Thursday, 15 August 2013

Japan Prep ~ When the Teacher Becomes the Student

So I’m still waiting in the land of limbo. I have no confirmed date for Japan and I won’t get a location until much later so my ability to start really preparing for the move has been delayed.

Irrespective, however, I have managed to find something that will aid in my transition into Japan so as soon as I was able, I booked myself into a ten week Japanese beginner course with United Internation College (UIC).

I had my first lesson this evening and found myself amongst six other likeminded people all shy and British but with one common desire. And as the lesson progressed, I couldn’t help but notice two things.

      a) I knew quite a bit already

Everything that we learned today was stuff I knew already and I’m pretty damn sure that my general pronunciation was pretty accurate. In fact, I was so self aware of how much I knew that whenever I was called upon to speak, my voice got lower and lower until a fellow student had to ask me to speak up. I guess I didn’t want to stand out or seem arrogant, but I knew it all already. Fundamentally, today’s lesson was revision for me.

What was useful, however, was the hiragana worksheet the teacher gave us towards the end of the lesson. I recall learning hiragana towards the end of last year and after I stopped learning Japanese in my pursuit to find work in the very same country, I knew that I’d forgotten some of the characters so re-learning them is going to be pretty damn helpful.

      b) Our teacher was either really nervous or really incompetent

I kept thinking to myself that I’d shelled out the better part of £200 for this course. I hadn’t really read up on it but not only was it within my price range but it was also the only course available that ran during the time period that I needed it for. (The only other course on offer within the same price range started in October and I was thinking that by then, it might be too late).

I’ve done a language course in the past with Cactus (this course was Spanish) and their teaching method involved full immersion meaning that very little English – if any at all – was used in the classroom. During my CertTESOL course, I experienced this as well and I have to say that I think this method is awesome. (In truth, I think they should introduce it into the British curriculum really. Everyone else the world over can speak English but the English can’t seem to speak sod all; it’s embarrassing). All you hear is the language you’re learning and you have to really tune in to gain understanding and find your way around it. And when you do find your way around it, it’s rewarding and by remembering that achievement, I believe you retain what you’ve learnt more so, but that’s a little psychological input for another time.

Anyway, for some strange reason, I expected that I’d be walking into a mini-Japanese classroom but in actuality, our teacher – while Japanese – spent half the lesson speaking in English. And maybe this was useful for the complete beginners in the room – one of whom couldn’t get his tongue around certain things (poor guy went bright red as he was usually called to say something first) – but I wanted that full immersion. I wanted to get a bit lost and try to find my way home. I wanted a big fat slice of Japan in my hand.

In addition, I noticed that our teacher had to continually refer to her notes. The lesson wasn’t delivered smoothly and there were times when there were silences whereby we were left idol.

I guess I can’t help but evaluate the lesson as a fellow teacher about to enter the field. I recall during my CertTESOL course when we were asked to evaluate other teachers in addition to ourselves and also, when our trainers would give us feedback after we taught a lesson. One of the things we learnt was that there were to be no silences. We were encouraged to get the students talking, whether it be to the teacher or to one another. So I look to those silences during the lesson today where our teacher was shuffling with handouts and I think to myself that these were school-boy (or in her case, “school-girl”) errors.

In a sense however, I’m probably being a little too critical of her because she seems to be quite a nice lady but maybe, just like me, she’s new to the field. Maybe standing in front of a classroom full of people got the best of her. Maybe that’s why she dropped some of the handouts behind her desk. (And believe me, I know how that feels. My second lesson during my TESOL course was a complete and utter disaster and I didn't just drop sheets of paper either). Or maybe she’s just really Japanese and quite shy. And as for her teaching methods – TEFL Lab had some of its own methods – maybe UIC has its own as well.

So, today was lesson one and even though I wonder whether it was money well-spent, I’ve still got nine more lessons to go so I’ll pass judgement upon completion. I Just hope I’m going to be able to learn how to string together more sentences that will help me during my time in Japan.

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