“Going? To die?”
“No - today.”
“How. Are. You. Today?”
“Aah…” recognition rippled across my students’ faces, “you mean today?”
I stood slightly bewildered in front of my first English language class in Tokyo, carefully picking my way through my sentences as I struggled to make myself understood in my native tongue.
Hang on, I was speaking English! Whad’yamean they don’t understand me? Fair dinkum, it wasn’t like I was speaking Greek. Or Japanese. I dunno, maybeineedtoslowdown… or… pause… between… words…is… that… better?
Why it’s difficult to understand Australians
Once my Japanese students got over my accent, we focused on the finer grammatical details such as:
I taught adults, mainly businessmen, although I had three wonderful housewives and a group about to head off to English-speaking lands on an international exchange program.
How to hug an Australian
“So Hari, have you taught your students how to hug yet?”
“Err… I was going to wait for a couple of lessons.”
“Well, I think you can demonstrate this now,” my supervisor insisted. Tomoko had spent a year on exchange in the United States and was a hugging expert.
These students were undertaking cultural studies as part of their English language program. They would work as teacher aides in England, America, Canada and Australia; learning to hug their foster families was therefore a crucial tool.
“Tomoko, they’re not ready yet. I think we should start with shaking hands.”
As a Greek, I was used to kissing family and friends on the cheek, but had not fully embraced hugging at that stage in my life.
I was also in a culture where people bowed to each other instead of shaking hands. Hugging was going to be an interesting encounter on both sides of the cultural fence.
“Hari and I will give you an example of how to hug,” said Tomoko, taking control of my class. “Then you can all line up and give Hari a hug.”
My students stood awkwardly in the queue, visibly nervous and alarmed by the impending physical contact with a foreigner.
“I think your students should practice this in class every week,” Tomoko observed.
The differences between Australian and Japanese students
During my first year in Japan, I had a job which offered free Japanese language lessons for two hours every day.
I was a willing guinea pig in a program which provided a teacher training environment for the Japanese, who were unaccustomed to foreign students:
How teaching English improved my English
In Japan I discovered a new passion in my life and revelled in the classroom environment.
While I enjoyed the teaching experience, I realised that I also learned to:
The proliferation of online and text messaging means I keep a dictionary close by and am constantly checking the spelling of words.
I worry me speakin is getting sloppy agin. I’m gonna hav 2 watch meself. Wad’yareckon?
New Zealand 2008
New Zealand 2006
United Kingdom 2004
Athens Olympics 2004
Beijing to Athens 1994
I acknowledge the traditional Custodians of the land on which I work and live, the Gubbi Gubbi / Kabi Kabi and Joondoburri people, and recognise their continuing connection to land, the waters and sky. I pay my respect to them and their cultures; and to Elders past, present and emerging.
© 2023 HARI KOTROTSIOS