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Teaching Adjectival Clauses

October 30, 2012

Language learners are always short on vocabulary. This is in fact true of native speakers too. Unless we are very clever, and have a very large vocabularly, we lack just the right word for each occasion. This is especially true of English which, lacking kanji or other agglutinative building blocks, means that the first two thousand words are as difficult as the next, and the next, and the next....In Japanese one can learn two thousand Kanji characters and read pretty much anything printed today.

So English speakers, even native English speakers are always at a loss for words. And even Japanese learners too. I was always lacking words. There are many words that simply don't translate. And there are many words that one simply does not know.

For example if I don't know the word funnel in Japanese and I want to borrow one, what do I do? I would say (in Japanese)

Please would you lend me a thing, that is made of plastic or metal, that we use for pouring a liquid into a small hole, that is conical (or if I can't say conical) that is bigger at one end that it is at the other, that is round.

The good, or bad, thing about Japanese is that all these adjectival clauses "that is XYZ," "that we XYZ" go before the noun just like adjectives. Once one gets the hang of putting the clauses before the noun, speaking Japanese becomes so much easier. It no longer matters if you don't have a big vocabulary. You can use simple words to explain difficult things.

But once again, everything is back to front. Inside a back to front sentence, one has to add a back to front adjectival clause. This creates great fear and frustration.

I give my students practice in doing this mainly by guessing games.

E.g. guess a food.
Is it a food that we eat at Christmas?
Is it a food that we eat with our hands?
Is it a food that is cooked in a frying pan?

I also emphasise that many words can't be translated into English. I give my students a list of Japanes things. I then ask them to guess Japanese cultural artifacts.

Here is a list of Japanese cultural artificats that Japanese students will understand. Here is a list of questions about them, giving students practice in using adjectival clauses. I encourage them to make up adjectival clauses of their own, and to answer the questions using the form
No it is isn't a food that we eat at Christmas.

Posted by timtak at 08:32 PM | Comments(0) | Perma-link

October 30, 2012

First of all I teach my students that fear of non-meaning (Heine), and a little bit of practice is the problem and not knowledge of English at all.

I demonstrate that it is fear is the problem by have them do Tamori's language impersonation act. The students all agree that impersonating a language is even more difficult than speaking English. If knowledge were the problem it should be easy to impersonate a language, because there is no right or wrong, no need to know any words at all. I get them to realise that English is not difficult but scary.

I write the structure of English on the board and demonstrate to them that it is backwards.
Subject⇒auxiliary⇒verb⇒nouns⇒adjectives (time, place, and way of doing)
I can speak English today, in this classroom, quickly
You will speak English well, in this class, at the end of term

I demonstrate to them that this is essentially the same as Japanese except backwards.
今日教室で早く 英語を 話(はな) せる(ことができる)

I tell them that there is no difficulty to English other than speaking backwards and the pit of non-meaning that one is required to jump into, briefly.

I put the structure of interrogative setences on the board too.

I say that all we are here to do is to practice these two forms. That is pretty much the end of my explanations. The rest of the time I am just forcing them to make the sentences.

The textbook I use used to be called "English for students," because it contains 60 short texts that students might say. The problem was that the students would read the textbook in the class, because English is scary.

I emphasise that the title of the textbook is now "English for Spies." The texts provide a "cover". I tell them to imagine that they are being interrogated by a North Korean policeman. Don't look at your cover (the textbook) otherwise you will be shot. The contents of the book are completely irrelevant. All that matters is that you speak English (in sentences). Lie, bluff, make mistakes.

I make my students ask follow up questions after every question using the interrogative form that is on the board.

I prevent my students from speaking Japanese at all.

I find if they do this, I find that they sweat, fluster, and experience panic, but get good quite quickly.

