Bad Language

English teachers in Japan get up to all sorts of monkey business, booze-guzzling and hanky panky, but perhaps their most heinous offence is awful teaching. Often, teachers know about as much about conversational skills as Harpo Marx, and think that “verb-conjugation” is some kind of sexually transmitted disease. Now I’m sure this blog is littered with dozens of horrific grammatical mistakes, and I don’t claim to be any kind of super-teacher, but some of the “teachers” I’ve known are so inept that they could be sued under the trade descriptions act for calling themselves such.

One young Californian colleague of mine once found herself teaching an old man whose English was very advanced. Among the notes she had written during the class, was the word “Japane.”
“What is this word?” The stony-faced man asked.
“It’s “Japane.” The country we’re in now,” she smiled.
Now, when you consider that this girl had filled out numerous documents and application forms regarding Japan, read guidebooks about Japan, and had written countless group emails, letters and postcards from and about Japan, it’s pretty astounding that she chose to spell it with an extra “E.”
The elderly man was less than impressed, particularly since he, himself, was an esteemed professor of English Literature at a prestigious university in Tokyo. If you’ve read the complete works of Shakespeare, Milton and Chaucer in English, then a ditzy Valley girl won’t be able to teach you anything, except how to accessorize.

On another occasion, a young instructor swaggered up to me in the teachers’ room after a class and said, “Hey, man, check out this textbook! There’s a misprint.” He waved a brightly-coloured book which we regularly used for children’s lessons, in front of my face. “The dumb-asses spelled “Wednesday” with a “D,” “Wed. Nes. Day.” What the hell is that supposed to mean? Hah hah! Morons!”
“Er…actually, I hate to tell you this, but that’s right,” I explained. “There’s supposed to be a “D” there.”
The rookie teacher scratched his head, confused. “Oh. Really? Oops. I just scolded a kid for spelling it that way.”
Talk about the blind leading the blind!

16 Responses to Bad Language

  1. nick says:

    that is really shocking how can they get away with that, did they have an english exam?

  2. Claudia says:

    wow….I am shocked!!!

  3. roaf says:

    I think because they’re teaching conversational English, spelling isn’t thought to be too important.
    I don’t think they have to take a test or anything. I guess when the company hire people, they just recruit the ones who’ll have no problem flying to Japan and standing in front of a room full of strangers.

  4. Woeful says:

    Never fear, they will pay us back by writing instructions in broken English that make no sense.

  5. Sorry to say so, but I’m not socked. As a Frenchman educated in England I do hold an unfair advantage, though.
    Nevertheless, I do make mistakes.
    Once at university I did did mispell an easy French word in a hurry. A student stood up and pointed it out in the rudest manner. Fine, he did have a point.
    I did not lose my cool as I was prepared for such an eventuality.
    I replied in my most polite Japanese that he was perfectly right and that I apologized and thanked him for remonstrating me.
    But the kid then made a mistake when he countered by saying, “Since you are French and a lecturer, how can you make such mistakes?”
    I raised my hand to make him pause, took a piece of chalk and wrote ”膠着”(kouchyaku), a kanji combination Japanese High School students have to learn in their curriculum, but seldom employed, on the blackboard.
    I hid what I had written by standing in front and asked him:
    -Are you Japanese?”
    -“Of course I am. What do you mean?”
    -“Can you read Japanese?”
    -“What a stupid question! Of course I can!”
    He was pretty worked up by then.
    -Fine, could you please read this kanji aloud for all to hear?”
    He could not.
    I had made my point.
    We actually became very friendly after that.

  6. Jeff says:

    Haha… I remember teaching a level 2 student “fun bags” instead of “loads of fun”… Think he was a cabinet member. Or I seem to remember some fun with “cut the cheese” at Futa.

  7. roaf says:

    Woeful- that’s a good point. Subtitles as well. Also, the English on most of the T-shirts around here is pretty shocking (but that’s the reason I like them!)

    Robert-Gilles- Great story! I wish I knew enough kanji to catch out my students like that.
    That’s unlikely to happen anytime soon, though. Perhaps I’ll learn some really difficult ones just for this purpose!

    Jeff- Yeah, I forgot about the fun you can have by slipping rude double entendres past the students. “Peal necklace” etc…

  8. jeremy says:

    accessorize! hah brilliant! Where do I get one of those “Peal Necklaces”?

  9. roaf says:

    oops, “Pearl Necklace” I mean!

  10. Come on, any professor of English at Tokyo University who attends classes at a conversation school is probably there just to be entertained. Even the smartest 20-something recent college graduate isn’t going to do much for this guy other than improve his listening skills and give him/her some info about use of idiomatic expressions. I just hate the fact that that California girl’s stupidity will only continue to reinforce the belief held by many Japanese people that foreigners, particularly Americans, aren’t very bright. Is she at least good eye candy for the male students?

  11. roaf says:

    Yes, she was pretty good looking. I suppose I wouldn’t object to Japanese lessons with an attractive 21 year-old girl, come to think of it!

  12. Just make sure she doesn’t teach you feminized Japanese. I think Japanese girls get a kick out of doing that to foreign guys they teach Japanese to.

  13. roaf says:

    Yeah, that’s happened to me before. But I find most girls seem to prefer it!

  14. びっくり says:

    Certainly there is no requirement for most ALT or Eikaiwa jobs other than having a four year degree. Unfortunately the value of a lot of these degrees is tanking.

    However, sliding rude double-entendre past students doesn’t seem to be in the vein of serving them. As teachers, ideally we should be focusing on providing them with the best we can give.

    This made me think of an old Steve Martin sketch where he says: “Some people have a way with words, and some people… have not way.”

  15. I have to admit that my own English (especially spelling) has gotten worse due to living in Japan and the use of computers, but Japan with an e is pretty bad.

  16. A.M. says:

    Teachers in America really aren’t any better.

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