August 14, 2003
Summer holidays bring out some of the stranger students. Although they work blistering hours when they're on season, the school-kids have three two-month breaks each year, and the adults don't do too badly either. Some are inspired to sign up for a few classes by impending vacations to Guam or Hawaii, and others simply binge on English lessons until they have to go back to work. I am commonly accused by the other teachers at my school of favoring "the creeps and the weird ones" and directing scorn towards "the nice ones". It's probably true. I'm sure that the alcoholic salarymen, the pachinko fiends and gambling addicts, and the unclassifiable oddballs aren't that much fun to actually live with, but within the isolated context of an English classroom, they're just more interesting than the legions of old housewives, who never really want to talk about anything other than meeting their friends for lunch. The latest Takashi to sign up for classes - not to be mistaken for the Takashi who takes six classes in a row every Sunday and can't really speak by the end of them, or the Takashi who can't speak at all but must, according to the government agency that is paying for his classes, be recorded as 'pass' for every class and leveled-up to harder lessons at regular intervals regardless of his progress, with whom I spent an entire man-to-man class explaining the concept of "party", which he still did not understand by the end even though the Japanese word for "party" is the same as the English one, and in whose file, out of frustration, ever since then, I've been writing imaginary exchanges between us about philosophy, socialism and labor relations, where for the most part he comes off as a fiercely idealistic neo-Durkheim - this latest Takashi is a gregarious economics professor who bears a stunning resemblance to Jackie Chan and recently claimed the prestigious title of the all-time sleaziest:
TEACHER: Okay. Let's make a list of three things that are good when they are hot, but if they are not hot enough, they are not good.
OTHER STUDENT: Tea.
TEACHER: Sure, that's true, tea is usually not as good when it is cold.
TAKASHI: My lover's heart.
TAKASHI: No, my wife's heart.
TAKASHI: Mm, no, my lover's heart.
TAKASHI: Passion! Yes.
It's impossible not to like the guy, but keeping control of a class with him is like chess: you have to see a few moves ahead for the moment when he's going to bring up "erotic sites on the internet", because he always does, and you have to be ready for it, or the class will be off the rails for the next half-hour. I failed disastrously yesterday, when I was trying to teach the students the difference between "bored" / "boring" and "interested" / "interesting". Takashi was on fire, let me tell you. (Also, let me reiterate that he's an economics professor. In Japan. Think about it.)
I'm trying to get some ideas about advanced Engrish theory up and running. My provisional notion is that the moment when a student masters passive voice is the moment when their Engrish ability is finally, irrevocably lost. That's the final forbidden fruit, the last safe harbor of confused subject-verb relations. Once they master subject-verb relations, they cease being able to earnestly announce "I am very dangerous!" when they mean to say "It was very dangerous for me" (in a discussion about car accidents), for example. It helps that I am one of two teachers at my school who's capable of teaching the passive voice effectively, though, and am appropriately selective about when I do it. "Take care when renouncing your magicks," I tell them. "Take care."