By Alex Brueckner
If there’s one thing that I’m pretty upfront about while living in Aomori, it’s that my Japanese skill set is like that of a second grader. Usually, I’m able to muddle my way through conversations, but once in a while, I make an error that gets a good laugh out of any Japanese person within earshot.
Usually, I can get a few chuckles out of my students during lessons, though I like to think it’s not because I butcher the pronunciation of about half of the Japanese words I see and more about the fact that they actually find the lessons entertaining. (Yes, I am that rare naïve brand of optimistic ALT!) At one point though, the laughs I got were definitely about my bad Japanese.
For all of my lessons, I bring along a shuffled deck of notecards with the students’ names written on them, and I use that to call on them to answer questions or to model conversations for the rest of the class. The first few times I do this, it usually gets a resigned groan or the standard deer-in-headlights look, but after a few classes, the kids get used to it. Plus, it ensures that I don’t end up calling on the same three kids in every lesson and that everybody gets a chance to speak English in class.
The one hurdle to this strategy, though, is that I have to pronounce the kids’ names correctly. It took me a good week to get “Inoue” out without any hesitation, and I got endless giggling at first for saying any name that ended in “-suke” in correctly. But for the most part, I do pretty well now. (Besides, every Miss “Areccs” or “Arex” I get on an essay homework makes me think I can have a bit of leeway.
A while back, though, I got ahead of myself. With only a few minnutes left in class, I was set on getting one more pair of students to model their conversation for the class. I glanced down at my cards – an easy one, Daisuke S. – and called out my student’s name.
Laughter. Lots and lots of hysterical laughter, from every single kid in the class. Even my JTE, usually pretty reserved, was basically doubled over from laughing. In my haste, I’d accidentally called my student Daisuki. Yeah, I’d just proclaimed in front of forty high schoolers that this one kid was my favorite. I couldn’t help but join in in all the laughter, and the remaining time in class was punctuated by snickers, both from myself and the kids.
I’m not sure who was more embarrassed: me or Daisuke. For weeks afterwards, any time I passed the poor kid in the hall, his friends would grin and nudge him knowingly. I just hope that by the time he graduates, we’ll have forgotten the fact that his ALT named him as her favorite…