Sensei’s Corner, May 22 2011

Just My Opinion

The biggest dilemma for a blog like this is trying to say something useful without trying to come off as an absolute authority, which seems to be the cause of most flame wars. I know a few things about a few things, but some people are like, if you don’t know everything, just shut up. I can’t live like that.

Blogging has to be a mix of fact and personal opinion. Otherwise, the content would belong in an encyclopedia. So a blog must be a personal act.

One thing I try to be careful about is to not blog in a way that is political. There are simple reasons for this which hardly require explanation. It’s just best left avoided.

Anyway, I’ve tried to do blog posts here that are from a fairly objective standpoint, providing a fairly neutral stance, trying to shed some light on matters relating to Japan’s culture. But, this is still a blog. After spending some time meditating (or more to the point, procrastinating) about what to write here, I think I shall write more that is my opinion… so long as it is clearly marked as such, and not presented as fact.

Lo and behold, Sensei’s Corner has been born.

Now, I’m not a very active teacher, though I’d like to do more to change that. I’m actually between jobs. I’m going to be the webmaster of a startup corporation that has heavy family involvement. It’s a good project. It just hasn’t finished starting up just yet. That’s life. I’m trying to do things in the meantime.

I write this as an explanation for why I’m not spending all of my time doing things that would prevent me from blogging a single word. Put simply, I do not live a perfect life, with a perfect income and perfect happiness. I’m working to deal with it. If anyone wants to complain about it, I will note your complaint and then move on with living life.

Even so, well, not everything I’ve done has exactly been a waste.

A couple of mornings ago, I heard from a former student from one on one tutoring I did over Skype. This was a way back, like, last year. Once he dropped off the grid, he was working his rear off to help get the money to go to Japan and enroll at a language school, which is where he is now. He only regained internet access about, oh, five days ago.

So, I told him not to feel any concern about my having been dropped like a hot potato. (I’m kidding.) I’m just another guy here. I just had a natural interest in if everything had worked out. Well, he wants to study at university in Japan, so this is a stepping stone in that direction.

I asked him if my lessons had prepared the groundwork for him. He said, yes; in particular, my lessons on Japanese particles were serving him very well. This made the “Sensei” in me very happy.

You see, it is the nature of language courses and language schools that everyone is working on a tight schedule. This is the same for language instruction to native speakers in high school. Once you reach a certain point, instruction in basic grammar and spelling and vocabulary stops. Your mistakes may get flagged and marked, but we get past “correction” to the point of simply punishing those who didn’t learn 100% what they ought to have at a lower level. These students fail upwards, and are the kinds who are cranked out of school without functional literacy. Many more simply come out with bad English, which is another thing I’d like to address more and more – just not on this blog.

With Japanese, particles are a core feature of the Japanese language, starting with “Watashi wa Jeremiah desu”. Yet it took me years as a translator, and some frustration as a tutor, to truly understand the particles and the roles they play to the point of being able to smoothly and reliably instruct others in it.

Not to dwell on the fine details but, I’ve read explanations that portray “Watashi ga” as if WATASHI was in ALL CAPS, and “Watashi wa” as if Watashi is in regular writing. This is badly astray. I mean, in some sense, there’s a point, but this is way, way off from the grammatical roles of “wa” and “ga” and will lead the unsuspecting student to a frustrating lack of full comprehension of short, basic sentences.

Suffice to say that this makes effective learning harder.

So, knowing that this young man was benefiting from my particle lessons gave me a sense of relief, because I know from past discussions with him about his research into language schools, and independent research, that language schools will not teach this thoroughly or properly. In other words, if you come in not knowing it, you’ll be bouncing into walls unnecessarily for a long time, and brute forcing the problem is a lot harder than just understandings the “shinjitsu” (objective truth).

So yes, the Sensei in me is happy. He’ll be benefiting from what I taught him for literally years to come.

Moving On

Anyway, aside from telling that story, the point of this was to tell anyone interested that I’m going to be doing more classical blogging. That is, I’ll write in the first person, give opinions, present more of my mind to you, the readers, and hope that this entertains thee.

As I said, I’m in between jobs, and I never really managed to find a business for teaching Japanese in the locale where I live (and where I will work in the family business as fate would have it), so I’m not doing this for money. I’m just trying to keep it clean, speak my mind as much as public decency permits, and have a little fun with it, and try to make sure you have a little fun with it.

We’ll see how it goes. – J

J Sensei

About J Sensei

Blogger, writer, linguist, former Japanese> English translator, rusty in French, experienced in Japanese, fluent English native. Writing for Technorati.com and various blogs. Skype: jeremiah.bourque (messages always welcome). E-mail: jeremiahbourque@gmail.com
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