Teaching English in Japan is no small task. Going from a very structured language like Japanese to English, where all of the rules seem made up, is very difficult. Not only for the students, but the teachers who have to figure out how to make the students understand and remember. Luckily, this job is also very rewarding. Watching students learn and improve is quite an incredible experience. But, that’s not quite the reward I’m referring to. My favorite reward is reading the botched English of my students and sometimes my JTE’s.
Today, I’ve decided to provide a few of my more memorable moments.
First is the inevitable forgot-to-add-a-connecting-word sentence, which is when we get sentences like, “You must not eat the library.” I agree, Billy, eating the library will simply not do at all.
Next is the classic misheard word; I teach someone a word, they completely bungle it up, and then they teach it to someone else and it’s a giant game of Telephone. This is how one of my fifth grade classes ended up exclaiming, “Tampons!” when I held up a picture of tadpoles. Words cannot explain how stunned I was to hear that in class. I thought the kids had gained access to the internet until my JTE repeated it to me to make sure he pronounced it right. Erm. No. No, no, nope, not at all.
Then, we have the I-don’t-know-the-words-or-grammar-even-a-little Kid who ends up writing, “Dinner eat a pot,” and by some miracle, I instantly know he was trying to say, “For dinner, I ate nabe.” (Nabe is a traditional Japanese meal where you throw everything edible that you can find into a pot of boiling broth and then you pick out what you want and continue adding more).
Fourth is the kid who knows they have to use a specific grammar pattern and will therefore force a sentence to work. Or not work. My favorite example of this is when a student wrote a short report about the ever popular Joan of Arc. Including her date of birth, age, accomplishments, strifes, and finally her death at the stake, she finished her report with this chilling statement: “I think she is pitiful…” complete with two tear drops drawn next to it. Though I know she meant to say, “I pity her,” it just comes off as incredibly unfeeling and harsh. Joan, what an awful, pitiful thing you are! I don’t care what you’ve been through, rub some dirt in it. You disgust me.
After that we have the sentences that are simply beautiful because the students mucked up the spelling. (Thanks, Alex, for letting me use this). Apparently there was a photo of a man wearing a black helmet, reaching out towards a woman who was clearly yelping in alarm and instead of the sentence being the obvious, “He robbed her bag,” the student wrote a much more pleasant, if not incredibly awkward alternative: “Suddenly, he rubbed her back.” Frightening, certainly, but admittedly a lot more relaxing. “Oh no! What are you- oh! Yes, well… a little to the left, then! Haha- Cheers!”
And finally, we get to my absolute favorites. Both of these sentences were supposed to be from the movie ET when ET and Elliott “fly as high as a bird.” Unfortunately for the students, yet fortunately for me, they messed up both the grammar and the spelling. The first student ended up writing, “They high as a bard,” which casts the parties of old in a whole new light, while also reminding me of ghetto talk from back home. “Yo, Dawg! You seen Jimmy?” “Yo, man, he high as a bard!”
The second is even better: “They fly as a bard.” Like, holy heck man, those bards are the sexiest beasts alive. If a guy’s not wearing pheasant colored parachute pants and plucking merrily on a mandolin, these kids don’t even want to look at him.