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Amparo Bertram

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06:37 am: Wrapping up the week
Tuesday I had a full schedule of five classes in a row. It became clear that some of the students in the Listening class were already starting to zone out and just stare blankly at the textbook without even trying to listen whenever the CD came on. (Even so, there were still a lot of students actively volunteering.) The teacher came to discuss it with me, and I could just say that the best thing to do would probably be to include non-textbook activities for variation. In particular, I'd like to stress problem areas (words that sound similar, differences in stress, slurred pronunciation, that sort of thing).

Wednesday the students all went on field trips. Since this left me with no classes, I spent most of my day working on my laptop. I also spent about two hours sewing on the sleeves of my yukata and hemming them.

Yesterday, when I had the Listening class again, I started the class with a big brainstorming session. I asked the students "When is listening important?" and "What makes listening hard?" The students mostly stared at me blankly, not having a clue why I was asking them such things. (Teachers are supposed to lecture, right? They're not supposed to ask students for their ideas....) I finished up by pointing at the list of things on the board and saying that we are going to practice LOTS of those things to help them improve. Even if they can only catch one word today, they should be proud of that one word, and maybe next week they'll catch two or three.

I don't know how much of an effect it had, but I thought the students should at least know WHY they're doing the exercises they're given. What I want to do in future lessons is work in "coping strategies" for what to do when you just can't hear or understand what someone else is saying. Right now a lot of them just give up (often even before an exercise starts) and sit there letting the words go right over their heads. I want to give them tools to pick up at least some meaning from what's being said. The team teacher agreed that we could do a non-textbook activity about once every two weeks (that's every fourth lesson).

Japanese politeness levels can drive anyone crazy. I really only have a very vague grasp on it myself, and most Japanese people don't even understand it completely. I will give you one example that came up yesterday because it was in an official letter to the students' families.

The basic verb meaning "to be" (for a person) is iru. This is the dictionary form, and it is casual. To make it more polite, it becomes imasu.

It doesn't stop there. To make a verb even more polite, it can be put into the passive: irareru.

That, of course, is the plain form of the passive, so to add even more politeness: iraremasu. With me so far?

Here's where it gets tricky. Some words, including this one, have two more forms intended to add even more politeness. One form is used when talking about oneself or one's "in" group, and it's called the "humble" form. The other is used when addressing someone outside the group, and it's called the "honorific" form. In other words, to be polite, you lower yourself and raise the other person, and you must NEVER confuse the two, because that would be extremely rude.

(People do confuse them all the time. But that's another story.)

Humble form of iru: oru/orimasu.
Honorific form of iru: irassharu/irasshaimasu.

By the time you get to orimasu and irasshaimasu, how many levels of politeness have you gone through? I've lost count. So do most Japanese people. They very often get this humble/honorific system mixed up with the earlier technique of putting a verb in the passive...they wind up crossing the two rules. If you put an honorific verb in the passive, they think, this makes it even more polite yet. No, actually, that is considered going overboard.

Here's an even bigger problem: What happens when you put a humble word in the passive? Is it still humble? Or does the passive make it polite?

The correct answer is that it's still humble. It should be a big no-no to use a humble word when addressing someone else, even if you put it (incorrectly) in the passive. Yet people do it all the time. This construction, the word orareru, appears in a lot of the books that I read. I can't help thinking...I know this is wrong, and my grasp of Japanese politeness is shaky at best. Wasn't this book proofread? Did the proofreader not know the difference? Did they leave it because "it's the way people really talk"? What if the character is someone who should know the difference?

People do really say it a lot. I hear it almost every day, and I try to shrug it off. People don't always follow the "rules" when they speak, I know that. But these are teachers. You'd think they'd know better. And then I saw oraremasu in the official letter to the families, and I just had to ask the teacher next to me, "Isn't this wrong?"

No, she assured me, it's correct. I remained dubious, so she asked the Japanese language teacher across from us, and she said it was correct too.

Not satisfied, I ran an internet search on the subject and turned up one more factor: dialect. In the Kansai dialect, the word oru has been substituted for the word iru. Thus it is no longer considered humble--in this dialect--and orareru is perfectly acceptable politeness.

It's WRONG in any other region of the country, though. So beware. (Also note: It will be marked wrong on a test, even if you're taking the test in the Kansai area. DON'T DO IT.)


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From:amilyn
Date:April 21st, 2005 07:48 pm (UTC)
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::beats. head. against. wall::
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From:megory
Date:April 21st, 2005 08:30 pm (UTC)

Another favorite

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Okay, here is another one going into my favorites list. What an interesting example of levels of honor.

I am also interested in the training of the students to listen. We've been playing a "game" in my classes. I've been reading to the students from a Reader's Digest in the target language for three minutes, as much at natural speed as possible. During this time the students play a word capture game trying to write everything they recognize as a word. It can be a word they already know, a cognate, or something during the reading that they begin to recognize as a word unit of sounds. We actually made three columns on their paper labeled "Know," "Cognate," and "New." By the third time, the students just want to put everything in one long list. At first they balked, but now they have fun seeing which class can get the student having the highest number of words. The first time, maybe a third of the second year class got at least twenty words. By the third time, 100% of them got at least twenty words. The highest was 67 words. It is hard to write much more than that in three minutes (in every language). (For this game, spelling doesn't have to be correct.They also don't have to know what the word means.) To kick it up a notch now, they are trying to guess the meaning of the new words they are capturing, to see if they can get the gist of what they are hearing. When my first year students tried it, we just did it for one minute. I have a timer that will ring for us.

