Postgrad from Harvard?? Whatever man, I’m an English Native Speaker

B**ch pls, don't use text-language

Currently, and I guess for at least the past five to ten years in Japan there is strong, almost desperate, movement for people in Japan to learn English. The lucky (?) ones are taught from a very young age; two, three years old, and once entering primary school it is now a staple of the of the school curriculum.

As a native speaker of English, I am granted certain privileges in this country. If I want work, and am happy to devote my working week to teaching English there are countless options at hand. Turns out I am not incredibly interested: my graphic design work and portfolio, and Japanese learning takes priority. I feel as though if I devote a large part of my week to English teaching, I would lose sight of the end goal, and lose grip of my dreams and aspirations, albeit if only for the remaining nine months I am here. Being an English teacher, and although this is a redundant statement, requires you to speak English, and my goal here in Japan is to learn Japanese.

Please note: Being a native speaker of English does not automatically make you a good teacher of English.

Teaching is a skill in itself, and not only that, the way a native speaker learns a language is vastly different to the way a non-native does. To look at the other side of the coin: when I started learning Japanese every word was taught to us in Romaji (roman characters, i.e. the roman alphabet), and to remember the scripts Hiragana and Katakana we always had pictographs of what each character looks like to help with the sound, and also the form/writing of the character.

Just to put this in perspective: If you showed a paragraph of Japanese written in Romaji to a Japanese person, chances are they couldn’t make sense of it straight away. I remember years ago my host family received a letter from a previous student, written completely in Romaji. They gave it to me to read to them. As for the Hiragana and Katakana pictographs, it blows everyone’s minds when I tell them that is how we are taught.

Japanese are surrounded by Japanese language the moment they enter this world, just as I was instantly surrounded by English. So of course learning style and intake of language differs when it comes to learning a second language. How about this one, for the native speakers of English out there:

I will go to the beach (Yep)          I will go beach (Nope)
I will go to the home (Nope)       I will go home (Yep)

How many people, native speakers of English, could explain adequately why ‘to the’ follows ‘go’ when the beach is being talked about, but when you’re talking about your home it is simply ‘go’?? Learners of a second language learn differently – not just how it should be written and spoken, but why grammatically; structurally, it is written and spoken this way.

All this talk about English teaching may lead you to believe I feel learning English is a must. I myself am not of the opinion that English should be spoken worldwide. Maybe because I am a language learner, and get great pleasure from speaking, or attempting to at least, other languages of the world. French, Portuguese, Korean… There are so many fascinating and challenging languages in this world, and for me I don’t view any as superior over another.

If you haven’t discovered the joys of language-learning, I encourage you to try! The experience is challenging, involving and also rewarding! Perhaps for your next overseas trip buy a phrase book and try to learn a couple of words. Makes your trip a bit more interesting, and I can guarantee you whoever you are talking to will appreciate the effort.

I made a cake. I am happy about said cake.

I made a cake. I am happy about said cake.

My Kansai dialect textbook!

My Kansai dialect textbook!

Miso-Nikomi Udon at Nagoya

Miso-Nikomi Udon at Nagoya

Nine months down, Nine to go

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I’ve now been in Japan for NINE months. Living the dream (?) and enjoying seeing friends and family, whilst also working my butt off to stay afloat. It took me several months to sort out living arrangements, have work trickling in ever so gradually and overall get into a happy place.

My poor neglected blog ‘Bring it on Nippon’ is the next project I am tackling, and am going to do a post weekly-ish to start off. ‘Nippon’ is an almost affectionate way to say ‘Japan’. It is also used when chanting for the Japanese team, in whatever game or arena. I chose the title, in true American trashy cheerleading movie style, to reflect how I felt about my Japan trip before leaving; that is, a challenge and a lot of hard work. Well, it certainly has been.

Nippon really did bring it on. I had naive, almost fantasy-like ideas before leaving Sydney that I would just walk into my dream job, find a house soon after and start living it up; going to Disneyland every month, climbing Mt Fuji, jumping on the Shinkansen (bullet train) over to Osaka and Kyoto on long weekends, flying over to Okinawa for much-needed respite… Ahh, dreams.

Turns out life here wasn’t going to be that peachy. There’s this thing.. damn, what’s it called? Oh yeah, reality.

In a nutshell:

  • Finding a place was exhausting, and although I am fluent in Japanese it was unfamiliar territory
  • No-one just walks into a job, and in Japan most companies don’t fork out your first pay for around SIX WEEKS so you are basically saving up to get a job, not getting the job to save up
  • Money is funny: it just disappears. No joke, those glorified paper sheets and little metallic polka dots have a mind of their own. It’s even harder when it’s been seven years since the last Japan visit and you’re super-popular, people wanting to catch up left, right and centre (that last part is only semi-true)

Despite all this, I’m in a good place now. Hard work, a bit of grit and a ton of support from brilliant friends and family got me through the last nine months and I feel empowered and energised, and am also proud of my achievements and happy looking back at how far I have come.

In other news, cherry blossom season is over in the Kanto region. Golden Week is mostly over too, apart from the lucky ones who took a few extra days off to get the longest holiday stretch possible. I saw Rudimental live last night: a spur of the moment decision that was the best I have made this week. Today I go out to my family’s place (read: ‘home stay’ family) to visit for a few days, but have a ton of work on so will be plugging away at that most of the time while I’m there.

Most blog entries won’t be this long, but if you have managed to read to this point, kudos to you! Some will be in Japanese too, and others in both. Meanwhile, thanks for visiting, and watch this space! Till next time, Mata-ne!

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