How Do I Teach Polite Requests?

Occasionally you will encounter a student so rude that they could be mistaken for a Frenchman. France is famous all over world for it’s inventive cuisine and unsurpassed rudeness, but some of that rudeness derives from misappropriate English language use. Japanese are genetically not rude people, and therefore it is important to give the students the appropriate language to express themselves in the politest ways possible. This is often done with the use of polite requests, since if a request isn’t polite, it’s an order.

Have the student transcribe the following 4 questions in random order;

  • Give me your wallet.
  • Please give me your wallet.
  • Could I have your wallet?
  • May I have your wallet?

Have the student number the sentences from most polite to least polite.
If you notice any problems in the order, create an apprehensive look and back away from the sentences as though they are a very ugly baby. The student will notice your apprehension, and their shame will help them to remember the mistake.
Once the sentences have been verified to be in the correct order, read them out loud and have the student mimic while passing a wallet back and forth. If both the student and the teacher are uncomfortable with using real wallets, they may be substituted with a piece of paper that has the word “wallet” written on it.
Once the student has had enough practice saying the sentences, have them transcribe the following 4 nationalities in random order;

  • French
  • American
  • English
  • Japanese

Have the student number the nationalties from most polite to least polite.
Once again, if there are problems with the order, show your apprehension. The student’s shame from earlier in the class will be compounded, further helping them to remember the correct answers.
Match the nationalties with appropriate politeness, and practice saying the sentences.
Practice this exercise until all of the sentences have been said twice.

How can I have my student share their coffee?

We’ve all had classes where our eyelids can barely stay open, and we spend most of the class trying to keep our head upright. When a student brings a can or cup of coffee into the classroom with no intention of sharing it, they are inadvertently insulting the teacher and they are responsible for creating a lower quality lesson.

Coffee started as a drink in the Middle East, to keep desert dwellers awake throughout the nights during Ramadan, allowing them to fully enjoy their times of feasting before the day-long fasting. Coffee has spread all throughout the world and is renowned for its ability to keep people awake. Of all of the world’s coffee, Japanese coffee is among the most delicious.

How can we have the student share their coffee? Like everything else, it must be integrated into the lesson.

There are two effective methods that work for this;
1) Telephone roleplays
Communication becomes much more difficult when you are unable to see body language or facial expressions, such as when conversing via telephone. Tell the student that in order to prepare for these situations, you will do some roleplays where you are not allowed to see each others faces.
Have the student turn their chair around so that they are no longer facing you. As the student talks, you will be able to take a sip of coffee.
There is an inherent problem with this in that it is a sneaky way to get coffee. If the student catches you, they will very likely be unhappy. However, this method has a greater success rate.

2) “Would like” practice
Students expect a certain degree of fun and excitement in the classroom, and practicing “would like” is the best way to do so.

“Would like” is very useful language in that it lends itself to a variety of situations. To drink some of the student’s coffee, start by asking three “would like” questions in either the verb or noun pattern, incorporating objects in the classroom (ie, Would you like to use my pen? Would you like to open a window?”)

After asking 3 questions, have the student ask 3. They will not think to ask about the coffee, so if you see the student struggle to compose a question, point to their coffee to encourage that question. When they ask a variant of “Would you like to drink my coffee?”, answer with an enthusiastic and grammatically relevant “Yes, I would” and take a quick sip. Most students find this very amusing, and you can have them repeat the question to have a second or third drink.

What Do I Do When a Student Hides Their Mouth Behind a Mask?

Face-to-face communication has been determined to be at least three times as effective as non-face-to-face communication, which may be one of the contributing factors as to why humans engage in such conversations on almost a daily basis. This degree of benefit is severely hampered when a student wears a facial mask.

Masks are worn in Japan to stop the spread of colds, flus, and airborne pathogens by completely covering the nose and mouth. However, by covering the mouth, the mouth becomes hidden and cannot be seen, thus removing the face-to-face communication benefits that help promote classroom learning.

Japanese Face MaskStudents expect to get the most value for their money, and this may only be accomplished with some clever thinking from the teacher. Although the student will continue to wear their mask, they can still express emotion and add important facial communication with the help of sheets of paper with images of mouths on them.