Posted by timtak at 07:57 PM | Comments(0) | Perma-link

JETS, English Teaching, and the Theatre of the Absurd

July 25, 2010

The Japanese government supports the pay of both JETS and other English teachers. In the former case the government pay JETS about 300,000, in the latter case because earnings of about 250,000 are required in order to get a visa (though language schools often get around this requirement by requiring their teachers live in profit-making language school provided housing). All the same, if restrictions were removed, or loosened, then I think that the Japanese could employ people at considerably lower wages.

Should the Japanese leave the pay of English teachers to market forces? One of the reasons that they do not is to avoid putting Japanese English teachers out of a job. I think that Japanese speaking English language teachers (foreign or Japanese) would be able to compete in the job market even if these pay supports for foreign English teachers were removed.

I would recommend that the Japanese made more use of Philippine, Maltese, Indian, Pakistani (second language) English language speakers to obtain even cheaper language teachers for their students at lower levels.

As is commonly repeated, English in Japan is often taught as "Exam English."

Most subjects at school (Maths, History, Geography...) are taught as 'exam subjects'. English is quite normal in this regard.

Those JETS, and other ALT's that have had training, and many of those that have not had training, are aware that if the Japanese teachers keep on teaching English as they do then their charges, the school students, will not learn to speak English.

I think that there needs to be more awareness that English schooling serves a dual 'purpose,' as practical training (that results in English-speaking ability) and as an academic praxis (like other subjects taught at schools).

The existence of "schooling," and the teaching of academic knowledge such as grammar, trigonometry, historical dynasties, geographical features, in Japan in other 'developed' nations especially, is quite a knotty issue in itself.

Does schooling cultivate the mind? Is it 'dumbing down'? While much of the knowledge imparted to school students is not used by those students, and whether or not they are "cultivated" or "dumbed-down" is up for grabs, adult life in developed nations, often requires that humans learn a large variety of facts and procedures that have no immediate value to the learner, but have meaning to the society. Those humans that can learn the dynasties of their nation, or can learn geographical formations, or English or Latin grammar, can also learn the quality control procedures of their company, the tax regulations of their business area, the names of their companies' products. Schooling schools us to be the cogs required by society.

English language education is part of Japanese academe. The student that can learn lots of conjugations, past participles, vocabulary will get into a 'good' university, and be a good quality control engineer, tax accountant, or bureaucrat.

If English were taught as a practical skill, then would it cease to be useful as an academic subject? There are a lot of useful things that are rarely taught in schools: how to change plugs or diapers (nappies), how to chat people up, look cool, or find a partner, how to console, berate, and encourage, how to cope with bereavement or ones own death, how to deal with jock-itch and hair loss, how to avoid being brainwashed by advertisements. All these things are taught to an extent, but schooling does not seem to focus upon teaching life skills. Or does it? If schooling did teach "useful" life skills, then it would cease to teach (or perhaps rather separate people according to) the paramount life-skill required of people in 'advanced economies' of "how to spend ones life learning and doing things that are pretty irrelevant to the individual;" or how to cope with the absurd.

English schooling here in Japan is part of the rest of schooling here and everywhere. It teaches, and streams, those that can be a cog and cope with the absurdity of modern life, and those can't.

JETS and other native English speakers who come to teach in Japanese schools are a little like those very rare individuals that do use the things they learnt at school. They are like museum cureators in a history class. They come from a far removed world where the subject being taught is actually used, day to day. The museum cureator in a history class might bewail the fact that the history lesson does not focus upon the (for them, really useful!) ability to separate artifacts according to their year of production. "Gosh, your teaching of history is so impractical, let me show you how it is done", they might say.

In rural areas of Japan, if not Japan as a whole, there are limited opportunities, and still more limited necessities for speaking English. As internationalisation and globalisation progress, will the demand for English-as-a-non-academic-subject, as a practical skill, increase? Chinese, Korean and Tagalog may be equally useful. Automated translation tools and the translation industry are also evolving. Will there come a time when all Japanese need to speak English, or will various translation machines suffice for the majority?

