Sunday, October 30, 2005

I Don't Understand

Uncle Karl was so busy, according to Newsweek, that he may not have remembered that he played around with sensitive information to journalists from a paper of record.

I thought ignorance was not an adequate defense.

ESL: Linguistics

As much as I wish I were a book-smart intellectual (perhaps when I'm done with teaching in Japan I'll go back to the States for an M.A. or higher), I'm not. In the classroom setting, I prefer not to stick to textbooks unless, however, they are quite entertaining and/or arouse discussion, rather than drill information and merely lay out what is proper. I don't care too much for living by rules of usage to the bitter end; having played chess in Washington Square Park, I learned there are exceptions to every rule. And the greatest challenge for me is the most passive student, who puts blind faith in everything that's said and never argues a point or inspires thought.

Allow me to shoot from the hip for a moment and hypothesize that the last point is why people have so much trouble with conservatives, who crush dissent and urge total compliance, and intellectual liberals, who believe their own arguments too much to wonder why they need to defend them. If I'm wrong, my apologies; this is a language article, after all.

I finished grading essays written by the students in my advanced class last week, and we discussed them and the mistakes/errors made in them. For one student, I forgot what word it was we were arguing about, but I said that to a native speaker, the word in that context in that particular sentence would not be understood. A second student argued that he had understood it just fine. In a Japanese way of thinking.

Consider this: I got a laugh out of my Japanese teacher when I said "atama ga kawaru" ("I change my mind"). It was, of course, corrected to "kokoro ga kawaru" ("I change my heart", although kokoro can also mean mind as well). Had an English-speaking student of Japanese come up to me one day and said the former, however, I would have understood it completely, even if I might correct it from experience.

There are at least one or two blogs on Blogger that talk about linguistics; I happen to read a few of them just for comparison. Some of them are very strict when it comes to usage. I tend to filter out that sort of thing, as they present very little value to me when I'm "in the field," as I like to say. Studying politics at NYU was a great experience, and it provided an abstract framework on how to view the world, but beyond that it lacked the potential for immediate, practical usage. I try to look at linguistics in the same way, and hope that my classroom is a little bit closer to Earth than the ones in university.

Especially when there's so much fake English out there in Japan. It is not something that anyone can change; not unless English teachers become better advocates of their own usage to their students without adopting the kind of snobbery that haunts intellectualism. At the same time, Japanese students of English - and, well, any student of English - are also advocates of their usage, and their English, after a certain level of proficiency, is just as valid as ours.

Hey, maybe that's why the textbooks change year after year.

We Get Lots of Earthquakes in Yokohama

This is what happens when you have lots of free time.

No, it's probably not that impressive and you probably have made a much bigger tower. I'm working on it. Have patience.

It Says "NYU Alumni" On My T-Shirt

I think I should be sad. I just took this test, and according to it I am only 43% NYU! I studied there, slept there, grew up there, and graduated there, only to get such a low score?

I guess there are a couple of reasons:
  • I was a commuter student from Staten Island for all but one year, when I lived at Third North, and even then I went home most weekends.
  • I never really stayed on campus after classes. I had work or took part in clubs off-campus. Divided my time between the city, Staten Island and New Jersey for the better part of two years.
  • Much of the time I spent on campus when I wasn't I class, was spent sleeping in the lounges. But c'mon, that's got to count towards my score.
I don't think I'm really surprised at my score, but it's a little surprising, since I practically grew up in the NYU system. My mother works at the Medical Center, so I've walked around the halls of the university facilities long before I entered as a student. I wrote for the university paper for two months (under an awfully pompous editor, I should add, whose name I have blocked from memory), worked at the radio station for two years, and at the computer labs for three.

Still, I wasn't totally absorbed into the university culture. It is a world full of otherwise out-of-town students from everywhere else but New York. That's not bad, it's just the truth, and that's partly why I love NYU. In the end, though, it is a world unto itself, part of the city but not really (there was that student singing group at commencement that destroyed just about every major tune about the city - nice try). I was really happy to have a foot in it, but never had more than that, which probably explains why I never had the patience to wait so long at Faye's for a sandwich. I guess whoever wrote the quiz never went to Blue 9 Burger a couple of blocks up.

Next Year

My heart is breaking.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

"Google" is a Noun and a Verb

Was catching some email from some old friends in the Young Dems (get it? old? young? you know what, forget you). If you want a laugh, try this:

1) Go to Google.
2) Type in "failure" in the search box.
3) Hit "I'm Feeling Lucky" and see where it takes you.