Drawing all mouth shapes by hand is the best option, but for teachers under deadlines, this may take away from other important preparation time. Time can be saved by printing the following characters with a 72 point font. (60 point font for children)

Emotion Mask

An emotion mask with "minor surprise" and "smile" expressions.

  • ) – smile
  • ( – frown
  • D – big smile
  • < - big frown
  • つ – biggest smile
  • く – biggest frown
  • | – apathy
  • / – confusion, disbelief, or skepticism
  • * – puckered lips, anger
  • . – light surprise
  • 。- minor surprise
  • o – big surprise
  • O – bigger surprise
  • ○ – biggest surprise
  • □ – maximum surprise, disbelief, or shock

Emotion Mask 2

A store-bought emotion mask.

After printing the characters, rotate them 90 degrees clock-wise, and affix double-sided tape to the rear of them so that they are able to stick to the student’s mask. During speaking activities, have the student choose the mouth shape that best reflects their current emotion, and then affix it to their mask. If the student wishes to change emotions, they may change the paper on their own.

If the student is often sick, and regularly wears a mask, consider printing a set of mouth emotion papers and giving them to the student as a gift, or even assigning construction of the mouth emotion papers as homework.

How Do I Stop Students From Saying “Cock” All of the Time?

Due to Katakana pronunciation, when Japanese ESL students are learning English, they often revert to saying “cook”(コック) as “cock”. The atmosphere of the classroom can quickly go sour when explaining the differences between the two words.

It goes without saying that this kind of mistake is very serious, and must be avoided. Additionally, explaining the error in detail is also something that should be avoided. However, students rarely see the problem with this mispronunciation, as they learn that “cock” means “rooster”, which is a common misconception. A safer, more gentle way to alert the student of their error must be employed.

To break the student of this dangerous habit, you first must ascertain whether they are familiar with the difference between the two. To do so, purchase a chef’s hat, and create a miniature chef’s hat. The miniature hat can be made of construction paper, but it is a good idea to sew one so that you will be able to use it in future classes. Place the chef’s hat on your head, and the miniature on your finger. For younger students, you can draw a smiley face on your finger. Have the student address you as “Mr. Cook”, and whenever the pronunciation is correct, respond to the student with “Yes, my name is Mr. Cook”. Any incorrect pronunciation will be greeted by your finger with the small chef’s hat, who you should slowly raise from below the edge of the table. In whatever voice you feel suitable, have your finger, which represents “Mr. Cock” greet the student.

For a roleplay activity, have the student want to get in contact with Mr. Cook. If Mr. Cook is unavailable, then the student will ask for Mr. Cock. You will play the role of a secretary whose hearing isn’t very good. During the roleplay, intentionally mix up the names and have the student very clearly enunciate whether they would like “cook” of “cock”. Upon successful completion of the activity, the student will no longer say anything embarrassing.

How Do I Explain the Difference Between Hotcakes and Pancakes?

As Japan becomes more Westernized, their traditional Dora-yaki snack has transformed into pancakes and hotcakes.

Dora-yaki has been a popular treat for children in Japan for over a thousand years. Made of sweet red bean paste and held together by two miniature pancakes; it still is popular today. However, it is quickly losing out to the recent newcomers; hotcakes and pancakes.

dorayakiAs hotcakes and pancakes arrived together on a wave of Western culture known as the “Post-McDonald’s Great Influx” back in the late 1970s, their terms have been interchangeable in Japanese society. Students are often surprised to learn the myriad of differences that hotcakes and pancakes hold.

Hotcakes are served with margarine, and have syrup spread on them with a knife. They are generally smaller than pancakes, and make great snacks for long train rides. Pancakes, on the other hand, are always served with butter, and can use either real maple syrup, or ordinary maple syrup. Due to batter ingredients, pancakes are between 50% and 75% fluffier than hotcakes. Hotcakes may never contain chocolate chips.

Of course, this isn’t a complete list, but it covers the most important points. As this topic is one that lends itself well to oration, you may have the student write down the information as you say it. When they have copied down everything that you have mentioned, they may add to the list. Quiz them to confirm comprehension.

It is hard to bring hotcakes and pancakes into the classroom, so why not bring the classroom to the hotcakes and pancakes? Invite your student to share a hotcake breakfast with you at your home, and you can teach them in an interactive, and relaxing environment.