Results for tag "teaching-english-in-japan"

Travel Videos from Around the Web

The following are some of my favorite travel-inspired video clips.   I’m sorry they’re so small! I have no idea how to make them bigger… Enjoy.  : )

The English Teachers Series


This is the first episode in a series that centers around English teachers in Japan.

I love the Neville character. He reminds me a lot of someone I used to work with in Tokyo who belonged to this weird, cult-like sect of Buddhism and who would spend part of each of class teaching his students karate moves.

You can visit the show’s website for future episodes or for character sketches and a plot synopsis.  I can’t wait to see where they go with this.

Where the Hell is Matt?


Matt was once just another unemployed backpacker in SE Asia until one day…Well, I’ll let him tell you.

Here’s an exert from the ‘About Matt’ page on his blog,  Where The Hell is Matt?

“A few months into his trip, a travel buddy gave Matt an idea. They were standing around taking pictures in Hanoi, and his friend said “Hey, why don’t you stand over there and do that dance. I’ll record it.” He was referring to a particular dance Matt does. It’s actually the only dance Matt does. He does it badly. Anyway, this turned out to be a very good idea.

A couple years later, someone found the video online and passed it to someone else, who passed it to someone else, and so on. Now Matt is quasi-famous as “That guy who dances on the internet. No, not that guy. The other one. No, not him either. I’ll send you the link. It’s funny.”

The response to the first video brought Matt to the attention of the nice people at Stride gum. They asked Matt if he’d be interested in taking another trip around the world to make a new video. Matt asked if they’d be paying for it. They said yes. Matt thought this sounded like another very good idea.”

Pretty awesome story, huh?

“Life on a Cruise Ship” – A Rap


You probably won’t appreciate this video if you haven’t worked for a cruise line before.  But if you’re interested in giving ship-life a shot, this will give you a good idea of how small the crew cabins are and what it looks like below deck.

A Comedian Jokes about the Hazards of Air Travel


You can tell this video is pre-911 because he jokes about an era when there were still curtains separating coach from first class and there was still free in-flight food services.

Prague’s Kafka International Named Most Alienating Airport


Favorite line from a customer service agent:   “If there is a problem, fill out complaint form and put it in an envelope addressed to the hospital…in which you were born.”

One-Year-Old Snow-Boarder

Okay, so this one doesn’t have much to do with travel, other than it relates the theory that the way to raise brave, risk-taking children is to start ‘em while they’re young.

Dating When You’re A Broad: It Ain’t Easy!

A Couple in the Dark by Carlo Nicora

I don’t write about my dating life on this blog much (or at all, really).  When you write about your life on the Internet, you gotta draw the line somewhere and I guess that line for me is discussing details of Relationships Past, Present or Future.  I think it’s important to respect people’s privacy, which is why I don’t write about my friends or family much either (other than the occasional, casual mention).  That, and most people I know aren’t as comfortable sharing their lives with faceless strangers from the Internet.

Fair enough.  Sometimes I’m not even sure I’m comfortable with it, especially when I’m applying for jobs and some of my most personal thoughts and feelings are only a Google-search away from a prospective employer’s eyes.  It’s an odd feeling to walk into a job interview and wonder if the manager seated before you has read about that time you set off the fire alarm in the shower or the time James Franco almost fell in love with you. It’s situations like that that make me wonder if I’d be better off blogging anonymously.

Especially when I get concerned phone calls from my parents that begin with:  “I read your blog today…about how you got into a fight with the photocopy machine again….” And end with:  “Reannon, are you sure you’re okay?”

Recently I broke my vow of silence though and submitted a piece to Vagabondish about how tough it was being single in Tokyo.  I actually wrote the piece over a year ago, while I was still living in Japan and submitted it to a few Japan-based magazines and webzines and was told (and I quote) “We get pitched this idea too often.”  While it was reassuring to know that I wasn’t the only one who found the dating prospects in Japan to be well, limited to say the least, it was also perplexing.  If there were other women writing about how they had trouble finding a date in Tokyo, why wasn’t anyone publishing anything about it?

Well, if you were like I was a year ago, a single girl in Japan suffering through both Valentine’s Day (and the equally offensive White Day) with only your boyfriend pillow for company, well you can rest assured that at least there were – and still are – others suffering along side you.

Like one of my favorite bloggers, Sarah Marchildon of The Hollywood North Report, for example.  She writes about her dating pitfalls in Japan far better than I ever could (they’re equal parts hilarious and depressing) and provides details that I’d be far too embarrassed to have splashed on the Internet.  I’m grateful that she had the courage to include them.  My favorite posts of hers were Man Hunt and Man Hunt: Part II.