Teaching the useless, the grammar, past participles, cosines, enzymes, molecular weights, is teaching the useful, because life for people in 'advanced' nations is absurd. Eugene Ionesco gained inspiration for his theatre of the absurd, from his experience of learning English. This is a pen. My taylor is rich. I am a rhinoceros.

Posted by timtak at 06:03 AM | Comments(0) | Perma-link

Japanese as International Language

May 04, 2005

I think that Japanese would make a good International language
1) Chinese, Taiwanese, Koreans, Vietnamese intelligentsia can read the Sino-Japanese "Kanji" characters and almost make sense of Japanese newspapers.
2) Chinese (in its various forms, sharing the same script) is used by more people than any other language.  The large number of varities of spoken Chinese, and the existances of tones do not make it very suitable as an international language but, Japanese is an easy language for one in five of the world's population that use Kanji (this according to Chinese Japanophones that I have spoken to inJapan) .
3) Japanese is particularly easy to pronounce requiring no tones nor guttural nor dental fricative consonants.
4) The Chinese part of the language is agglutinative and built of only about 2000 bricks. The learning curve is steep while you are still learning these kanji, and then shallow once you have learned them, as opposed to endlessly medium-steep in the case of English.
5) There are few irregular verbs or irregular forms of any sort.
6) There is less of a connection between correct Japanese and wealth, and arguably, colonialism. The colonialism period of Japan was shorter, less genocidal, more localised, and far less persistent than that of the speakers of the current international language of favour.
7) Japanese word order is flexible, relying on suffixes to indicate subject object and case.
8) There are fewer tenses than in English
9) There is no gender.
10) There are no relative pronouns so that adjectival clauses can modify nouns directly, without the need for a relative  
English word order "I want a tool for hitting in nails"
Japanese word order "I want nail hitting tool"
English Word order "This is the place which she bought."
Japanese word order "This is she bought place."

The ease with which one can make adjectival clause is very convenient for learners who often lack vocabulary and have to rely on adjectival clauses to say what they mean.

Continue reading "Japanese as International Language"
Posted by timtak at 12:41 AM | Comments(53) | Perma-link

Online Materials for ESL Learners

November 16, 2004

I made a list of online materials for ESL learners, ones that I could recommend to students, and ones that I would like to include in my own teaching, homework, and web based trainging systems.

The factors that governed my choice are
1) That they should encourage fluency at least as much as accuracy, and stand on the fluency side of the fence. If accuracy is the main issue then any part of the web, any article in any magazine, blog or news station can be used for detailed reading. My own sentiments lean towards: extensive, rather than detailed, reading; aquisition rather than learning; and comprehensible input.
2) To that end input should either be simplified, interms of its grammar and lexicon, or contain multimedia cues to aid comprehension.
3) My current institutions focus upon the TOEIC encourages the use of input materials that have an oral component -- but not exclusively.
4) As far as possible the materials should be interesting, of course.

Materials and suggested ways of using them follow.

Continue reading "Online Materials for ESL Learners"
Posted by timtak at 12:38 PM | Comments(0) | Perma-link


November 10, 2004

The more I think about the more I am of the opinion that the key to improving Japanese students' ability in English is in setting homework. Homework is however, the sore thumb of tertiary education in Japan; it is not set at levels required to ensure a educational effect, especially in the English education field. English requires a lot of study.

The factors influencing the lack of homework at Japanese universities may perhaps be divided into four of five groups: the three types of "customer" that universities service, and the two divisions within Japanese universities themselves. The three types of customer are: students, employers, and the Japanese government. One might add parents to this list, but it is my impression that students have a large say in the dispensation of parental funds. It is my impression that it is rare that a Japanese parent insists that their offspring attend any particular university upon the basis of the quality of service that it provides. Parents deserve to be in a fourth category of customer and perhaps they hold the key for improvement. I will deal with them at the end.

Of the main three customers that Japanese universities service, only one overtly encourages a level of homework sufficient to ensure an educational effect.

