Monthly Archives: May 2014

Stiff Language

Hi everyone!

Unfortunately, there’s not enough material this week to post anything useful from our discussion lessons.  On the bright side, this is a great opportunity to do something I haven’t done in a while: post something more personal about English or learning that might be helpful!

Today I’d like to talk a bit stiff language.  What is stiff language?  It’s words or expressions that are used correct, but sound overly formal or even cold.  In that sense, they are unnatural.  A really simple, really common example of this is:

“I beg your pardon?”

I often hear this expression from students when they didn’t hear or didn’t catch what I said.  Sure, this expression is correct, but it’s way too formal to use with me, so it doesn’t sound very natural.  So what is a better expression?

“Excuse me?”

“What did you say?”

Both of these questions are still polite, but not so polite that they sound stiff.

So remember:

“I beg your pardon?” X (too formal!)

“Excuse me?” O (just formal enough)

Here are some others that I hear very often:

1. Many/much

Many and much are very common words and we do use them quite often.  However, in affirmative sentences, they sound quite stiff.  A couple examples:

“There are many AKB48 fans in Kansai.”

“Oh, you have been to many places!”

“I need much money for that.”

So what is a more natural (and easier!) alternative?

“A lot (of)”

A lot of can be used naturally with both affirmative and negative sentences, as well as with both count and non-count nouns, making it a lot more natural and a lot easier to use.

So, let’s revise those sentences:

“There are many AKB48 fans in Kansai.” X

“There are a lot of AKB48 fans in Kansai.” O

“Oh, you have been to many places!” X

“Oh, you have been to a lot of places!” O

“I need much money for that.” X

“I need a lot of money for that.” O

2. Be (un)necessary

Another stiff word I hear overly used is “necessary” as well as its negative form “unnecessary”.  The pattern is usually “It is (un)necessary to”.  This is usually a direct translation from [不]必要.  Unfortunately, like many direct translations, it winds up sounding strange in English.  In this case, it is unnecessarily stiff, since we already have the verb “need”.  Here are some examples:

“There is no necessary.” (this sentence is incorrect anyway, since the wrong part of speech is being used)

“It is unnecessary to wear glasses.”

“It is necessary you bring your passport.”

Let’s try these with the verb “need” instead:

“There is no necessary.” X

“[SUBJECT] doesn’t/don’t need to do that.” O (I don’t need to do that; you don’t need to do that, etc.)

“It is unnecessary to wear glasses.” X

“You don’t need to wear glasses.” O

“It is necessary to bring your passport.” X

“You need to bring your passport.” O

3. Various

Another word I hear overused is “various”, meant to express that there is more than one or more than one kind.  Some examples of this are:

“I do various things at my job.”

“I listen to various music.”

“There are various flavors.”

However, native English speakers rarely use this word, and when we do it’s usually in a very formal context, like in a brochure or catalogue or manual.  This, again, is a translation problem.  When you look up the word 色々 in Japanese, the first translation that usually pops up is “various”.  The problem is, 色々 is a much more common word in Japanese than “various” in English.  Instead, we usually use the word “different.”

“I do various things at my job.” X

“I do different things at work.” O

“I listen to various (kinds of) music.” X

“I listen to different (kinds of) music.” O

“There are various flavors.” X

“There are different flavors.” O

If you would really like to emphasizes that there are a lot of different types of something, you can also use the slang expression “all kinds of”:

“I do all kinds of things at work.”

“I listen to all kinds of music.”

“There are all kinds of flavors.”

And there are tons of other examples like this, and related to this.  If you know of any, or have any further questions regarding these or are wondering if a word or expression that you use is stiff or misused, let me know in the comments or send me a message on twitter!

In the mean time, try using the expressions “a lot of”, “need to”, “different” and “all kinds of” next time you have the opportunity to speak or write in English!

Take care!

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Sunday and Monday Group Discussion: Habits

Hey everyone!  Here are the lexis and questions for our discussion on Sunday and Monday!  If you are a student of mine, I hope to see you at one of the discussion groups!  If anybody (student or not) has any questions about this blog, please let me know!  Thanks!