And then there’s my article:  No Sex in the City:  What it’s like to be Female and Foreign in Japan.

It’s ironic that some of the qualities that make it possible for western women to move to a foreign country by themselves to begin with (their strength and independence, for instance) are the same qualities that damn them to lives of celibacy once they get there.  My male friends have claimed that I’m stereotyping men everywhere with this theory, so you’ll have to let me know what you think.  But it’s my opinion that the reason women have trouble dating (locals and foreigners alike) while abroad is that men (in general) are intimidated and threatened by women who are independent and emotionally strong enough to pack up and ship off half way across the world alone.

I could be wrong (and I seriously hope I am, because being right would mean that I’m never going to find a boyfriend ever again) but this article about which sports men find sexiest, certainly suggests that I could be onto something.  According to a poll of 6,000 people, which was conducted by Sam Murphy and Richard Wiseman (a fitness expert and a professor from the UK), men ranked aerobics, pilates, ‘going to the gym’ and running as the sexiest female sports.  Women, on the other hand, found rock-climbing to be the physical activity they found most attractive on men (an activity that unlike ‘going to the gym’ is an actual sport).  Professor Wiseman’s theory for the difference in gender-preferences was this:

“Women’s choices appear to reflect the type of psychological qualities that they find attractive – such as bravery and a willingness to take on challenges – whilst men are more shallow, looking for a woman who is physically fit but not challenging their ego by being overly strong.”

So brave men who read this blog, what do you think?  Do you find women who live (or have lived) abroad ‘challenging to your ego’ or is this all a bunch of feminist BS?

Are Japanese and American Children Really all that Different?

I spent all of last week shuttling back and forth between my old job teaching (mostly North American) pre-schoolers at an International school, and my new job, teaching ESL at a Japanese after school preschool program. The whole experience was exhausting (imagine working for nine hours straight, all of your students under the age of six) but the experience got me thinking.

Are Japanese and American three-year-olds really all that different?

My Japanese boss believes that answer is a definite ‘no’. She believes all children are basically the same, especially at the preschool age.

My ESL teacher friends have all sounded in with a resounding “Hell yes”. As more than one friend put it “Japanese kids are really, really weird.”

Here are some of my observations from the last few days.

Five Differences Between Japanese and American Children

* Japanese children tend to ‘shut-down’ when they’re upset. I’ve noticed that if a Japanese child is either angry, sad, bored or just doesn’t want to do something, he or she will give you this blank, expressionless ‘poker face’ look (that is, if they look at you at all). They won’t acknowledge they’ve heard you and won’t even respond when you tap them on the shoulder or say their name. It’s perplexing because you’re left try to surmise why it is they’re upset, (or if that’s even the case). I used to think that it was because they couldn’t articulate their feelings in English, but I’ve watched them do the same thing with the Japanese staff. The Japanese teachers will usually try to joke around in order to coax a smile out of them, or else cuddle them and heap lots of praise and encouragement.
My reaction is to assume it’s an attention seeking behavior and ignore it, but maybe I’m wrong?


American children do this too and might say things like: “I’m not talking to you!” and then go sit in the corner and pointedly ignore you, but it usually doesn’t last more than a minute or two. I find with American children, it’s fairly easy to discern what they’re feeling, mostly because they won’t hesitate in telling you. Or it’ll be written all over their expressive little faces. But then, perhaps someone not familiar with American children wouldn’t say that it’s easy.


* Japanese kids are used to being ‘man-handled’. I’ve observed this happening a lot, especially when mother’s drop their children off at school. If the child is in a bad mood and doesn’t want to go, he won’t say a word but will instead, just sit on the floor and refuse to budge. No screaming. No crying. No tears. Just the silent treatment and the ‘poker face’. It’s uncomfortable to watch, because the mom (embarrassed), will whisper and speak softly in the child’s ear, pleading and trying to gently pull him into a standing position, but to no avail. After about five minutes, she’ll pick him up and carry / drag / yank / pull / push the motionless child into the room. He’ll then silently walk back out of the classroom and drop like a dead weight onto the hallway floor and the whole process will start all over again.

When teaching, I’ve found that I can quite easily maneuver a child around by gently pushing him or her in the direction I want her to go. Or if I want a misbehaving child to sit, I can simply pick them up and place them in a chair. This isn’t true with American children. If you try to coax a child into a line by pulling them by the hand, for example, he or she will likely shout: “I can do it by myself!”