Continue reading "Homework"
Posted by timtak at 09:09 PM | Comments(6) | Perma-link

November 10, 2004

So what does the name of this site, "Eigodaigaku" mean anyway? Eigodagaku is made up two Japanese words, Eigo meaning English and daigaku, meaning university. So Eigodaigaku might be translated as "Englishuniversity".

Even until recently, and perhaps until this very day, there are many domain names available for non-English words. I am sure that it would be very difficult to purchase "" (yep, someone has already purchased it) but I was spoilt for choice when I bought the domain name for this site. I also purchased a few others such as (with the English translation and Web Sites, not necessarily recommended, in brackets): ( ( and both and ( by way of investment. I think that these Internet related words may be here to stay and will become more popular in the future, at least on the Internet.

If you are a non-English speaker then I bet there are some domain names in your language that are not yet taken but may be of value in the future. I would recommend domains ending in "dot com" if you want to have a website that is internationally recognised. You can see if a domain is available and even purchase it at sites such as (I am not affiliated in any way.)

Posted by timtak at 03:06 PM | Comments(5) | Perma-link

November 10, 2004

I think that one of the reasons why I have not been posting to my blog at "" all that much is because the  site is in Japanese. I have created an English version of my blog in the hope that I will write more. Until now I had been using a category in my Japanese language blog for English language articles. I never felt that there would be many English speaking visitors however, since the banner and side bars remained in Japanese. 

Continue reading "English Language Education Blog"
Posted by timtak at 02:00 PM | Comments(0) | Perma-link

Tamori and English

May 16, 2003

Photo copyright © 2003 Curtis KnappYou all know "Tamori." He is the man that hosts "Waratte Iitomo." Tamori is a guy (about 50 years old) from Fukuoka who wears dark glasses. When he first became famous he was a comedian. He made people laugh by pretending to talk in foreign languages. He would speak in German, French, Russian, Chinese - but only pretend. In fact he couldn't speak any of these languages, he just pretended to speak them. He made noises that sounded like he could speak in these languages. He was so funny it was painful. 

Have you tried being Tamori? For example, we all know what the annoucers from North Korea sound like. Try impersonating an announcer from Noth Korea! "Hahransah, kmamna janmara samni dah!" That is not North Korean. But it may sound like North Korean if you try. Tamori could do it. He could sound like he was speaking in French, Thai, German and Russian. Can you?

It is very difficult. In a way it should be the easiest thing in the world. To speak in a different language only by impersonating the sounds. No need to worry about grammar, pronunciation, vocabulary. No need to worry if it does not sound right. Just speak the way another language sounds to you. But in fact it is very difficult. We can all say "ju teimu" (French?) or "she she" (Chinese?) but when we try to say gobledigook ("detarame") it is very difficult. What is the problem?

The problem is that we don't like to say things that have no meaning. We find it really difficult to speak without saying anything. We hate to say just sounds. If we do not know what we are saying it is painful, difficult, embarassing. Some people say to me that they think that English is difficult. I say that they are wrong. The difficult thing is not knowing English vocabulary (1000 words is plenty - and more than half of them are loan words -- "gairaigo"). It is not difficult to learn English grammar. All you really need to remember is the word order: Subject Verb Object.

So what is difficult about speaking English? It is difficult to let go of your own language. It is difficult to jump off that diving board, from meaning into a sea of non-meaning. It is only natural to feel a sense of panic and to think, "Aaaah, I don't know what I am saying!" But if you can get over this feeling then you are half way to being able to speak English. Try to practice saying gobbledygook (chinpunkanpun, tawagoto, nansensu). When you can be Tamori, you can forget your embarassment, forget your shyness, and just speak English. Speaking English is easy. Take it from me. I speak really bad Japanese.

Photo copyright © 2003 Curtis Knapp

Posted by timtak at 02:21 PM | Comments(0) | Perma-link

What are Weblogs

April 24, 2003

Weblogs, the best thing since sliced bread, they said. The first thing I did was investigate. Please have a look at this link first. And it certainly seemed that there was a lot goining on on the Weblog front. So I decided to make my own weblog.

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