Now they are even asking what the story is about, so their interest is getting piqued.

Keep us informed of the way you help them through the listening and understanding strategies. I'd like to use that with my students, too.
Thanks.
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From:spacealien_vamp
Date:April 21st, 2005 11:50 pm (UTC)

Re: Another favorite

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What an interesting example of levels of honor.

It is interesting...when you don't have to use it. This is why I vastly prefer reading, because someone else has to make the decision of what word to use. Imagine having to choose among iru/imasu/irareru/iraremasu/oru/orimasu/irassharu/irasshaimasu/orareru/oraremasu every single time you want to use the verb "to be" and you have to make this choice in a split second as you're talking--and if you pick the wrong one you're considered rude. Oh, and that's not the only verb that does this, it's just one of the more extreme.

I hate talking. Smiling and nodding, that's my thing.

For most purposes, general politeness will do. I can't even manage that half the time, though.

We've been playing a "game" in my classes. I've been reading to the students from a Reader's Digest in the target language for three minutes, as much at natural speed as possible. During this time the students play a word capture game trying to write everything they recognize as a word.

That sounds like a great idea! I'll have to try it.
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From:melf42
Date:April 21st, 2005 10:52 pm (UTC)
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In the Kansai dialect, the word oru has been substituted for the word iru.

Yep, I'll vouch for that. Actually, I think it's gone so far - at least in Hiroshima dialect - that they use oru instead of iru for even things like shite-iru. So then becomes shite-oru which then is shortened to shittoru and confuses the heck out of me.
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From:spacealien_vamp
Date:April 21st, 2005 11:53 pm (UTC)
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So then becomes shite-oru which then is shortened to shittoru and confuses the heck out of me.

^_^ I know I've seen that in manga (they don't say it too much around here, but I think that's because they use an overabundance of the -haru suffix). I just hadn't realized it had completely changed the politeness level.
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From:nitasee
Date:April 22nd, 2005 10:02 am (UTC)
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Japanese politeness levels can drive anyone crazy.

Okay, you've just convinced me that I never ever learn Japanese. I had a hard enough time with the formal/informal forms in German.
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From:spacealien_vamp
Date:April 22nd, 2005 02:50 pm (UTC)
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Okay, you've just convinced me that I never ever learn Japanese. I had a hard enough time with the formal/informal forms in German.

<g> The nice thing is, Japanese people don't expect foreigners to be able to grasp ANY Japanese, so if you know as much as one word, they are shocked and impressed. After that, any little politeness errors are nothing. (This is the only thing that saves me.)
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From:nitasee
Date:April 25th, 2005 09:43 am (UTC)
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That is a relief. To be honest, I'm still trying to find a place in town where I can learn Japanese. You'd think in a city this size, someone would offer it, but I haven't seen anything in the yellow pages. However, I do know a clerk who's studying it, so I just need her to give me the info.

That does lead me to a question I've been wondering about, how prevalent is the study of English over there? I listen to a lot of j-pop that friends send me, and it seems like they drop in English words of phrases more than I would expect which makes me think that there's a fair amount of familiarity with at least a few words here and there. It's not that I expect them to speak English, fluently or otherwise, I'm just curious if that's a very common second language. Do all students study a second language in Japan? And what are languages do they commonly study?
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From:spacealien_vamp
Date:May 1st, 2005 02:40 pm (UTC)
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how prevalent is the study of English over there?

Everyone studies it in school. I know that it's mandatory for all three years of high school, and in the places I've seen it's also mandatory in all three years of middle school. Even elementary schools and nursery schools have ALTs to play English games with little kids.

Just because they study it for 6+ years, however, does not mean they can speak it. There are high school students who still can't answer "How are you?" (Usually this results in a blank/terrified stare, but I have, on more than one occasion, gotten back answers of "Yes.")

Do all students study a second language in Japan? And what are languages do they commonly study?

English is the only mandatory second language as far as I'm aware. My current school also offers Chinese and, I believe, Hungarian. (That's if I'm reading the katakana correctly.) Korean is steadily growing in popularity, and I think some places have German.

In our area, there are a lot of people from Brazil, so Portuguese is a common third language on official documents. I don't think they offer it in schools, though.
[User Picture]
From:nitasee
Date:May 2nd, 2005 01:50 pm (UTC)
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Thanks that explains a lot. I figured there must be a fair amount of exposure to English for so many pop-culture references to appear. I wouldn't have dreamed that every student is required to study English though. That's pretty impressive since a foriegn language isn't required for all American students (thought it should be). I expected Chinese and Korean to be fairly popular second languages considering the region. Hungarian is quite a shock. German makes sense. I'd expect French to be popular too.

Interestingly, I was talking to a young acquantice of mine, a college student who is also studying Japanese at the Japanese-American Institute. She told me that the high school she went to offered classes in Japanese and Chinese, as well as the usual French, Spanish, German and Latin. That surprised me. Maybe times have changed. I don't know. When I was in high school (we're talking mid to late 70's), French and Spanish were generally offered, and if you were lucky German and Latin as well. And mind you, I went to high school in a large city! And a second language wasn't required till I got into college. That's where I studied German. (FYI: I'm self taught - badly - in Latin. And I did take a course in Yiddish as well. Oy!)
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From:spacealien_vamp
Date:May 11th, 2005 04:38 am (UTC)
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Hungarian is quite a shock.

For the record, I found out today that the katakana is actually spelling out "Hangul." I had never heard of this language before, but it is apparently a kind of Korean.
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