Using Embarrassing Moments To Help You Improve Your Japanese

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Ten And Two

Summer is upon us here in the land of Rising, Scorching, Hot Sun. That endearing, humid heat that’s oh so characteristic of Japanese summer is starting. Granted is not as bad as it’s going to get, but we’ve had a couple of those “more humid than normal” days already. Today, it rained ever so lightly, and then the sun started coming out. I felt kinda sticky going to to work. Do you know the kind of weather I’m talking about? The kind of weather that makes sweat in your no-no places, that weather that makes you have bad hair days (not me, because my head is as smooth as a cue ball), the weather that makes you feel irritated for no reason. Well, It’s back!!

One concern I had about working in the Japanese public school system was all the hearsay about there being no air-conditioners whatsoever! By and large the reports ARE true. Here at my elementary school, I’d say over 90% of classrooms don’t have an A/C unit to speak of. Why? I couldn’t really tell you. But I can tell you that teaching in those classrooms is going to get really hot, very soon. This is how I know…

Today I was teaching a second grade class, and the kids were doing quite well with my lesson on colors. They weren’t particularly rambunctious today…not at all. About 15 minutes in, my brow was starting to bead with sweat. The sweat from my legs was becoming like a glue for my “good pants” making them stick, uncomfortably, to my legs.

Near the end of the period, I stopped the colors worksheet activity I was doing, and had the children sit down to finish class. “See you next time!” I said. “See you next time!!” they responded in unison.

A few children helped me to gather my things. While I was packing up. I student lifted my arm to reveal an unsightly and very embarrassing wet spot, that had formed underneath my right armpit. I had sweated through my deodorant and didn’t even notice. I wondered how long it had been there.

Luckily, the sweat stain was only underneath one armpit. Every time the cute little girl would try to lift my arm (by pushing up on my elbow), I would force it down, kind of like somebody doing the chicken dance. She pointed and kept repeating the Japanese word “ase,” あせ or 汗, which means sweat. I tried to hide it as best I could, but it was a losing battle. I had put on copious amounts of Degree deodorant, the “temperature-activated stuff” (but then again isn’t all deodorant kind of temperature activated? When it gets hot, you sweat, when you sweat, the deodorant does its thing).

I went back to my classroom with my new vocabulary word. It was embarrassing to have this wet spot showing, because it makes it look like I’m stinky or something. I promise I did shower and put on lots of deodorant, but teaching a group of 35 kids in a room with no air-conditioner can test the limits of even the best anti-perspirant.

I think embarrassing moments make for some of the best learning experiences. I’ve mispronounced words, been laughed at for saying things wrong, and created learning Opportunities) for myself without even trying to. For example, the Japanese word “ase” is now stuck in my brain. Or learning the Japanese word for traffic light (shingo (しんごう or 信号)) from a Japanese police officer when I purposely biked through red light while rushing to the gym. Or there was that time I ripped a gigantic hole in the crotch of my pants just before having to sing the Hokey Pokey Song for a kid’s English class (“You do the Hokey Pokey and you turn yourself around”)…but I didn’t learn any Japanese from that experience. But I did learn to be careful when getting into vehicles. I guess the approach I take, is not to take things so blasted seriously. Embarrassing moments are really what you make of them. If you use them right, embarrassing moments can really cement things into your memory.

Do you have any embarrassing moments that helped you to improve your Japanese or learn a valuable lesson?

Donald Ash

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  • Linda Richardson

    wow Mr. Ash, funny funny story… Jacob and I laughed and laughed. I have several especially from my kindergarten classroom… How about the time that I was wearing a dress, quite a long one as a matter of fact and I was crouching down at one of the tables to help a student form a cursive letter. Another student decided that they loved me so much they wanted to give me a giant hug, well, they hugged, I fell over backward and my dress landed somewhere up around my shoulders. Embarrassed, you betcha.. but the best laugh came when one of my little girls said,,”Mrs. Richardson! You have on the same kind of panties as my baby doll!!”. No!! It wasn’t a diaper. Now as much as I really wanted to ask what kind of doll she was talking about I just couldn’t see a tactful way to enter into this conversation, so the mystery remains… Yall have a great day!

  • Alana

    I teach at a special needs school. It is HEAVENLY. First the school is very narrow so the air flow is good. Second, there is a fan in each clasroom. The kind the rotate. And with 1-7 kids in the class you know you can get in the path of that thing. A few of the rooms have A/C. I have only seen a unit used once. If you want a more comfortable summer go for the special kids!Or move to Hokkaido!

    Meanwhile 4 days a week I am stuck in a class of sweaty high school kids. Sometimes all boys. Nooooo! I recommend bringing two mini-towels: one for drying your hands and another for mopping up sweat while teaching. Also, if you can get away with it, bring an uchiwa to class!

  • Nanami

    I think it’s important to try and take the time to learn things from any experience. Especially when you’re working with kids.. they say the most interesting, direct, and humbling things sometimes. I’ve never had an issue getting silly and “playing” around when I’m with children and they respond to it so well!

    I wouldn’t say this was embarrassing per se.. but my niece, Cora, always lets people know “I tooted” as she’s 3 and finds this hilarious. Well, I decided to teach her the beans song “Beans, beans the magic fruit, the more you eat the more you toot..” Which had her in stitches for about 15 minutes straight. Her mother however, finds this much less amusing, as every time they have beans for dinner Cora repeats this song quite loudly.. whether they are in a restaurant or at home. I personally think it’s awesome that Cora is so content to just be herself no matter where she is at! However, maybe I could have taught her a better song xD

  • Wymarshian

    Speaking of “tooting,” I was playing Bingo with a class and after on kid said a lackluster “bingo” I started ribbing him for his lack of enthusiasm. “When you get a bingo you’re supposed jump up and down and shout “BINGO,” I said. Just as I jumped up and down to demonstrate the desired level of enthusiasm, I let out an unexpected “toot.” That was the end of the “teaching” that day. The kids couldn’t stop laughing their asses off. Time to pack up and go home… with my tail between my legs… head held high, if for no other reason than to not show how defeated I felt.

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