Most kids, however, speak what I call "Selective Broken English," or SBE. SBE consists of words or phrases that come from English music, movies, popular English words or phrases adopted into Japanese, and supporting vocabulary. This leads to some very interesting things that come out of my student's mouths.
For example, I've been asked "will you marry me?" Students have told me that, "I want you, I need you, I love you" (in a variety of orders but usually all together). I always get asked if I have a boyfriend. I've been asked borderline appropriate questions, such as when was my first kiss, what is my phone number, and how many boyfriends do I have, among a variety of others. For that last one, I think students usually mean "how many boyfriends have I had" but that's beside the point. My favorite up until this point was probably a student writing on an assignment "kimu cuter than biyonse." (translation: Kim is cuter than Beyonce)
Today I had a class experience that was both cute, funny, and sweet. Before I tell the story of today's class, I need to describe the student who shall be named Beckham for his self-proclaimed amazing soccer skills.
Beckham is slightly taller than me and now a second-year high school student at the top Kitami high school which I visit once or twice a month. He is the type of student who is slightly socially awkward but makes up for it by making others laugh. If he didn't have his humor and confidence, he would probably be a student who would be picked on because he would come across as someone who tries too hard to fit in. Also, since he plays soccer, he therefore has terrific hair.
I first met him last year when he was a freshmen and instantly realized that he would be the class clown. Usually students are incredibly shy when they first meet me and only after some reassurance that I am really going to be their teacher do they begin to open up. With Beckham, he didn't hesitate. Let me demonstrate a dialogue that happened during my PowerPoint presentation during the first class we had:
Me: ...and, I like to play tennis in my free time.
B: Me too!
Me: Oh really? Well, I like to eat pizza also.
B: Me too! Margarita is my favorite.
Me: Me too!
B: Oh my god!
(class roars in laughter)
Now Beckham is a second year student so I see him even less. I visited his class today for the first time this academic year and he once again got his starstruck face on when I walked in.
Me: Good afternoon class!
Class: Good afternoon
Me: How are you today?
Class: I'm fine.
Beckham: ...because Kim-Sensei is here!
How sweet, right? But that's nothing unusual yet, just his usual greeting. Then, the first few minutes of class I quizzed the students to see what they remembered about me and they got stickers if they got the right answer. Naturally, Beckham wanted to answer every one of them and the class was more than willing to sit back to let him do it.
Me: What's my name? First name and family name?
(Beckham waving his hand furiously)
Me: Anyone else? Okay, yes?
Beckham: Maria Sharapova
Now, I give this kid brownie points for remembering straight off the bat that I like tennis and would know who she is, and for "mistaking" me for a tall, slim, blonde Russian professional tennis player. Great but not the correct answer, so no sticker.
Me: How tall am I in centimeters? It's okay to guess!
Me: Here's a hint...one hundred and...?
Beckham: one hundred seventy two!
Me: Yes! Congrats, you get to choose one sticker!
(Class gasps and is shocked at how he guessed my height right away)
Me: oh, I see you chose the Justin Beiber sticker, do you like him?
Beckham: "Yes. But. I choose Kim-Sensei is better than Beiber!
How sweet, right? He'd choose me over Justin Beiber! Or I'm better than Justin Beiber, or both. Regardless, the meaning got across. At least that's more believable than the Maria Sharapova reference, but either way he's on a roll today. Please remember that all this happened within the first five minutes of class.
Class continued like any normal English grammar class would in Japan - boring, long, and all in Japanese. However, I definitely give this school credit because it has the best students from all around the Kitami area and it shows. No sleeping in class, no side chatting, students generally focus pretty well, they may not speak English willingly but they understand it, and all that jazz. If this were the only school that I taught at, I might not be so pessimistic about Japan's educational system.
At the end of class I was waiting for the Japanese teacher to finish talking to a student about an assignment. Seizing this opportunity, Beckham instantly made his way up to the front of class. Although it was between classes and students were milling around, most stopped to listen to this exchange.
Me: Hey Beckham! How are you?
B: I'm sad.
B: I'm sad.
B: You are leaving again.
Me: Aren't you happy that I was here today?
B: Okay. I am happy now.
(Around this time there was a bit of shuffling going on. Beckham's basketball player friend - who shall be anointed Michael Jordan, or MJ - wanted to join the conversation and Beckham was trying to shoo him away to no avail, but to the great amusement of the class. The next few minutes consisted of Beckham insisting that he was a good soccer player, MJ claiming that was not the case but that he, MJ, was in fact the best basketball player at the school, and a bit of debate about athletic ability before I joined in the conversation again)
Me: Okay. Beckham, I'm curious. Who was your Jr. High School ALT?
B: Jeffu, Husin, Ramos (translation: Jeff, Hussein, and Eddie Ramos - Eddie has since returned to the U.S.)
Me: Oh really? I know who they all are! Eddie went back to America, didn't he?
B: (nods) I sang to Ramos once.
Me: Cool! Will you sing for me?
B: (super sad face) no...
Me: What? How about next time?
Beckham shakes his head no
Me: Why not?
B: I sang to Eddie one time. Then I never saw Eddie ever again!
I couldn't help it, I "awwed." He won't sing to me because he doesn't want this to be the last time that he sees me! Yes, yes, I realize that he could have made that story up to hide the fact that he just didn't want to sing in front of the class, but regardless if that's the case, he is smooth.