Tag Archives: Teaching English as a foreign language

Leaving When Possible

Time has passed so quickly even though I don’t do much. It’s been a year since I’ve written here and even longer since I’ve written about what’s happening in my life.

I’m definitely leaving Japan. I’m just not sure how or when. I have a vague idea of what I want to do now. I want to make things with people. Specifically I want to work on movies or plays. I want to know others who enjoy creating and aren’t afraid to try things. I just need to figure out what my first step should be.

Last I wrote about my life, I had just started a new round of Japanese lessons. I did that for three months, took the JLPT N2 for the third time, and failed by one measly point. Around the same time, I stopped teaching English and started working in the kitchen of a yakiniku restaurant, which was one of the most stressful and demanding jobs I’ve ever had but also fairly rewarding. Every time I went into work, I had to use Japanese. Only Japanese. And I did it and kicked ass, toward the end of it at least. I did it for a year before quitting last month because I wasn’t making as much money as I needed to. I’ve gone back to teaching English, and as much as I don’t like it, I’m feeling better about it now because I’m sure it’s temporary.

I’m leaving Japan.

Also since I last wrote, my husband and I visited my hometown of Los Angeles for a week last August. It had been the first time in over two years that I’d been out of Japan. The whole week I was overwhelmed with how easy it was to live in a first language. I’d forgotten how easy it was. Or maybe I didn’t know it before because I always took it for granted. Even when I spent a year in Nagoya as an international student, I was still able to rely on my first language. My classes were in English, my classmates spoke English, my advisers spoke English. It wasn’t until I moved to Tochigi three years ago that I really felt how frustrating and completely isolating it is to live in a second language.

I realized that my goals and dreams are hard enough of my native language. So why would I waste effort and energy trying to do them in a second language? Especially in a country that doesn’t want me, that I have no reason to be in.

I thought about what has led me here, how I could be so unhappy in the choices I made. I thought about what teenage me had wanted for her future. I thought about the praise my high school teachers and writing instructors gave me. What would they think if they knew I was sat here, unhappy and doing nothing with the talent and ambition they had seen?

I’ve decided this has just been one long detour. It’s time to start carving out a way back to the path I wanted to take originally.

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Goals, Jobs, and the JLPT

New Offical Website of The Japanese Language P...

New Offical Website of The Japanese Language Proficiency Test (Photo credit: Rainbowhill LL)

If you’re interested in Japan, you’ve probably already heard of the JLPT. The Japanese-Language Proficiency Test, or JLPT for short,  is what it sounds like–a test that measures the Japanese ability of non-Japanese, and about 600,000 people take it every year. The test is divided into five levels, going from N5 (the easiest) to N1 (the hardest).

Typically companies in Japan require foreign workers to hold a certificate at the N1 or N2 level, which is why passing the JLPT N2 has been a goal of mine since I started studying Japanese. But it’s always felt like a far-away goal, something that, even now, would still take a year or two of studying to pass.

This July, I sat for the N2 at a local university. I didn’t expect to pass, but at least I would know how close I was to reaching my goal. Last week, the results were posted. I didn’t pass, as expected, but my score was higher than I thought it’d be. Much higher. My listening score, in particular, kicked some ass. I was floored. For a year I’d been beating myself up about how low my Japanese skills are despite studying for five years, but here I am almost reaching my goal. It was a huge boost of confidence.

I’ve been studying Japanese every day since the results, and I plan to sit for the test again in December, this time with a goal of passing. But… if and when I do pass, it will leave me with a decision to make.

Should I keep teaching English and being miserable but being paid well? Or, do I want enter a different job where I have the chance of actually enjoying what I do? If the latter, I’d have to work twice as long for the same about of pay I’m getting now, which would mean less time to write, which is what I actually want to be doing. I just need a job for the money until I get good enough at writing to hopefully make it a career.

Whatever I decide to do, I hope I’ve learned to have more confidence in myself and my abilities, and that goals might be closer than they seem and are reachable as long as you do the work.

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Is It Just Culture Shock?

Every time I write about my feelings toward Japan, I worry I will start sounding like this guy and people will begin to hate me. Well, here I go.

Last week I wrote about losing interest in Japan. I’ve lived here a year now–two if you include my year in Nagoya in 2009–and it’s been five years since I started studying Japanese and about Japan in general. The easy answer for what I’m experiencing would be culture shock… but is that really what I’m going through?

Loneliness, Part 1: Old friends

When people experience culture shock, many mention feeling lonely because they don’t have the same group of close friends and family that they did back home. When I was still in the US, all but two of my friends lived far away, so we were already used to using the internet as our main way to interact. As for my parents, my relationship with them was and is nearly nonexistent, so nothing has changed in how I interact with friends and family.

In fact, I’m less lonely now than when I was still living in the US. Continue reading

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Losing Interest in Japan as an Expat

YokohamaThe more time I spend in Japan, the less I’m here for my own ambitions and the more I’m here because this is where my husband is rooted.

Whenever someone finds out I majored in Asian Studies in college, they say, “So you could become an English teacher?” Definitely not! (Those of you who don’t follow me on Twitter might not know that I teach English and very much dislike it.)

When I chose to study about Asia–specifically Japan–it was not with a post-graduation career goal in mind. You see, growing up, I learned nothing about Asia. Then in college I suddenly had so much information about Asia available to me. My boyfriend (now husband) was Japanese, and all my friends were studying Japanese, and there was an entire academic department dedicated to Asia. It was new and exciting intellectual territory, and I wanted to learn everything. I didn’t have an interest in using my future degree to become a translator or an international consultant in a large company. I just wanted to explore.

Fast forward to now. Continue reading

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How Teaching English Makes a Better Writer

Even though I depend on it for my income, sometimes teaching English seems like a waste of time. But I realized recently that teaching has its advantages for a writer.

On the bad days, teaching English feels like being an academic version of a cabaret hostess. (“You’re a young, pretty American, so they will probably be inspired,” is what an employer once told me minutes before I taught a class of older men. I’ve been uncomfortable ever since.) On the better days, being an English teacher is like being a performer. You speak to an audience, you role-play conversations, and you must have energy even while going over the same material over and over, much like an actor will recite the same lines every night on a stage.

Teaching at the Globe

(Teaching children, by the way, is like being a very specific type of performer: “Laugh at the foreigner, kids! I’m a clown! Please like English!”)

Many have already written about this, but stepping into an actor’s shoes helps make your writing better. In acting, you get to try the material on. You can find out what it sounds like, what it feels like. You can better see what works and what doesn’t. If you have experience being a performer, you know how to better write for the performers who will embody your characters.

There’s another way that teaching English helps. When you teach someone in their non-native language, there will always be a language gap. In order to make the student understand without confusing him, you need to be able to explain things well. You have to be concise—too many words will make your sentences hard to follow and will leave the student with more questions than answers—and you constantly need to search for different words to use, which can help you as a writer understand how words relate to one another, as well as possibly strengthen your vocabulary.

So, until I get paid for  my writing, teaching English isn’t the worst I could be doing.

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