“Going? To die?”
“No - today.”
“How. Are. You. Today?”
“Aah…” recognition rippled across my students’ faces, “you mean today?”
Hang on, I was speaking English! Whad’yamean they don’t understand me? Fair dinkum, it wasn’t like I was speaking Greek. Or Japanese. I dunno, maybeineedtoslowdown… or… pause… between… words…is… that… better?
Why it’s difficult to understand Australians
- We suffer from the dreaded silent G syndrome: goin, doin, nothin, watchin…
- We abbreviate words: wanna, ta, watcha, Gaz, Haz
- We have unusual colloquialisms: flat out like a lizard drinkin
- TV shows are dominated by American English
Once my Japanese students got over my accent, we focused on the finer grammatical details such as:
- The general rule is (X), but here’s a list of exceptions.
- Yes, technically that phrase is correct, but we don’t say that anymore. We just don't.
- I don’t know why there’s a K in knock, but it’s a silent K. It just is.
I taught adults, mainly businessmen, although I had three wonderful housewives and a group about to head off to English-speaking lands on an international exchange program.
How to hug an Australian
“So Hari, have you taught your students how to hug yet?”
“Err… I was going to wait for a couple of lessons.”
“Well, I think you can demonstrate this now,” my supervisor insisted. Tomoko had spent a year on exchange in the United States and was a hugging expert.
These students were undertaking cultural studies as part of their English language program. They would work as teacher aides in England, America, Canada and Australia; learning to hug their foster families was therefore a crucial tool.
“Tomoko, they’re not ready yet. I think we should start with shaking hands.”
As a Greek, I was used to kissing family and friends on the cheek, but had not fully embraced hugging at that stage in my life.
I was also in a culture where people bowed to each other instead of shaking hands. Hugging was going to be an interesting encounter on both sides of the cultural fence.
“Hari and I will give you an example of how to hug,” said Tomoko, taking control of my class. “Then you can all line up and give Hari a hug.”
My students stood awkwardly in the queue, visibly nervous and alarmed by the impending physical contact with a foreigner.
“I think your students should practice this in class every week,” Tomoko observed.
The differences between Australian and Japanese students
During my first year in Japan, I had a job which offered free Japanese language lessons for two hours every day.
I was a willing guinea pig in a program which provided a teacher training environment for the Japanese, who were unaccustomed to foreign students:
- We enthusiastically participated in conversation exercises inside and outside the classroom.
- We didn’t let the lack of grammar or vocabulary stop us from speaking Japanese.
- We asked lots of questions.
- We challenged everything the teachers said.
How teaching English improved my English
In Japan I discovered a new passion in my life and revelled in the classroom environment.
While I enjoyed the teaching experience, I realised that I also learned to:
- Speak slowly
- Enunciate, pronounce and articulate every word
The proliferation of online and text messaging means I keep a dictionary close by and am constantly checking the spelling of words.
I worry me speakin is getting sloppy agin. I’m gonna hav 2 watch meself. Wad’yareckon?