Quantum Leap Journal # 18, 5/26/14
06/08/2014 § Leave a comment
The Language Whores 5/26/14
Not my students, not them! They’re great!
I’ve kept two students for 4 years now, since June 2010, and I see them every Monday night in Chiba City about 30 minutes away by train. They are doctors at the university hospital, in the Hematology/Leukemia Department. They are national leaders. I feel intimidated by them, they are younger than me, but so much more accomplished. Yet they have told me directly that I’m the best English Teacher they ever had. Its something to feel proud about.
Last class, Ch____ lamented that he still had trouble listening to English speakers despite all the advances he’d made. We talked about it. I began telling him about how Japanese speakers have certain fundamental assumptions about how any language works that are really specific to Japan. He asked for examples. I suggested that English vowels work completely different from Japanese ones, and that one can actually pronounce English correctly if one learns the rules. He wanted to learn. I’d been waiting for him to ask for 4 years. I had a 4-page language sheet I had made, which I had concluded I would never use with a student, but Ch___ wanted to see it. I figure that I could use the lesson with M___ too.
So today, I handed him the worksheet. It demonstrated that in English, the 5 vowels (and sometimes Y) have basically 3 states that they shift between, short (or weak), long (or strong), and silent. There may be more than one pronunciation for a short vowel (“at”, “ago”) or long vowel (“tune”, “usual”). Its popular nowadays to call the “silent vowel” a “magic vowel”, but that’s for teaching children I think.
I went over each of the vowels, giving numerous examples of each of them in the three states. Take the word “Bay”. The ‘a’ is long because the ‘y’ lends the ‘a’ its power, becoming silent. Ch__ was astonished. “That’s not what we’re taught at all,” he said. “I know,” I replied. In Japanese, all vowels have one state only, and two put together make a combined sound or “diphthong.” Like ‘oo’ in “food”. So “Bay” is pronounced ‘ba’ like in “banzai” and the ‘y’ is pronounced like ‘i’ in “ski” so its ‘ba’ + ‘i’ = ‘bai’ which sounds like “buy” or “by”. When a Japanese person sees “bay”, they pronounce “by”. They use to mechanics of their language, and are not even taught, in 6 or 9 years of English education, the mechanics of ours. So they pronounce words wrong, and when English speakers pronounce them right, its incomprehensible to them. The most ambitious students struggle and learn to listen and speak, but rarely ever by overhauling their English pronunciation and spelling systems.
One more example, I showed him that in English, ‘cy’ is usually pronounced ‘sai’ or “Sy’. Cyan. Cyclamen. Cygnus the Swan. Cyborg.
“In Japan, we say, ‘ki.'” Ch____ said. “I know”, I answered. Kiyan; Kikuramen, Kigunus the Swan, Kiborg. “This is why I’m so angry.!” I said. This is such an easy thing to fix, but Japan has never had any intention to fix it, even in the language classes. Its insane. Even the Japanese Instructors of English are not taught the mechanics of English spelling and phonics. Hence, year after year, native speakers and Japanese speakers continue to not understand each other.
Ch____ was very grateful for the lesson, and I promised a follow-up lesson next time. Then so did M____. And as I left the hospital, I thought about the Orientation meeting for F_____ school system, in which some 70 Native and Second Language English teachers were going to teach the Japanese phonics mechanism as English for their paltry salaries. I filled up with anger. Language Whores, I said aloud, they’re all Language Whores. They’re teaching what the Japanese want to learn, and just dismissing what real English is. Most of the teachers are Filipino, anyway, and are easily swayed by Japanese momentum.
And me, because of my temper, I have a hard time dealing with this madness. Its not worth getting angry over, but I do. And now, I may lapse my working visa over this anger. I need to change, fundamentally. I need to understand why I get angry, and defuse it. And I know why. It’s because I’m the Son of a Narcissistic Mother, and she never took care to understand my utterances at all. She only heard me say what she imagined I said, what she wanted me to say. So communicating with her was like chewing on steel wool. She always defeated me in the communication war, and she always pissed me off.
So communication was a source of great stress, and now I’m teaching communications. I have to wipe out my own personal agenda of trying to reform this ultimately stubborn and uncommunicatible woman. I have to separate my mother from my students, and my Japanese Co-teachers. And I have been doing that. Knowing how hard she fought me, that my anger was justified, allows me keep my attention out when co-teachers want to teach the students dumb things about English.
But it wasn’t enough for dealing with the provocative Japanese co-teacher from my last job, who was always personally offended if I taught English that she didn’t know. And now I’m in great danger– the danger I need to be in order to fundamentally change.
I aim to manage my anger maturely and stop making constant excuses about it. That’s what this is all about. I think. I’ve chosen to change, and have apparently summoned up the whirlwind to force it on me.