JET Programme: In Pursuit of Golden Cabbages

In a truly international event, I went with some other JETs to see an Argentinian film about a beautiful and notorious serial killer. The movie was in Spanish with Japanese subtitles, and I wanted to test the theory that my Italian skills would help me understand most of what I was watching. I understood about 70% of what was going on in the movie, which was refreshing, considering I understand about 1% of the Japanese that is spoken around me.

After the movie, we went to a curry place, which happened to have a 100 yen fortune telling dispenser. I couldn’t resist, so I picked up. In America, usually fortunes are mindless platitudes that could apply to just about everyone’s life. This is apparently not the case in Japan, where there are different types of fortunes ranging from positive to absolutely catastrophic.

Mine happened to be a mixed fortune, which one of the Japanese proficient JETs happened to beautifully translate for me on the spot. Here’s the less beautiful google translation:

The fortunes are upside down and disasters occur from heaven.  The problem that must be cleared up is likely to be exposed to a harsh environment where you look up heaven unintentionally as you pile up or get sick.  However, since it is time to learn about the kindness of a person, you can ask for help from someone without reluctance.  You can survive by doing so.  Don’t forget to thank for your daily relationships.  Health … I worry about cholesterol.  Try to reduce it.  Tomorrow’s fortune tomorrow today … If you have a taste for the hobby of your favorite person, GOO!  Money luck … Don’t carry more cash or cards than you need.  Lucky number 3.7+ color … orange ..

I’m not very superstitious, and I believe that we make our own fortunes in this world, but there are many things beyond our control. So, I bought some orange and blue pajamas for good luck. Hilariously, pursuing a hobby of my favorite person would mean getting into Classic WOW. I hate the art style of WOW, but I think I will try it out for at least a month…. maybe more in the winter months. As for relationships, I’m trying my best to reach out and make connections and friends in order to have some kind of support network. I couldn’t help but think of the Twilight Zone episode with a young (beautiful) William Shatner when I got this fortune.

This weekend was the annual Gunma Games, in which the four regions of Gunma competed for the glory of the golden cabbage. The lead up to these games also started a meme war on the event page. Initiated by a one man meme machine, Mr. Aidan from Tobu(green team), in a frenzied late-night mania, posted several memes to the Gunma ALT group facebook page. Some of the best memes:

In response to the late night night meme flurry, another ALT posted this.

The memes started to take it up a notch:

There were wholesome memes, too.

This dank meme battle set the tone for Saturday, as it mostly set people against the whole Tobu team. There were many defectors (read: traitors) from Seibu, to other regions, as other regions have fewer ALTs, thus recruit ALTs from the most populous region. There were many games, many of them cabbage themed (as this is what Gunma is known for).

I participated in the cabbage toss, in which you must YEET the cabbage the farthest in order to win. I felt confident in my strength ( it was a man/woman team for each region). While I used a football throw technique for the cabbage, Tobu team used an underhand throw which ultimately won them the cabbage toss game.

My back was in kind of weird way, so I decided not to fully jump into more of the physically challenging games. My friend that was holding the flag wanted to jump into the balloon stomp game (think N64 Mariokart battle mode), so I volunteered to hold the flag.

Derping with the flag

This violent flag filled me with patriotism and bloodlust for the glory of Seibu! I noticed many of the Seibu spectators were not gathering around the balloon stomp game to support our troops, so I called people over. The balloon stomp game was absolutely electric! Twists and turns! Trying to guard your balloon, whilst also trying to stomp out another’s! At the very end, in incredible show of athleticism, one of the Seibu players cartwheeled backwards to avoid getting stomped out, which left many in the crowd shooketh to the core. My friend managed to get the winning stomp in and everyone went absolutely bonkers on team Seibu after that.

After a full day of games, we waited as they tallied up the scores. In dead last, was Tobu, which most everybody felt happy about, because of the meme war. Seibu was crowned victorious!

All Glory to the Golden Cabbage!

Update: Mr. Aidan has also posted his version of the Games events.

Had many fun adventures this week! Tune in next time for more or check out my old posts:

JET Programme: Cats & Mall Rats

The Mandoue (万灯会) Candlelight Festival on Kannon-yama

JET Programme Week 3: Orientation 2: Electric Boogaloo

JET Program Week 2: Getting into the Groove

JET Programme: First Week


Fractal Power of Learning English Words’ Definitions in English

The fractals of natureI often find my students using translators in class. When students are low level, this can be a boon. Instead of asking the teacher constantly for the definition, this is the next best step. But as students move into more advanced ESL and onward to mainstream classes, it is vital that they understand the fractal power of learning word definitions in English. Here are 3 major reasons why:

Words do not always have a 1 to 1 correspondence from one language to another.

English in particular has many ways to say one thing, and while many translators give the student peace of mind there are many things to consider when learning words such as register, collocation, connotation v. denotation, frequency, etc (ESL teachers, do yourself a favor and read Word Knowledge).

Translators are security blankets that can hinder fluency.

Again, I have seen this over and over again in my classes: advanced students that cling to their translators (bonus points if Google Translate). Besides the lack of complete accuracy, the overuse of translators can cripple a student’s confidence in themselves. This lack of confidence can cause students to miss out on practice because they feel that they are not up to the challenge. My goal as an educator is to move students towards independent learning. Thus, in this case, if I see that a student is advanced enough that they can learn English definitions in English, I heavily discourage the use of translators (students should only use translators in case they really don’t understand the definition of the word). Also, they lose out on the biggest benefit of using an English dictionary.

Learning English words’ definitions in English will increase your vocabulary dramatically.

I know vocabulary learning is frustrating. I experienced this when I was learning Italian. At first, it was easy to just translate word for word. But as I studied more, especially since my upper level grammar classes were all in Italian, I had to learn a lot of metalanguage words in Italian (like, grammar terms such as noun, passive voice, etc). I just gave up my translator and started just accepting the fact that I needed to read in Italian even though it took me forever. The thing is, I got a lot better with my vocabulary and a lot faster with my reading.

I like to tell my students about the fractal power of this approach. If I don’t know a word in English, I go to the dictionary and I find two more words that I don’t know the meaning of. I then have to go look those words up. What if I find words I don’t know then? You must persist, especially in the beginning. Keep going until you can unlock that chain of words that you don’t know. The reward outweighs the time. Instead of learning one word, you may have learned 5 words. Now think what happens if you keep pursuing vocabulary in this manner. It creates a fractal, much like the plant pictured above. It grows from one stem and splits into many many more leaves and stems. Imagine your vocabulary like this plant.

The next step:

Now that you’ve moved on from translators, what dictionaries should students use?

I will answer that in another blog post.

Recommended Texts for Composition

They Say, I Say- Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein

This book is a well-written, boiled down approach to academic writing using the metaphor of “joining the conversation.” I still use many of their chapters in my English composition classes including the Naysayer chapter as well as the templates for introducing direct quotes from authors. The templates alone are worth the money– these signal phrases are chunks of language that are highly frequent in academic writing and are invaluable to the aspiring native and non-native speaker of English that wishes to improve their academic writing skills.

Norton Field Guide to Writing with Handbook –

I used this book for my students at the university level for Freshman composition. The text is multimodal and includes etexts and related videos. The addition of the handbook is also invaluable as many native speakers struggle with grammatical problems although their meaning and organization is on point. This is a very strong textbook for composition and it breaks down a variety of different rhetorical modes for students in an easy to understand manner.