Translating My JTE’s English


I’ve worked in Japan for awhile, so I’ve come to realize that my Japanese Teachers of English speak a certain kind of English that has all the right vocabulary and grammar for English, but all too often also uses Japanese politeness, indirectness, and “feeling the air” kind of sentences.

It goes something like so:

JTE– “Maybe we won’t have time to do it. Maybe next class we will have more time for your activity. Is that alright?”

Translation– “We don’t have any time for your shenanigans. Next time, ok?”

JTE – “Can you help me?”

Translation– “Help me, woman! Why are you just standing there?”

JTE– “Can you come with me to class?”

Translation-“Class is about to start. You are not in class. Go there now!”

JTE-“Maybe that’s too difficult.”

Translation-“That’s too difficult for me to understand. Explain it better or scrap the whole thing. Jeez, this is your second year, Jessica, get on it!”

JTE– “I want you to (do something). Do you have time? I know you are so busy.”

Translation– “We need this (thing) done by (this time). Please and thanks.”

JTE-“I’m sorry. I think that maybe you might have to help me (with something). I think maybe it’s (sometime). Can you come?”

Translation-“Hey, I need your help (with something). Come to (this place) at (this time).”

JTE– “I want students to do some more (practice work of some sort). Hmm, what do you think?”

Translation– “Agree with whatever I am saying. I don’t actually want your opinion.”

JTE– “I think that maybe your (thing) needs a little more work. I don’t know how students will like it. So….”

Translation– “I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but this idea is super dumb. NO!”

JTE– “Jessica, do you have a moment?”

Translation– “This is my only window of opportunity to talk to you. If you can’t talk to me now you won’t get to talk to me the whole rest of the day.”

JTE– “I was thinking about class tomorrow. Maybe a game would be best. I’m not sure. So…”

Translation-“Think of something to take up the whole class time. I don’t want to do a lesson! I’m sick of lessons! Give me a game, for the love of GOD!”

JTE– “Tomorrow the classes might be a little different.”

Translation– “Everything will be absolutely confusing tomorrow. Come in ready to deal with not knowing what’s going on. No, we won’t post the changes until tomorrow morning, and even then, those might change as the day goes on. Enjoy!”

If you notice a pattern, usually questions aren’t questions. They are orders masquerading as questions. It actually took me a good couple of months at the beginning to get the hang of it. At first I would take it to mean I had the option of not doing whatever it is my JTE was talking about, but that is simply not true. Whatever they’re “asking” for me to do, odds are I’m supposed to do (or supposed to have already done it, oops).

Sometimes I have more of a challenge, with teachers speaking a lot at once and I have to try and understand what exactly they want from me. It can get a little mind bending trying to figure out what’s important and what’s not.

For example:

JTE– “When we do class tomorrow, I want students to (do something). Maybe the lesson is kind of difficult. I think that they will be very, how do you say? [Take a moment to figure out the right word] Challenging! Yes. Maybe it’s a little bit challenging for them. So I think we must make it easier to understand. I’m not sure how to make it easier, but I want them to have fun and understand, too. I think a game is good, but we also need to do the lesson plan. My lesson plan is a little complicated, so it will take some time. So…How do you feel about it?”

Translation-“This lesson plan is going to be a pain to teach. I want you to help me make it fun. Game, song, anything is cool, but they’ve got to learn the grammar point at the same time. Give me ideas. Ready? Go!”

It can take a long time to figure things out, but I should say that it’s worth taking the time to do it. Communication with JTEs is integral to making a good lesson plan so students can actually learn. Forming a working relationship with JTEs makes teaching much easier. Even if it’s sometimes confusing, I know that I’m really lucky to have JTEs that not only speak English but are more than willing to talk to me in English. I’m quite blessed.

For example:

JTE- “Jessica, I think that you are doing a good job teaching. Thank you for your hard work! I hope we can teach English again after the summer break.”

Translation– “Yes, I was trying to make you cry. Love you!”

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