“She is a poo”: Adventures with English Journals
At my small school, I have a new JTE I work with. Since she’s really cool, engaged and actively discredits using katakana-English in the classroom, she’s quickly becoming one of my favorite teachers. However, I did not expect on the first day working with her, after about a half hour of getting to know each other, she announced she’d be launching an English Journal project for me to oversee and review.
I have to say, I wasn’t opposed to the idea. On the contrary, I was really excited! However, what I did not expect was just how much my students would get into it: not even a day after their initial self-introduction writings, they had already written responses to my comments and questions.
Now, it would be really easy to take this as “LOL, LOOK AT THE BAD ENGLISH” sort of deal. While I do laugh at colorful examples many ALTs share, to showcase mistakes is not the purpose of this writing. Rather, it was really interesting to see what the kids were into, the questions they had for me and their day-to-day lives, which the later I honestly don’t get to know about outside of the classroom. Having said that, if the first couple of days was any indication, I’m going to have plenty of humorous and interesting things to share. This is merely the beginning.
And to get it out of the way, the title “she is a poo” comes from one of the students who was talking about their dog. Even after I asked “is it a poodle?” I never received a response. While it may be bad to assume, I’m just gonna have some faith in this one.
Since the kid’s English levels are still pretty low, they’re only really used to saying “I/She/He is (basic/survival emotions)” or describing their schedules. Granted, I’m not exactly sure what my JTE had told them to write about, but they were all very keen on telling me what time they get up, when they eat and what they do after school. While I’ve heard the usual “I have to go to cram school every day” bit, it was really surprising to see just how long many of the students stayed at their “school-after-school” before they finally got home and got to bed (the average seemed to be around 11 p.m.). Then, it was right back to the grind at 5:30 a.m. so they could head to their morning sports practice. All I could think about was how rough it seemed. I don’t think any schedule like that would ever fly with American students. Maybe it’s just because the sun rises so damn early here, I don’t know, but I feel a little more empathy every time I see someone doze off in the middle of class. Rest up, kid, you’re gonna need it.
I also noticed a lot of my students are BIG ‘OL NERDS: Many of them commented that they play a lot of video games, read manga, light novels and the like. One of them even asked how to spell a character’s name from Resident Evil in English, although I had never heard of them (and I’ve played them all!). But it seems a lot of them play the big hits right now: Monster Hunter, Dragon Quest, Puzzle and Dragons (there’s an odd theme of anything dragon related being popular). Some of them even asked what I played and asked for recommendations. Rather unfortunately, I wrote down “I play Dark Souls!” without thinking about the consequences. God forbid if they actually go out and buy that game. Rest up, kid, you’re gonna need it.
A lot of the students are also really adamant about asking me whether or not I like anime. I don’t know if they’re looking for something to have in common with me or if they’re trying to oust me as a dirty otaku, but I usually just go with the line that I really enjoy Ghibli movies. I don’t want to go down that rabbit hole any deeper.
One of the more colorful exchanges I had was with some of the girls in the second year class. You may find this shocking, but many of them are fans of Japanese boy bands, including but not limited to West, Arashi, News and a bunch of other Johnnys whoevers. I don’t know any of them beyond seeing the names in music stores, but at first I still tried to engage with them: “What’s your favorite song?” and “Have you ever been to any of their concerts?” and the like. This proved to be dangerous, however, after I made the mistake of asking if one person was in a particular group, to which I was wrong. Most specifically it was a Mr. Daiki Shigeoka. After asking if he was in News, I got this reply. I have not edited the formatting nor the original English.
“He is Daiki Shigeoka.”
“He is 21 years old”
“He is from Osaka. He lives in Hyogo”
“He likes cooking, fishing and reading.”
“He is shy.”
“He is a singer and a novelist.”
“He is not News.”
“He is West.”
“I love Daiki Shigeoka very much.”
I’ll be sure to do my research next time.
Another second year girl who is a big fan of News decided to add a little extra flair to her journal entry. Her favorite is Nozomu Kotaki and, man, she let me know.
I think I’ll just steer clear of the topic from now on.
A lot of the kids are also all too familiar with the “speech” form of writing. So, even when they don’t need it, they’ll add “Hello, everyone” at the beginning and “Thank you” at the end. I’ve really tried to bash it out of their heads that they don’t need such trivial things, but it seems every time I leave and come back, they’re right back to adding it in. Maybe it’s a case of “but the textbook says…!” but I can’t seem to get it out of them no matter how hard I try.
I am really enjoying the project so far, as getting to know my (or, frankly, anyone’s) students more is always a good thing; Even at my small school where it’s easier to get to know them more in the first place. It really is a shame that a project like this would probably never fly at my bigger school, even though I’d still like to try it out. Until then, if you’re an ALT and in the market for some added spice in your work-life, I’d say pitch a project like this to the JTE and see what they say. It never hurts to let the kids practice some non-textbook English and express themselves a little more.