Monday, February 11, 2019

Resonating with James Brown

American R&B singer James Brown said "payback" in his 1973 hit song. This word has kept me wonder about its meaning. 

Yes, he was Black, whose professional career coincided with America's civil rights movement. It is easy to think he meant what he said. Then again, I have my wonder if he would use such a word because many of his songs indicate he was a pacifist.  

So, I have carefully studied the lyrics of the song "The Payback" and now know that he did mean it. In it, he also uses words like "revenge" and "backstabbing." 

Well, his words resonate with me. Then, you may wonder why the life of an English teacher resonates with James Brown's anger. 

I have taught the language to more than 2,000 Japanese adults. The number may even have reached 3,000. If you ask them about the type of class they preferred, they would say "a serious class." Be careful, because if you took the word literally and teach English seriously, they would complain about it. James Brown was aware of backstabbing.

Having taught English for more than 30 years, I have experienced many occasions that reminded me of "backstabbing." Now, words like “revenge” and "payback" are floating in the air.

Friday, December 7, 2018


I am teaching a class for the preparation of the TOEIC test, which is an English test for business people in the world. In my class, I give an instruction in English because a TOEIC study is part of the bigger picture of English education.

This, however, may not be how my students think. They may not like an English only class if they do not understand the language well.

So, yesterday, I gave a TOEIC class in Japanese, the mother tongue of my students. The class atmosphere was much livelier than the usual. There was a new-born rapport between my students and I. They asked me questions. Even the most reticent one in the class asked me questions. 

Now that I know they are happier if they are allowed to speak Japanese. A question is if I should follow suit. My concern is that the quality of English education may suffer if the Japanese language is allowed.

An imaginary voice in my mind says, "Don’t worry about the quality of education. If your students are happy, let it be. Don't lose our job for your belief. Your life is more important." 

Is it true?

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

I always go home after 8:00 p.m.

Yesterday's class was about the adverbs of frequency. I asked my students to make a sentence with "always." One student said, "I always go home." I secretly said, "Sure, you always go home after a day's work. Where else will you go?"

I suggested him to say, "I always go home at 8:00 o'clock." He did not understand the reason for the correction. He did not look happy.

I explained the wrong nuance of his sentence, which could have been beyond his comprehension.

Then it occurred to me that he was giving me grammatically correct English and I was expecting him to discuss his everyday life.

He accepted the English: I always go home after 8:00 p.m.

A scene of a basic level English class.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018


I have a quiet class. If I want to organize a pair work, two of my students may try to find a speaking partner with great reluctance, and the rest of them would stay aloof, quietly reading the textbooks. If I ask questions, they may give very short answers, followed by curt smiles. If they say, "Yes," it is my lucky day because they respond to me.  

What am I doing in the class? I am the teacher of a TOEIC class. For those who do not know what the TOEIC is, it is the Test of English for International Communication, which is a very popular test in Japan. My students are Japanese businesspeople, who want to elevate their TOEIC scores. 

Some people may wonder why a TOEIC class needs communication between the instructor and students. The answer is a definite yes. As an instructor, I want to know the weakness of my students. So, I ask them questions to find their weaknesses. In this way, I can offer them the help they need.

If my students refuse to talk to me, I will not know the exact weaknesses of my students. 

Well, this is my idea of a communicative class. My students apparently have other ideas. They have talked to their corporate management. Looks like I am going to lose this contract to teach them.

Monday, September 17, 2018

I don't know if your class was good.

An English conversation course ended recently. In the spirit of celebrating the end of a successful course, I asked my students how they felt. I normally do not do this, but I broke my rule because the course was highly successful. My students were relaxed and talked without being prompted.

They said things like, "I enjoyed the course," and, "The course was fun." I enjoyed listening to them until a young man said, "I don't know if your class was good." Wow! This was a direct criticism. I was surprised because the student who said it had enjoyed the class. He had been attentive to what was discussed in the class and often gave interesting opinions.

Wondering why he was so critical of the course, I asked him for clarification. Here is his logic. To tell if an English conversation course is good or not, one must take a few other courses. It was his first course to take in his life and he could not compare it with other courses. This was why he did not know how good the course was. “I don’t know,” was not a criticism. 

This logic is not the first time for me to hear. One will determine the value of an issue when he or she compares it with other issues. This is called relativism, which is what my student believes in.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Darn! He's Japanese!

She smiles and looks like she enjoys studying English when she is in the class. Her English skills are of minimal. Last week, a target sentence was, "What is your first name?" I asked this question to my students. When it was her turn to reply, she panicked. She said the English equivalent of, "What? What? What does 'first name' mean? Masako. Yes! Yes! Masako. My name Masako!" I then told my students to switch the roles. They were supposed to ask me the question. I said my first name was Shinichi, which is my real name. Nicky is a professional name I use when I teach English. All my students were visibly shocked to learn that I was Japanese. They obviously had thought I was American.

Today, I am told that the two students of the class will be absent tomorrow. Is it because I am Japanese?

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Japanese Teachers of English Wanted

There has been an offer for me to teach English. The new job will start in 2018. Do you know why I have been selected? I am Japanese. That's right. The job condition specifically demands the instructor to be Japanese. This is a case of discrimination. If someone decides to hire someone else based on the person's nationality, it constitutes a case of racial discrimination. Racial discrimination usually works against me, but not this time. Should I be thankful?