Sunday and Monday Lexis

Vocabulary

Acquire

Develop

Environment

Habit(s)

Successful

Expressions

Be born with

Be successful in Ving

Get rid of

Set an example of

Sunday and Monday Questions:
  1. Do you have any bad habits? What are some of your bad habits?
  2. Why do we have bad habits?
  3. Have you been successful in getting rid of a bad habit? How can we get rid of bad habits?
  4. What are some good habits to have?
  5. What habits are the most important for parents to set an example of for their children?
  6. How can you develop a good habit?
  7. What are good study habits? What are bad study habits?
  8. Are we be born with our bad habits? Or do we acquire them from our environment?

Tuesday Group Discussion: Habits

Hey everyone!  Here are the lexis and questions for our discussion on Tuesday!  If you are a student of mine, I hope to see you at one of the discussion groups!  If anybody (student or not) has any questions about this blog, please let me know!  Thanks!

Tuesday Group Lexis

Vocabulary

Bother

Habit(s)

Successful

Expressions

Be successful in Ving

Cut s/o off

Get rid of

In the middle of

Set an example of

Tuesday Group Questions
  1. Do you have any bad habits? What are some of your bad habits?
  2. Do you cut people off in the middle of their stories and conversations?
  3. Is it easy or difficult to get rid of a bad habit?
  4. Have you been successful in getting rid of a bad habit? How can we get rid of bad habits?
  5. What bad habits bother you the most?
  6. What are some good habits to have?
  7. What habits are the most important for parents to set an example of for their children?
  8. What are good study habits? What are bad study habits?

Books and Reading wrap up

Good evening!

Every week on Sunday at 2pm, Monday at 3pm, and Tuesday at 8pm we have a one-hour group discussion on a different topic.   These classes are open to any and all students, but the Sunday and Monday classes are recommended for intermediate and advanced students.  The Tuesday class is for high beginner to intermediate.  We have 2-4 students in each class. The teacher asks questions and discusses the answers with the students, and students can ask questions to each other (and the teacher, too!). You are welcome to bring a dictionary or ask the teacher if you need help. One lesson is 1500-2500 yen, depending on how many tickets you buy. If you are interested, please check out the website or contact me directly. If you are not available on the scheduled days, but would like to join, please tell me your available days and times and I will be happy to set up another class for you!  We are still looking for students interested in a Friday night and Saturday afternoon class.

So here’s what came up during the lesson!

New Vocabulary
  • Countless/Innumerable: 無数の

– incapable of being counted; both countless and innumerable are basically the same.

Example: He has countless old records at home.  I think he’s a collector!

Careful!  This does not mean that it hasn’t been counted before, but that the number is so high that it cannot be counted.

  • Deceased: 死亡した

– Dead, passed away (very formal)

Example: My favorite author is J.R.R. Tolkien.  Unfortunately, he’s deceased now.

New Expressions
  • a “how-to” book: 実用書

– A book that explains or teaches the reader how to do something.

Example: Did that how-to book you bought help you learn how to fix the sink?

  • broadcast media: 電波媒体

– TV and radio

  • print media: 印刷媒体

– Newspapers and magazines

Example: Where do you get your news from, broadcast media or print media?

  • Cut (#) part(s) from s/t何か から[#つの]部分をカットする

Example: I didn’t like the movie.  They cut out too many parts from the book.

Differences
Currently vs. now

Currently and now are often interchangeable.  The most noticeable difference is that currently is much more formal than now; now is standard.

However, there are some other grammatical differences.  The most common one is that now can be used for single events, but currently can only be used for states or continuing events.

For example:

  • I just arrived now. O
  • I just arrived currently. X
  • I’m going to leave now. O
  • I’m going to leave currently. X

As you can see, these events only happened or will happen once, so currently would be inappropriate.  On the other hand, they are both appropriate for ongoing events or states:

  • He’s working currently. O
  • He’s working now. O
  • He’s not in the office currently. O
  • He’s not in the office now.