MegaZone once likened Google's search patterns to the recipe for Coke, in that it is almost a state secret, but I can only imagine that all the links across the Internet while using the word "failure" amounts to the result that I hope you receive.

Much love to Nick and Andrew. Miss all of you so much, don't know when I'll be coming home!

Monday, October 17, 2005

MetroStars Granted Reprieve

The MetroStars beat Chivas USA 2-0 on Sunday, avoiding the humiliation of missing the playoffs and being the only team in MLS not to take full points off either of the two expansion sides.

From what I gather of the highlights (all the way over here in Japan, I do not get the privilege of seeing my home team on the Internet when they are broadcast on ESPN2), this has to have been one of the most frustrating games that my Metros played this season and still won. Hit the post three times in a half, required a fat, aging goalkeeper to put in a full effort, and still kept the shutout intact.

It's so difficult to support this team sometimes, but boy is it worth it some days.

OK, but next is New England...

EDIT - NO WAY do the Metros deserve sixth place in the ESPN rankings, above LA and Colorado.

Overheard: Rice on Polls

I was listening to Condoleeza Rice on Meet the Press on my way to work today. All my favorite blogs are focusing energy on the fact that Rice just absolutely killed her own administration's original argument to go to war in Iraq (see Crooks and Liars).

I have something else to pick apart:

"And I just want to be very clear, the key here is that the Iraqi people have expressed their views and we'll wait to see what their views are."


"Well, Tim, I don't know what to make of the polls, and I'm not myself one who tends to put much faith in polls, and what questions are asked and how they're asked."

The latter, of course, is in reference to the news that Bush has no greater than 2% approval from the African-American community. But someone in each situation asked a group of people a question, and asked them to express their views. Is it only in America where the practice of democracy is suspect?

ESL: Anticipation

(Fair warning for the first ESL post: almost all of my useful experience comes from the field; I'm not a big believer in certification unless it allows me to grasp the next rung on the career ladder, otherwise there's no better proof of credentials than having survived on the front line so long)

Japanese people are so shy. It's true.

They have a good grasp of grammar and vocabulary commensurate with their efforts, but there's this dizzying sense of protocol that compels them to defer demonstration of their skills. That in itself is not bad...but it does give teachers a greater challenge.

So, I came up with a lesson that I have often used in first classes with new students. It has mixed results; the most reserved students still think it is far above them or beneath them to speak, but it more or less successful in classes where it should work:

Conversation is often a line of questioning, like this:
1) How are you?
2) How was your day?
3) What did you do this weekend?
4) ...

Obviously, the line of questioning changes depending on the answers, but in any conversation, many questions after the first are already answered before they are asked. "Oh, I'm good, but I've been very busy. The boss wanted me to work overtime this weekend, but I declined and went shopping instead, so now I have to..."

Sometimes it jumps back to previous questions as a narrative forms, but the underlying point is to keep talking and avoid a questionnaire type of back and forth conversation. To students, it is framed like this, "As I am speaking to my friend, I have to think to myself and wonder what questions he wants to ask in response to my answer." Put another way, anticipate the direction of the conversation.

It is built on a simple analogy: the answer to "Do you have the time?" is not simply "yes" but, "Yes, it's ten past," the second question being "Well, what time IS it?" One must answer both the first and second questions at the same time; not doing so comes off as rude. Often, a 1:1 conversation style is impolite and unengaging, and students have trouble grasping that if that connection is not explicitly made. They will not do it for themselves, despite such being true in their native language.

There are, of course, certain things here that may be inaccurate in native-speaking land, but the point remains to get students talking and have them demonstrate to themselves that they are more capable than they otherwise believe.

Specialist in Humanities and International Services

So...I live in Japan.

I have a visa in my passport saying that I'm a specialist in humanities and international services. It sure sounds nice, but quite simply I'm an English teacher, have been for over fifteen months. I quantify it like that, because every time I call my family or friends back home, the first or second question usually is, "So, when are you coming home?" (if it's the second question, the first is "So, do you have a girlfriend yet?")

I think, barring any wildly lucrative opportunities back home, I have been able to stick to the answer of "I'm waiting out the Bush years." That's right, I have exiled myself to the other side of the world, trapped among video game arcades, fresh air, Japanese pop culture and plenty of pretty women. Yes, it is a dismal experience. Truly, it is.

That's all I gotta say, I'm sure there's more to say later. I seem to screw up big introductions, so let's not make this bigger than it should be.