Spend enough time teaching a foreign language, and eventually you’ll find yourself in a situation where you have to stop and ask yourself whether your job, which ordinarily involves correcting how your students speak, also includes correcting what they’re saying. For example, I once had a teen pupil declare that “Being good looking is the only thing that’s important.” After a moment of consideration, I decided that trying to fix that shallow philosophy was above my pay grade, so I told her, “OK, nice grammar” and left it at that.
Still, when working with kids, it’s nice to impart a useful life lesson when the opportunity to do so relatively gently presents itself, as it did for one expat in Japan who reminded his young English-learning student of the difference between anime and real life.
Foreign vocabulary and phrasing always sticks better in your memory when it’s connected to a real experience, and shaking lessons up and letting students do something other than rote memorization or one-possible-answer drills is a good way to keep boredom from setting in. Those are both potential upsides to having students write about what they did over summer vacation, which is a pretty common assignment in English classes in Japan.
While we’re sure a lot of the resulting compositions are about hanging out with friends or taking a family trip, one English-learner in Yokohama came back from the summer break with a much more exciting story to tell. The English he used to convey the tale was pretty solid, too, and after a handful of corrections, reads:
“Then I crashed into someone.
I said, ‘I’m sorry’ then I noticed the person was a woman.
She had short red hair, almond-shaped eyes and she was wearing a black and pink colored yukata.
She said ‘I’m sorry too.’
I asked her ‘Are you injured? What’s your name?’
She said “Nothing. My name is Nishikino Maki.
My friend is waiting for me. See you!’
I fell in love at first sight with her.
It was my best memory.”
Wow, that sure beats “I stayed up past my bedtime every night” of “I ate all the ice cream in the freezer and got sick, but it tasted sooooo good!”
But a redhead, huh? That’s pretty unusual in Japan, since schools generally don’t allow students to dye their hair. And that name, which would be Maki Nishikino if it was said Western-style, with the given name first, is pretty dramatic. It sounds like the name of an anime character, or a pop idol.
▼ Or both!
Yep, it turns out that this love-struck lad’s object of affection was none other than the Maki Nishikino, one of the schoolgirl vocalists from mega-hit idol anime Love Live!
Popular as Love Live! may be, though, it’s a fairly recent phenomenon, with the franchise having just kicked off in 2010. Outside the otaku community, its characters aren’t as instantly recognizable as, say, the cast of Dragon Ball, Evangelion, or the films of Studio Ghibli. But while the enhanced reality of this student’s sentimental summertime story may have fooled a less pop culture-savvy educator, it wasn’t getting past his English teacher, who not only corrected his spelling and grammatical errors, but also added a special message to let his pupil know he was aware of exactly who Miss Nishikino really is.
Sitting here grading papers on "My Best Memory from Summer Vacation" and this shows up. Anime has gone too far. http://t.co/ZhvQE2zjLs—
AMERIKAJIN (@jiyunaJP) August 26, 2015
The tweet and photo come from Twitter user @jiyunaJP, an American teaching in Yokohama. And while he felt it wise to remind the student that “Love Live is not real!”, odds are he’s not totally disapproving of the passion the boy has for his hobby considering that the teacher also has a YouTube channel dedicated to Japanese fighting video games.
And hey, while using real-life experiences can help language-learners retain what they’ve been studying, so can speaking about something they’re emotionally invested in and feel strongly about, and the student’s admiration for his anime muse seems to qualify. A non-native speaker slipping the phrase “almond-shaped eyes” into his prose, and even remembering the hyphen? That kid may have to add “linguist” to his list of titles, right next to “otaku.”