While all the above expressions are correct, the ones with currently sound overly formal and not very natural.  Currently is often used with external events (like the weather or news) rather than to describe the states or actions of people.

Extinct vs. Obsolete

Both extinct and obsolete basically mean “gone”, but with one key difference:

Extinct means gone because it doesn’t exist any more.

Obsolete means gone because it isn’t used any more.

So in fact, something obsolete may not be gone at all; it may be in a museum to look at or someone may collect it (but not use it).  For instance, because of computers typewriters are now obsolete, but many people still have them.

In that regard, only living things can become extinct, while (generally speaking) only non-living things become obsolete.  So the sabertooth tiger is extinct, but rotary phones are obsolete.

Communication Challenges

Very often you will miss or forget what someone said before.  This is a very common problem, but can be hard to deal with.  What do you do when you want to ask someone about something they said before?  Well, if it was immediately before, or just now, that’s pretty easy:

  • What did you say?
  • Say that again (please).
  • Repeat that (please).
  • One more time (please).

And there are many other questions or statements you could use.  But what if you want to ask about something that wasn’t said immediately before?  What if it was two or more sentences ago?

If it wasn’t too far back, the solution is simple.  If they do not repeat what you wanted them to, just use the expression “No, before that.” Like this:

A: What do you like about novels?

B: Oh, I like mysteries.

A: Mysteries?  What do you mean? (confused)

B: Hmm?  You asked me what do you like, right?

A: No, I didn’t.

B: Really?  Sorry, what did you say?

A: I said “No, I didn’t.”

B: No, before that.

A: Oh, before that… I asked “what do you like about novels?”

B: Oh!  What do I like about novels!  I see.  I like the stories and the creativity.

However, sometimes you can be very deep into a conversation before you realize that both people are misunderstanding each other, and the conversation has become very confusing!  In this case, it’s best to start at the beginning.  For this, just remember this very simple phrasal verb: start over.

A: What do you like about novels?

B: I like mysteries.

A: Mysteries?  What do you mean? (confused)

B: Hmm?  I mean mysteries are my favorite genre.

A: Yes, I understand that, but I don’t understand why you said that.

B: Really?  What should I say?

A: You should answer my question.

B: Hmm?  Didn’t I answer your question?

A: No, you said something random.

B: Random?  No, mysteries are not random, I like them.

A: What??  (very confused)

B: Sorry, I think I misunderstood.  What did you say?

A: I said “What?” (more confused)

B: No, before that.

A: Before that??  I said “you said something random”…

B: (Very confused) Hmm… Can we start over?

A: Sure.  What do you like about novels?

B: Oh!!  What do I like about novels!  I see.

Other ways to use it:

  • Can we start over?
  • Is it ok if we start over?
  • Please start over.
  • Let’s start over.

That’s all!  Please try to use these tips next time you have a conversation in English!  Also, feel free to ask me any questions if you didn’t understand something or want to know more about something!  See you all next week!

Take care!

 

Tuesday group discussion lexis and questions: Books and Reading

Hey everyone!  Here are the lexis and questions for our discussion on Tuesday!  If you are a student of mine, I hope to see you at one of the discussion groups!  If anybody (student or not) has any questions about this blog, please let me know!  Thanks!

 

Tuesday group lexis:
Nouns

Author(s)

Genre(s)

Writer(s)

Verbs

Read

Spend (time)

Adjectives/Adverbs

Current(ly)

Famous

Favorite

Last

Often

Expressions

Before SV(-O)*

Come from

Go to bed

N* in English

Place to V*

*S = subject, V = verb, O = object, N = noun

Tuesday group questions:
  1. Do you like reading? Why or why not?
  2. Do you often read book before you go to bed?
  3. How many hours do you spend reading in a week?
  4. What was the last book that you read?
  5. What are you currently reading?
  6. Who is your favorite author?
  7. Who is the most famous writer from your country?
  8. What is your favorite book?
  9. What is your favorite genre?
  10. Where is your favorite place to read?
  11. Have you ever tried to read books in English?
  12. Do you watch movies that come from books? Most people say the book is better than the movie. Do you think so?

