Perhaps the most popular job among Westerners living in Japan is Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) at a public school.
Anyone who has worked as an ALT before could likely write a book on their observations of Japanese students and all the crazy things they say (or, as is often the case, don’t say) in and out of the classroom. But have you ever stopped to think about how your students are observing you?
A thread on Japanese message board site 2channel titled “Things that often happen in junior high school English” offers some humorous insight.
A list of the “observations,” accompanied by a bit of interpretation from a former junior high school ALT (yours truly), follows below:
1. Everyone is too embarrassed to try and pronounce words with “th” (and so everyone says “za” instead).
2. Told not to use “Pardon?” when asking to have something repeated, even though it’s in the text book (because who actually uses ‘pardon’ like that in everyday conversation?) .
3. “Oops!” (One of the many exclamations students pick up from TV. See also: “Oh mai gah!”).
4. No one actually “repeats after me.”
5. “Open the textbook!”
6. There’s always some person who incessantly uses the newly-learned English right after class.
7. Doing literal translation. Only practicing vocabulary words.
8. “HOTTA IMO IJIRUNA” (translated as “don’t touch the dug-up potatoes!”, a famous phrase that Japanese people use to remember “what time is it now.” Run “掘った芋をいじるな” through a text-to-speech translator to see if you can catch the similarities!)
9. Being forced to watch “Top Gun” or “Footloose.”
10. Someone always pronounces “Monday” as “mondai” (which means ‘problem’).
11. Textbooks chronicling the adventures of Ken, Kumi, Meilin and Mukami. (and don’t forget Ratna!)
12. The black person in the textbook never says anything of any importance.
13. “A: Is this an apple? B: No, it isn’t. It’s a dog.”, and other conversations that no one actually has.
14. Teaching SVO (subject-object-verb) and other crap no one understands.
15. “By the way,”
16. Phrases like “Oh my foot!” catching on at school.
17. Conversing in English even though everyone is Japanese. (Apparently this is strange to Japanese students in an English class.)
18. The Japanese teacher can’t speak enough English to actually teach it.
19. The Japanese teacher doesn’t even try and talk to the ALT.
20. The Japanese teacher’s pronunciation is so bad that even the ALT has no idea what they’re saying.
21. An awkward sense of distance between the ALT and the Japanese teacher.
22. The ALT responding to boys messing around and telling dirty jokes in class with “Haa, you’re crazy!” followed by a forced smile.
23. The Japanese teacher’s English pronunciation is irritating.
24. The Chinese kid that speaks English even though he’s in Japan. I’m talking about you, Wang Ming!
25. The class clown abusing the phrase “Shut up!”
26. The kid who’s back in Japan after living abroad has better English than the teacher.
27. Sending a teacher from the UK even they teach American English.
And there you have it! While surely not an exhaustive list, it does prove that the kids aren’t completely spacing out during class.
▼ Emma and Wang Ming (New Crown) discuss racial differences