I'm living in Kusatsu-shi, Shiga-ken for an undetermined amount of time and teaching English as a second language at a local high school. This journal is to document my experiences, thoughts, and to stay connected with others at home and abroad.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

My First Japanese Speech (Contest) (4/20/2008)

You didn't miss much. I actually missed it myself. Funny story...

I was scheduled to participate in a Speech Contest for foreigners living in Japan back in February, however the morning of the speech I began coughing up blood––肺炎, pneumonia. Nothing like the taste of iron in the morning. Did I mention I've been eating a lot of spinach lately?
So I called up Fujiwara sensei, my teacher, who informed the speech contest committee for me that I would not be participating in the day's event.

If it were an excuse just to write off pre-performance stage fright, it was a pretty weak one, I have to admit. Honestly, I was pretty disappointed; I had worked for about a month writing and correcting the speech with Fujiwara sensei, spent about a week memorizing it, practicing the proper intonation--all for naught.

That was at least until the Yasu International Friendship Association (YIFA) swooped in to the rescue. YIFA is an organization that helps to find volunteer Japanese citizens (such as Fujiwara sensei) to teach foreigners seeking help in their Japanese language studies (me). YIFA requested that I deliver my speech at the annual meeting to discuss the budget and goals of the upcoming year. So on April 20th, I found myself in front of this audience saying the following nonsense:


英語は他の教科に比べてオーラルコミュニケーションが必要だと思います。日本に来て以来今までいろんな誤解を経験しました。一つ例をあげてみます。ある日、私は生徒に「Gotcha, Gotcha」と言ってしまいました。「Gotcha, Gotcha」。皆さん、これは何だか分かりますか。生徒は私が日本語をしゃべったと思ってびっくりしました。それは日本語ではなくて英語で「分かった、分かった」という意味だったのですが。私は日本語で「ガチャガチャ」という言葉がある事を知りませんでした。意味が違うのに、英語と日本語で同じ言葉があるのは面白いですね。
そういう「Gotcha, Gotcha」コミュニケーションを草津高校の生徒と持ちたいのです。ありがとうございました

Yes, completely and utter nonsense. But here's what I think I said in English:

Communication Equals Understanding

At the University of Georgia I studied Japanese for 1 year. While studying my interest in Japan grew. During this time I decided that I wanted to try becoming an English teacher, and in August 2006 I moved to Japan. Now as an English Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) I am teaching at Kusatsu High School. At first I didn't exactly know how to teach English, but I learned on my feet, through practice so to speak, and learned little by little. When it comes to education, learning by doing is one of the most important sills one can acquire.
Compared to other school subjects, in English, I think oral communication is vital. Since coming to Japan I've experienced many misunderstandings due to a lack in this area. For example, one time I said to a student, "Gotcha, gotcha." To the audience: Do people here know what that "Gotcha, gotcha" means? The student was surprised because she thought I was speaking Japanese. Actually, it's an English phrase that means, " 分かった、分かった" in Japanese. I didn't even know that in Japanese there were words such as "Gacha, Gacha" (which sound identical to the English "Gotcha, gotcha"). Though the meaning is different, these homophone between English and Japanese are pretty interesting.
This situation was a fun misunderstanding, but sometimes miscommunication can lead to trouble. Take this gesture for example. Here I gesture the Japanese "come here", which to Westerners looks a lot like you are waving a person away. In America and Japan, it means entirely different things. In America if you do this gesture, you'll say, "Go away" and probably anger the person you're trying to talk to. In order to avoid this kind miscommunication, I think that people should begin from a young age to learn how to communicate in all areas of life, because later in life their will be responsible for their own behavior.
Moreover, misunderstandings guided by stereotypes can cause many problems. If we hold stereotypes toward others, we will most likely lose the ability to communicate with them equally. One stereotype that Westerners have about Japanese people is that they are very quiet, mild people who rarely state their own opinions. However, there are surely many outgoing Japanese who love talking.
On the other hand, Japanese people also have stereotypes about foreigners. For example, there are many people who believe that foreigners don't understand Japanese and can only speak English. I believe both of these thoughts are mistaken. There are many foreigners who can speak Japanese and many foreigners who don't understand English.
If we think only along the lines of our stereotypes, we will mostly like miss out on a variety of chances to learn about and talk with each other. "Because he's American..." or "She's Japanese, so..." those kind of stereotypes are no good for anyone. Isn't communication an important means for us to help understand each other better? If we can learn to communicate better with each other, we can come to understand people we know little about (and hence the stereotypes will also cease to be).
This is the kind of "Gotcha, gotcha" communication I want to share with my students at Kusatsu High School.

It's a little too after-school special for even my taste, but that's the best I could do given my 2+ years of Japanese. It was definitely a good challenge, and it felt really good to be able to express some of those points about stereotypes. Living in one of the most homogenized societies on the Earth (99% Japanese people on these islands), cultural myths, stereotypes––
essentially prejudice and racism––are a part of everyday life. Not matter how polite this may be at times, I believe it's something that should be brought to people's attention, and I'm thankful this speech gave me the opportunity to do so.


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