Amparo Bertram (spacealien_vamp) wrote,
Amparo Bertram
spacealien_vamp

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.)
Tags: language, school
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