s L1, aren’t they?

Maybe this is a cultural thing purely rooted in Japan, but let me ask you: have you come across this belief yourself, or do you believe it? What are the benefits on either side?

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A day walking in history: Meiji Mura

A day walking in history: Meiji Mura

I feel almost bad to admit that, though I’ve been to Nagoya twice now, I have yet to hit up Nagoya Castle, the Tokugawa Museum, or most of the other “famous” places everyone expects you to go. However, I have found some great places to see in Aichi around Nagoya City. You may remember my post about the Totoro House; today, let’s take a look at Meiji Mura.

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An Afternoon with My Neighbor Totoro

An Afternoon with My Neighbor Totoro

A week or two ago, I was hosting a friend in Japan. It was her second time in Kyoto, so we decided to branch out on adventure.

“Where do you want to go? What do you want to see?” I asked her.

“Well, going to the Ghibli Museum would be nice,” she said.

We checked the website, but as we were looking a mere month in advance, all of the possible days we could go were fully booked.

“Where else do you want to go? What else do you want to see?” I asked her.

“Well, since that’s a wash, maybe going somewhere related to a Ghibli film would be nice. Like the moss woods from Princess Mononoke.”

We checked, but we couldn’t justify taking a flight all the way out to a small island in Kyushu just to see one forest.

“Anywhere else you want to go? Anything else you want to see?” I asked her.

“Well, is there anything Ghibli related we could do on short notice?”

We checked, and struck gold in the form of Mei and Satsuki’s House–famous from the movie My Neighbor Totoro–in Aichi, Japan.

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Kyoto Artisans: Gold Leaf Stamping Workshop

Kyoto Artisans: Gold Leaf Stamping Workshop

Back in March, I participated in a writing competition through Writers in Kyoto. While I didn’t win, I was invited to take part in a local cultural event of some sort. There were two options to choose from: paper lantern-making, and gold paperweight-making. After choosing the latter, I arranged to meet a woman I’ll call Ms. S from the Kyoto Convention and Visitors Bureau at JR Yamashina Station. From there, she would make sure I made it to the workshop and, if necessary, provide translations.

While it was meant to be a group outing, it turned out to be just the two of us on a search for the home of an うるしさん (Urushi-san, someone who works with lacquer/gilding). Urushi-san are the people responsible for things like the gold you can see on Kinkakuji Temple in Kyoto; they affix things like very thinly sliced gold to various objects (whether it’s magnets, toy cars, or anything else you can imagine). Of course, they do many other jobs as well, but this was particularly pertinent because the workshop centered around gold leaf stamping.

This was both my and Ms. S’s first time heading into this particular neighborhood of Yamashina. While only ten minutes by taxi from the JR station, we were in a very residential area where the streets had no names listed and the house numbers were all out of order. After the taxi drove off, we had no idea where to go, and unfortunately, neither did the neighbors we asked for guidance. Fortunately, Ms. S had a phone number, and after calling it, my teacher for the day came bustling out of a building from the end of a dead-end street.

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Why Obama? …Why Not?

Why Obama? …Why Not?

As I mentioned before, I went to multiple places during my Golden Week. Afterwards, I brought photos of my adventures back to work to share with coworkers and students alike. They tended to ooh over pictures of Kibune, aah over shots of Mt. Koya, then… tilt their heads in puzzled confusion.

“Who is that?” they would ask, pointing at a statue of a man giving a speech.

“Well, he was President of the US for eight years…” I’d reply.

They would, inevitably, go, “You went to Obama?! In Fukui? But why?”

Why not?

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