* Japanese children are fiercely competitive…from a very young age! They seek adults approval and are perfectionists. They won’t offer an answer to a question unless they are sure that it’s the correct one. This makes games hard to play at times, because the children are hesitant to just ‘take a wild guess’, which is often necessary for a game to work properly. It’s interesting because even though they’re competitive, it’s usually only with themselves. Every time we play a game and a child is struggling with an answer, another student (even someone from the opposing team, will whisper the answer in the child’s ear. It’s sweet and adorable but I’ve got to wonder: Why? Does it have to do with the whole group culture orientation, (“I help you, you help me”?) Or is it that they can’t stand to see one of their classmates uncomfortable or embarrassed?

American children, on the other hand, have no problem volunteering an answer, and won’t hesitate to shout out an answer, oftentimes when the teacher hasn’t even asked for one. For the most part, they’re a lot more uninhibited and more willing to take risks. I guess that can be attributed to the American educational concept that “there are no wrong answers”. They also have an ‘every man for himself’ attitude towards games and will be quick to shout out “Hey, he cheated!” or “That’s not fair! You helped him!”

* Japanese children need ‘genki’teachers! It’s funny, because when I first started working at the international school, one of my boss’s criticisms was that I was ‘too energetic’. “Speaking in a loud, overly-excited voice, just adds to the chaos and will make the children more rowdy and disruptive. Speak in a normal, quiet, soft tone of voice and they will calm down and listen to you.” This is more or less what I was told, and it really worked. At the Japanese school, however, my boss told me that I need to be more ‘genki’ (excited, energetic and expressive). At first, I balked at the idea. I follow the philosophy that if you plan an interesting, fun lesson, you shouldn’t have to work hard to encourage the children to participate. They’ll naturally want to join in because it’s fun. But I think that because Japanese children are quieter and more timid than American or Western children, they need an energetic teacher to ‘show’ them how to have fun.

* Japanese children love silly, physical humor! That’s another reason why the ‘Genki teacher’ thing seems to go over well. Children love it when the teacher ‘accidentally’ trips over a chair or messes up the words to a song. One of the best teaching tricks to use with Japanese children, is to intentionally get an answer wrong and have them correct you. They never seem to grow tired of this and will gleefully shout out: “Noooo! That’s wrong!” ‘High Fives’, sound effects, funny drawings on the board…these all go over amazingly well in the Japanese classroom.

American children aren’t so quick to buy into it, however. If a teacher ‘accidentally’ dropped his flashcards in front of a class of pre-school American students, for example, they’d more than likely roll their eyes in annoyance.

My boss pointed out that perhaps a lot of my observations have less to do with the fact that my students are Japanese and more to do with the fact that they’re non-native English speakers and in an ESL setting.

What do you think?

Would You Date One of Your Students?

Every unmarried female ESL teacher who’s under 50 and teachers adults has been asked out by a student at least once. It’s inevitable.

It’s always awkward when this happens because due to the cultural and language barriers you’re never entirely sure how to interpret it.

Does “Do you want to go out for a drink with me?” mean…?

A. I want you to be my token (insert name of English speaking country) friend

B. I want to practice my English but don’t have the money for private lessons

C. I want to date you, you hot thing you

D. All of the above

I’ve always assumed that other teachers thought as I did, that it was unprofessional (adult students or not) to see a student outside of class, even if just on a ‘just friends’ basis.

But then I moved to Japanland, a country where “ESL class” appears to be synonymous with “Match-making Service” because I’ve met quite a few ESL teachers who’ve dated a student. One of my friends even married one!

And the same goes for Japanese language teachers as well.

Last week, during one of my Japanese lessons, the other student in my class casually asked my Japanese teacher out.

The dude had been heavily coming on to her, touching her hand and inquiring as to whether she was married or had a boyfriend. At one point, he even winked at her. But it still came as a surprise when he (in the middle of the class!) asked her to ‘go out to dinner’ with him. I just stared down at my text book in uncomfortable silence, feeling embarrassed for them both and wondering how’d she go about turning him down gently.

But then she smiled and gave him this wide-eyed look and said yes! I about fell off my chair.

Is it really that easy? Is this the latest in dating trends and I’ve been missing out?

It’ll be interesting to see what transpires. Next thing I know, they’ll probably be married and pregnant and I’ll have to find a new teacher.