Sunday and Monday group discussion lexis and questions: Books and Reading

Hey everyone!  Here are the lexis and questions for our discussion on Sunday and Monday!  If you are a student of mine, I hope to see you at one of the discussion groups!  If anybody (student or not) has any questions about this blog, please let me know!  Thanks!

Sunday and Monday group lexis:
Nouns

Author(s)

Factor(s)

Genre(s)

Writer(s)

Verbs

Read

Spend (time)

Take (time)

Adjectives/Adverbs

Current(ly)

Eventual(ly)

Famous

Favorite

Last

Obsolete

Often

Expressions

Before SV(-O)*

Come from

Go to bed

In your life

N* in English

Place to V*

 

* S = subject, V = verb, O = object, N = noun

 

Sunday and Monday group questions:
  1. Do you like reading? Why or why not?
  2. How many hours do you spend reading in a week?
  3. How many books have you read in your life?
  4. What was the last book that you read?
  5. What are you currently reading?
  6. Who is your favorite author?
  7. Who is the most famous writer from your country?
  8. What is your favorite book?
  9. What is your favorite genre?
  10. Is there a book that you have read more than once? What was the title? How many times did you read it?
  11. What is the longest book you have ever read? How long did it take you to read it?
  12. How do you choose the books you are going to read? What factors are important to you when choosing a book to read?
  13. Have you ever tried to read books in English?
  14. Do you watch movies that come from books? Most people say the book is better than the movie. Do you think so?
  15. Do you think that the internet and television will eventually make books obsolete?
  16. Do you have any ideas for a story for you to write?

Bias and Prejudice Wrap Up

Hey guys!  Thank you for checking out the blog.  I hope you’re finding it useful!

Every week on Sunday at 2pm, Monday at 3pm, and Tuesday at 8pm we have a one-hour group discussion on a different topic.   These classes are open to any and all students, but the Sunday and Monday classes are recommended for intermediate and advanced students.  The Tuesday class is for high beginner to intermediate.  We have 2-4 students in each class. The teacher asks questions and discusses the answers with the students, and students can ask questions to each other (and the teacher, too!). You are welcome to bring a dictionary or ask the teacher if you need help. One lesson is 1500-2500 yen, depending on how many tickets you buy. If you are interested, please check out the website or contact me directly. If you are not available on the scheduled days, but would like to join, please tell me your available days and times and I will be happy to set up another class for you!

So here’s what came up during the lesson!

New vocabulary

  • Rational/Irrational (adj): 合理的な・不合理な

– Based on reason; logical

Ex: Smoking is not a rational habit.

  • Patriotism (n): 愛国心

– Love of one’s country

Ex: Having a national flag in one’s home shows patriotism.

  • (a) glass ceiling(s) (n): 女性がリーダーシップの地位に対するのを防ぐ労働人口で態度の天井

– A discriminatory barrier that prevents women from rising to higher positions, especially in a corporation.

Ex: The only reason she hasn’t become a manager yet is because of this company’s glass ceiling.

Slang expression

  • Be going on: continue, happen

A lot of English learners overuse the words continue and happen.  While they may be correct in many cases, they often sound quite formal, and go on (a phrasal verb) is often more common because it is informal.

Specifically, “go on” is used when a person continues an action or state or when something has been happening over a period of time.  In other words, its definition is narrower. Here are some examples of “go on” as “continue”:

  • The rain continued.  O
  • The rain went on.  X

In this case, the subject is not a person, so go on sounds odd.

  • Even after everyone went home, he continued working.  O (but formal)
  • Even after everybody went home, he went on working. O (informal)

Here is a common example of a question with “go on” as “happen”:

Person A: My neighbor always plays loud music until after midnight.

Person B: Really?  How long has that been going on?

Person A: Since I moved in, so about six months.

In this case, you could say “happening”, but since it is an informal situation and it happened more than once, “go on” sounds more natural.

Word differences

1. Bias vs. Prejudice

My students asked me what the difference between bias and prejudice is.  This is a great question because not even native speakers always know the difference!  They are often used interchangeably, but there are some differences.

