My year teaching English at a Japanese university, part 2

I spent the last post going over why eikaiwa offer better English education than universities.  Now I’m going to contradict myself a bit.

There are a few points on which universities’ English courses are superior to eikaiwa classes.  In fact one of those points is nearly a fatal blow to the idea that eikaiwa can be considered proper education at all.  And that is:

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My year teaching English at a Japanese university, part 1

I have just finished my one and only year teaching English part time at one of many campuses of a large private university in central Japan.  Some of you might not know what “separate campuses” means at a Japanese university, but in general it means that each campus has only a few departments.  In my case, it was exactly one rather esoteric department, with fewer than 10 majors.

Private universities in Japan are generally less prestigious than public.  Unfortunately for educational standards, a falling population of children means that universities care more about filling seats than opening minds… or to split hairs, care more about filling seats for 30,000-yen entrance exams than filling seats in lectures thereafter.  For obvious reasons this concern for income is especially evident at private institutions.  There is an entire book dedicated to the theme that higher education in Japan is a Baudrillardian simulation, all rituals and forms and no empirical reality.  Not that the logic of a credential eventually coming to replace education instead of being a guarantee of it is not found at public universities or universities in other countries, but Japanese private universities seem to set the standard for meaninglessness in higher education.

Low-ranked private universities are to education as this is to enjoying your Super Nintendo

Because mine was a private university and my campus had a single department (which was not English), you might expect it to be the worst of the worst.  In fact, my year there was mostly pleasant, with friendly and helpful staff and enthusiastic students – more enthusiastic than I had expected at any rate.  I would have continued teaching there happily if other life plans hadn’t intervened.

Anyway, more will be said about this university as posts are added to this series.  On to nugget of wisdom the first.

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Foreign language and Salieri

I got JLPT level 1 in 2006.  This probably represents the high point of my achievement in Japanese.  I’m just good enough now to intimidate the people who plateaued lower than me, but not nearly so good that people talking to me forget it’s my second language.

There’s a point in language learning which I will call the Salieri point at which you’re just good enough to realize how much better the really good people are.  I suppose there’s a lesson in behavioral economics to be found there – because my reference point has suddenly jumped way above my head, I find myself much less motivated even though that jump has only come as a result of objective improvement in my Japanese comprehension.  If there were a way to put this into formal terms and study it, I bet it’d be revealed to be a major cause of fossilization.

El arbo envejece como español de escuela secundaria


The worst kind of romaji

I’m not opposed to the type of romaji (Romanized Japanese) that replicates the logic of Japanese phonology, for instance ti for “chi” in words like tintai  (Quick aside – the animated movie Tin Tin is pronounced Tan Tan in Japan because… well just look it up).  Learners just need to be reminded that this is still Japanese, and things don’t magically become comprehensible just because you switched writing systems.  Other languages that use the alphabet have conventions of pronunciation that are different from those of English, and Japanese is entitled to one as well – but of course that’s a different issue than which system of romaji is the most intuitive for English speakers.  For English class, I insist on Hepburn (e.g. Shinshū) rather than Kunrei (Sinsyû) except for names, with the caveat that students who spell their names with Kunrei had better be prepared to walk people through how to pronounce (for example) Syôta Utizima.  Students are regularly shocked when I tell them they can actually spell it Shoughtaugh if they want, but the same rule of being able to explain it applies.  Incidentally, passports require Hepburn romanization.

Anyway the point of this entry is to complain about my least favorite type of romaji ever.  That is the type that is written with the intention of being read katakana-style, and only makes sense when intentionally mispronounced.  Some typical substitutions are kisu for “x” or ru (one of the most common Japanese verb endings) for “l”.  Some marketers use this mispronunciation as fodder for puns, a la vegitabel, where the end is a pun on taberu (eat).  Here are some real-world examples for your pure horror:

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Things I hate about vegetarianism

I got a lot of people mad at me many many years ago by posting in a forum that I thought vegetarianism, which I was much more into at the time, was a very public-minded practice and that it was obvious to me that the more people were vegetarians, the better we’d be.  The people who got the most upset were the vegetarians.  The meat-eaters were indignant, which is a word I’ve always interpreted as “the kind of angry that feels great”.  The vegetarians were just garden-variety angry.  Some vegetarians keep very angry gardens.

The experience got me thinking about how much I agree with the principles that underlie vegetarianism (I still don’t eat meat, but haven’t talked about vegetarianism, much less actively promoted it for years) but hate the cloud of cultural detritus that follows vegetarianism around, such as its quasi-religious view of itself.

In the spirit of the modern Internet I thought I’d organize this post into a list of arguments for and ideas associated with vegetarianism I reject.

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A memorable time at a JALT event

Something happened at a JALT event a few years ago that I still wonder about.

One of the featured speakers at this semi-major event was a very popular, very charismatic teacher of very young learners.  Many presentations at JALT seem like someone’s first public speaking experience – most of mine are like that – but this one was done right.  From the moment the speaker bounded up the steps to the stage in the medium-sized hall she had the audience completed absorbed, getting us involved in simple but fun ways and hitting an arpeggio of emotional notes throughout.  The speech was on the teaching of moral values as a part of a preschool English class, sort of a Very Young Learners version of CLIL, and featured plenty of anecdotes of precocious youngsters educating each other and, for maximum cuteness, the teachers on values such as honesty, patience, and kindness.  As a JALT presentation it was a complete experience with a clear point delivered by a seasoned pro, and despite my issues with the content I was happy to have seen it from near the front.

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