ESL Teaching Tips: How to Discipline Problem Students

Teaching English in Japan is a challenge. I think that one of the greatest hurdles to overcome as a new teacher here, is coming to terms with the fact that English class isn’t about learning English. If it were, teaching would be lot easier.

English class is first and foremost about having fun. It’s viewed by many parents as a sort of extracurricular activity, akin to gymnastics or soccer. And to some, it’s viewed as a babysitting service. But it’s not typically viewed as an opportunity to gain a language skill. And therein lies the problem.

English classes in Japan are just too much fun. Children don’t know how to react; it’s confusing. They don’t have the ability to see it in a classroom, teacher/student context because it’s unlike any classroom experience they’ve ever had. And that, in my opinion, is the reason why so many students are unruly and frequently misbehave.

Imagine for a moment, that you are a Japanese three- year-old on the first day of English class. And upon taking that first hesitant step into the classroom, you discover that your teacher is a green-skinned, one-eyed alien. This alien jumps around singing and dancing, shouting in a harsh-sounding animal language and gesturing wildly. Then she tries to get you to do the same. Understandably, you balk at the idea. Just who is this crazy person?

Eigo no sensei. That’s who.

So from that perspective, it’s easy to understand why an ESL teacher would have to work very hard to gain any sort of respect or authority in the classroom. Especially when the majority of the lesson is centered around getting the children keyed up and excited to sing and play. Of course they’re going to act out. They’re going to test the teacher. They’re just kids, after all.

But there are some discipline techniques I’ve found to alleviate some of the behavior problems…and some I’ve found that didn’t. And I thought I’d share both of them with you, being that when I’ve google-searched this topic in the past (as it specifically related to Japanese children), I’ve rendered very few results. And much of the advice on the web isn’t practical for the ESL classroom or can’t be applied to Japanese children, (who are prone to be far more sensitive to criticism than children of other cultures).

If you do try them out, let me know how they worked!

The Do’s and Don’ts of Discipline in the ESL Classroom:

Don’t expect teacher’s aids to help you!

It’s nice when they do, but I wouldn’t depend on it. From my experience, many of them are young, inexperienced and incredibly hesitant and unsure of themselves when it comes to disciplining students. I once saw a child pants a Japanese teacher, (in front of the entire class) and she did nothing but scold him in a soft, non-threatening, barely audible voice. Plus, I think they hesitate in coming to your rescue, because they believe that they would be encroaching on your territory and undermining your authority. Remember, you’re the boss while you’re in front of the class teaching, even if you only teach those children from ten minutes per week.

Don’t expect the parents to help you!

I’ve written extensively about this, which you can read about here and here and here While some parents will step in and help if they see their child misbehaving, most won’t. Parents have watched as their child slapped me across the face…and they did nothing. The sooner you can accept the reality of this, the better off you’ll be. But don’t be afraid to discipline them, even if the parents are in the room! The parents want to see that you can control the classroom, and they want you make sure their kid stays in line. They see that as part of your responsibility as a teacher.

Don’t be embarrassed to yell!

I normally wouldn’t recommend yelling at your students, but I think that in an ESL classroom where Japanese isn’t allowed to be spoken, it’s often necessary to get your point across. You can’t exactly say: ” Now Koichi, how do you think your classmate feels when you hit him?” to a Japanese three year old. But you can get down to his eye level, look him right in the eyes and say in a stern, loud voice: “NO!”

Don’t use the “teacher look!”

You know the look. One raised eyebrow. A pointed stare. Pursed lips. Yeah, that doesn’t work in Japan. They don’t know that the ‘evil eye’ means “Uh-oh I better stop my naughty behavior before the teacher gets mad!” So don’t use it. They’ll most likely stare at you in bewilderment.

Don’t go silent in hopes that they’ll stop talking!

I’ve stopped the class in the past and stared at the students pointedly, hoping that they’d get the message and stop talking. But it never worked. They just continued talking, oblivious. The whole thing actually backfired on me when parents complained to my boss that I couldn’t control the class! I guess that technique isn’t used in Japan.

Don’t take it personally when they hit you!

This one took me a long time to get over. My kindergarten and pre-school students never failed to run up and whack me. Hard. Usually on my behind. I’d get so insulted. So indignant. Like, excuse me but I’m not Mickey Mouse! But I guess to them, I am. They like to hit the funny-looking foreigner to test my reaction but also to get a laugh out of their friends.