Difference #1: Bias tends to be unconscious, prejudice tends to be conscious.  Everyone has biases, but we are not always aware of them.  On the other hand, we usually know about our prejudices.

Difference #2: Because we are often unaware of our bias, we often don’t have any reasons (good or bad) for them.  But since we are aware of our prejudice, we often have irrational reasons for them.  For example, if someone likes one person more than another, and you ask them why, they might say “I just do” or “No reason.”  But if someone has a prejudice towards another person, they might say “I always read on the news how Muslims are terrorists, so we can’t trust them.”

Difference #3: Prejudices are about other people or other groups, but biases do not have to be about other people.  Sometimes we are biased about ourselves!  For example, have you ever thought “I know a lot of people get lung cancer from smoking, but I’ll be okay!”  That’s bias!

Difference #4: Biases can be positive, but prejudice is always negative.  Yes, a bias can be positive!  For example, if we think to ourselves “Musicians are so cool”, and we meet a musician and admire them, that’s a positive bias!

2. So what about discrimination?

Very simply, discrimination is an act, but bias and prejudice are feelings or mental states.  So discrimination is something you do, but bias and prejudice are things you feel or have.

Some examples:

  1. You can’t hire him just because he’s also Japanese, that’s discrimination!
  2. How come you never date Asian men?  Are you biased against them or something?
  3. My dad always has prejudice against my boyfriends; he doesn’t think any man is good enough for me.
  4. He expects his wife to do all the cooking and cleaning.  I think he has some gender bias.
  5. Some people say discrimination comes from a lack of education.
  6. Sometimes during a war people’s prejudice gets worse.

That’s it!  Hope that helped!  I will be posting the lexis and questions for next week’s topic tomorrow.  Please check them out!

Take care!

Bias and Prejudice Lexis and Questions

Here are the lexis and questions for our next discussion group (May 12th, 13th and 18th).

 

Bias and Prejudice Lexical Set

Nouns
  • Bias: an unfair act based on prejudice

Ex: Don’t make a decision based on bias.

  • Development: the state of being developed

Ex: Technology has really advanced human development.

  • Discrimination: treatment based on a group instead of an individual

Ex: Hiring a man instead of a woman, if the woman is better at the job, is sexual discrimination.

  • Gender: sexual identity

Ex: If women get paid less than men for the same job then there is no gender equality.

  • Issue(s): a matter or matters of public concern

Ex: Equality is a very important (public) issue.

  • Measure(s): a necessary action or necessary actions

Ex: If a country accumulates too much debt, what measures will have to be taken?

  • Prejudice: unreasonable, preconceived ideas or judgments

Ex: Jackie Robinson overcame racial prejudice in America and become one of the most famous baseball players of all time.

  • Role(s): expected behavior of an individual based on his or her position in society

Ex: I think my favorite role is being a father.

  • Societ(y/ies): all social relationships between people

Ex: People couldn’t survive without the benefits of society.

  • Workplace: a place where a person works

Ex: Most people’s workplace is an office.

Verbs
  • Affect: have an influence on

Ex: Our society affects us greatly.

  • Combat: struggle against

Ex: We need to combat prejudice in any way we can.

  • Discuss: speak with another person or other people about

Ex: I need to discuss this problem with you as soon as possible.

  • Exist: continue to be real or true

Ex: It’s hard to believe that slavery still exists in some parts of the world.

  • Implement: carry out

Ex: How do you intend to implement this plan?

  • Regard: consider in a particular way

Ex: She regards me very kindly.

  • Treat: act in a certain manner towards someone

Ex: In Japan, people sometimes treat customers like gods.

Adjectives
  • Biased: showing bias

Ex: Action movies often portray men and women in a biased way.

  • High(ly): with great admiration or respect

Ex: He thinks very highly of his boss.

  • Racial: related to race

Ex: Segregation is an example of racial discrimination.

  • Unfair(ly): not justly or evenly

Ex: I don’t appreciate how unfairly you treat me.

