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!”

An Interactive Forum How-To Guide

Interactive Forum is an educational program designed to help Junior High School students in Japan gain confidence in conversational English. The usual Interactive Forum I’ve encountered has two rounds, the first round using easy topics such as school, family, friends, and etc. The second round involves a little more challenging topics such as TV programs, music, and etc. I will be coaching my group of students until August, trying to prep them for the stage.

All too often, I’ve been asked how exactly Interactive Forum practices should be done, and honestly I don’t think there’s one set way. I’ve done it for two years now and I still have trouble every once and a while with my students suddenly going silent and forgetting to speak. I have picked up some tricks and tips along the way, so I hope that these will help others trying to coach as well.

How to Set Up a Practice

Before you even start talking, I recommend setting up the students in a half circle. Let them get used to sitting like this and talking to each other comfortably. It will make it easier to transition onto a stage if they’ve already got some experience talking in that formation.

Also, make sure you’re in a room where you can write on a board. You’ll most likely need to stop and give some grammar points throughout the practice session. If you don’t have a board it takes up much more time to explain a grammar point (especially if you’re coaching alone like I am).

Make sure you have all your materials before you start practice:

-stop watch

-notebook

-dictionary

-pens/penicils

-dry erase markers/ chalk

-(Optional) Interactive Forum Pamphlet

I’ve made a pamphlet for my students that has all the previous years’ topics with English questions and answers. I’ve left some places blank for them to fill in with their own experiences. It’s not absolutely necessary to use one, but I think it makes things easier for students to prep. Also, I like that they can look over the pamphlet to review for practices.

How to Do an Interactive Forum Practice

First, choose a topic. It can be anything from previous topics to something you made up yourself. Then, have every student go around and introduce themselves quickly.

The introduction should go like so:

Hello! My name is (full name).

Please call me (first name or nickname).

I go to (school’s full name in English).

I am ____ years old.

Topic sentence: (Ex. I have four members in my family).

Thank you!

Use the stopwatch and have to students talk for a set amount of time (between 3-5 minutes is best). At a competition, students have to talk about a topic for five full minutes. However, at first it’s best to just get the students talking, so if they’re a little nervous start at 3 and work your way up to 5.

When it’s the first few practices, be involved in the discussions and help keep the flow of conversation going, but don’t be the one dominating the conversation. Try to make sure everybody talks. It’s really important for everyone to not only get a chance to speak but also that the students take the chance they’re given.

It’s a good idea to take notes on things the students have issues with during the conversation. It also helps if your JTE(s) or English Department Head want a report after the practice. If you’ve already got a JTE there, it’s still a good idea to take notes to compare with the JTE after practice.

When you’re finished with one topic, give feedback. If your students need help with a certain grammar point, go over it on the board and have them write it out in their notes. If you need to look up what a word is in English, go ahead and have the students look it up in the dictionary. It’s also important during this time to give praise for what the students did well. I know I’ve made the mistake often of going all American and pointing out everything that’s wrong so they can fix it and we can move on. Don’t do this. It makes students feel like they’re doing nothing right.

After that, move onto a different topic and start the whole process over. Usually, I practice for about an hour each day after school, so I do a topic for five minutes followed by about five minutes for feedback and then a new topic.

Use Different Tactics for Different Types of Students

Students chosen for the Interactive Forum competition are sometimes really confident at speaking. If you’re lucky enough to have a confident communicator, then make that student a kind of co-leader of the practices. Give the student a responsibility to help out the other students. In the Japanese education system, sempai (older students or more experienced students) are often expected in most sport teams and club activities.  Using this cultural element in your Interactive Forum can make your coaching experience smoother than if you try to lead all on your own, since the sempai can help the students later when you’re not able to be there.

Most likely, the majority of students chosen for Interactive Forum will have some trouble speaking up at first. It’s very important that you DON’T FORCE THEM TO SPEAK. They will shut down if you push too hard. Even when you wouldn’t consider yourself being forceful, remember that in Japan forceful and aggressive behavior is scaled in a whole other way than almost anywhere else in the world. Try to make a relaxed atmosphere. When you talk to a shy student, take time to get them to come out of their shell by bringing up things they like.

For shy students, it’s also important to not overly correct them at first. If you spend so much time telling them what they’re doing wrong, they will think they’re failing. Don’t let them think that. Correct small things at first. With more practice sessions will come a better understanding and relationship with your students, and then you can correct whenever you please.

The Non-Verbal Portion

Notice that the competition is about communication. Communication is 63-90% non-verbal communication and students will be scored on it in competitions. Gestures, smiling, eye contact, all of these are important to keep in mind when students are practicing. Make sure you use gestures when you talk with your students. Students will pick up on them if you use them.

I made a sheet of Hand Gestures for my students and we’ve been practicing using them. It’s awkward for Japanese students since they’ve been taught since they were very young not to do hand gestures. I’m not entirely sure why, but hand gestures are generally discouraged in Japanese culture. Getting them into the habit of using them can be a little challenging, but if you are consistent in how you use them then the students will be too.

Make it Fun

The last thing you want to do is make English feel like work. Even though you have so much to teach in a short amount of time and it’s for a competition, be sure students enjoy practicing. Make them laugh with a corny joke, get them to open up about something silly they did with their friends, trade “scandals” about various TV dramas, talk about “who is your type” of guy/girl, and so on. Remember, even though it’s a competition, the best thing you can do as a coach and an English teacher is try to make the lessons you teach stick, both in and outside the classroom. Make it an enjoyable memory that they can associate with English in the future.