Instead…Teach them the High Five! Kids hit you mostly because they’re so excited to see you, they just can’t contain themselves. They don’t know how to tell you using words, so they hit. I taught them all “high five!” and now when they see me on the playground, they run up and yell ‘high five!’ and we slap hands, instead of them slapping some inappropriate body part of mine. For my older students (five year olds), I teach them different variations on the high five. Google them. There are a ton.

What to do when they hit: (a side note)
Don’t let them get away with it! Ever! They need to learn straight away that foreigners are not punching bags! I don’t get angry, I usually just make a big show of looking hurt. I over-react, as in “Ouch!!!! That really, really hurt!” That usually embarrasses them out of doing it again.

Do Make a List of Class Rules! Make the list short, (I limit mine to three 1.Listen to the teacher, 2. No hitting, 3. Speak English). I know that saying ‘no hitting’ presents the rule in a negative form, but the more positive ‘use your words instead of your hands’ is a harder point to get across to low-level ESL students. I use these three rules because they’re visually easy to demonstrate (act out the physical act of hitting, point to your ear to imply listening, etc.) but ultimately I don’t think it matters what the rules are. The point of setting rules is to establish your authority as a teacher. Review them every class for your first few weeks of teaching, especially if you have a particularly rowdy class.

Start each Lesson with Teaching and Reviewing Commands!
In my afternoon classes, I’m often alone with groups of up to 10 four-year-olds. When I first started teaching, the students would often run out of the classroom and I’d be left chasing them down the hallway hollering “Stop!” (which they didn’t understand) or banging on the bathroom stall door, (where they’d locked themselves) pleading with them to “please open the door”. After that, I realized that it was vital that I make sure they can understand basic commands and can articulate necessary requests, for safety reasons more than anything else.

So I made lists of important, useful phrases and would spend entire classes drilling them into their memories. I’d have each child take turns roll playing and reciting the phrase. Then I would test them at the beginning of each class, (pantomiming drinking water, for example, in order to elicit “water please”). Some example phrases were “Toilet please”, “Water please”, “Sit down”, “Ouch!” “Stop”, “Don’t touch”, “Don’t do that!” “Don’t move”, “Be careful”, “Listen!” “Open/Close” “Where is your….(book? pencil? bag?)” Etc.

I found that, more than anything else, this helped in establishing my authority. It provided rules and order and much needed safety.

Do get the Parents Involved! If the parents sit in during your lesson, get them involved! Give them flashcards to hold. Have them join in on the dances and songs. This shows the child that you (the teacher), have an authority over their mommy or daddy and that mommy and daddy listen and respect you. I actually don’t do this very often…but I’ve heard from other teachers who do it all the time, and swear by it! The few times I’ve tried in the past to get the mom’s to participate in the Old McDonald song for example, (which involves snorting like a pig and clucking and flapping your arms like a chicken), they usually turned beat red and sort of froze up. I felt so bad for them that I didn’t ask them to do it again.

The Point System! This is an old standby…and it works. Assign a number of points to each student (write them next to their name on the board). Every time they misbehave, erase a point. I usually do this with the “no Japanese rule”, so that anytime I hear Japanese, I erase a point. This usually greatly decreases the number of fights and disagreements for the simple reason that they don’t have the language ability to insult one another in English.

Three Strikes and You’re Out!
The ‘x’ next to a child’s name works especially well in Japan because the ‘x’ symbol is the nation-wide symbol for ‘no’ or ‘don’t’. So it’s a great visual. The rule is, is that if a student gets three ‘x’s’ next to his name, I have them sit out of the next game. But it’s only ever gotten that far once or twice. Usually, one ‘x’ next to their name is all it takes to get them to behave.

The Bomb

My supervisor taught me this one. Draw a bomb on the side of the board with a really long wick. After reviewing the class rules, demonstrate what will happen each time a rule is broken (erase a bit of the wick). When the bomb explodes (draw it exploding) show them your best ‘mean teacher face!’ Try not to make it look comical…practice in front of the mirror at home.
Note: The above tips are just my opinion and based solely on my limited time teaching in Japan. So take all of the advice above with a grain of salt! I recognize that some of these techniques might be seen as negative reinforcement, and therefore, not an ideal way to discipline misbehaving students.

From my experience though, sometimes negative reinforcement is the only thing that works! I know that shaming and scolding methods are used in the Japanese school system and I’ve seen cram school teachers hit their students (not hard, of course, but in order to get their attention). So while I don’t condone any of those methods, I think they show how a sort ‘tough love’ approach is often expected of teachers here.