Expressions
  • Be (highly) regarded: be considered as someone respectable or admirable

Ex: Celebrities are usually highly regarded in society.

 

Questions:

  1. What is prejudice?
  2. Are women and men both highly regarded in Japan? Why or why not?
  3. Are there gender role bias issues in Japan? What are they?
  4. Is there racial discrimination in Japan?
  5. Is there any kind of discrimination in the workplace in Japan? If so, what kind?
  6. What other kinds of prejudice exist in society?
  7. Does prejudice affect the development of a country?
  8. What measures has your government implemented to combat discrimination? Do you think it should? Should it do less or more?
  9. Do you think we need to discuss issues about prejudice? If so, what kind and why? If not, why not?
  10. Why does prejudice exist?
  11. What prejudices or biases do you have?

Let me know if you don’t understand anything!  Take care, and hope to see you next week!

Notes on the gestures discussion lesson

Hey everyone!  As promised, here are a couple of things that came up during the discussion that I’d like to address:

1. Differences in English

  • Pointing at vs. Pointing out

Point is a fairly easy verb to understand. However, like many intransitive verbs, you can use several different prepositions with it, and choosing the correct one can be difficult!

During the discussion lesson we talked about pointing, and students sometimes used “point out” when they should have used “point at”.

So what’s the difference?  It’s actually fairly simple: point out only means to call attention to, usually by saying something about something else. Point at only means to use your finger to direct or show direction.

So you might point out a mistake or point out a problem or an issue or point out a famous landmark, or point out that there’s only five minutes left to do something or… well, a lot of other things!  You can generally only point out abstract objects, though.

But you can’t point at a problem or a mistake because they are not concrete objects!  You can only point at a person or an animal or a thing or, sometimes, a place.

Some examples:

1. “It is rude to point out someone in Japan.” X This doesn’t make sense.

“It is rude to point at someone in Japan.” O

2. “I showed the teacher my homework and he pointed out my mistakes.” O In other words, my teacher showed me or told me my mistakes.

“I showed the teacher my homework and he pointed at my mistakes.” X This would seem strange. Why would a teacher just direct his finger at a mistake and nothing else?

3. “The tour guide pointed out all the famous tourist spots.” O This is a tour guide’s job!

“The tour guide pointed at all the famous tourist spots.” X This tour guide would be fired! As a tour guide, you need to do more than just direct your finger at famous tourist spots!

4. “They seemed very mad: they were pointing their fingers out to each other.” X This means they were explaining something about their fingers to each other. That doesn’t sound angry.

“They seemed very mad: they were pointing their fingers at each other.” O This makes sense: I can imagine two people directing fingers at each other when they’re angry.

2. Sentence Structure

  • Verb order
  • Negative sentences with two or more verbs

I’ve noticed a lot of Japanese people use the verb “think” a little strangely sometimes. One of the most common errors I hear is Japanese people putting “I think” at the end of a sentence instead of at the beginning. For example:

“He’s coming, I think.” X

“I did well on the test, I think.” X

In English, “think” is the main verb of those sentences and so it ought to be put in the beginning, like this:

I think he’s coming.” O

I think I did well on the test.” O

For example, in Japanese, you would end a sentence with “I said” or “I think”. In Japanese it’s fine to say:

1. それが難しいと思います

Or

2. 行きたくないと言いました。

But in English, we’d say:

1. I think that’s hard.

And

2. He said he doesn’t want to go.

 

The other more common and slightly more confusing error is this: making the second verb – or the verb towards the end of the sentence – negative, instead of making the first verb – or the verb towards the beginning of the sentence – negative. Here are a couple of examples:

I think he’s not coming.” X

I think I didn’t do well on the test.” X

In the second case, it’s important to make the first verb in a sentence negative so that a native English speaker knows the sentence is negative as soon as possible. Otherwise, it’s a little confusing. In Japanese, on the other hand, the main verb comes at the end of the sentence, so you make that one negative:

1. 僕がよく頑張ったのを認めてもらわなかった

2. 二人がよくデートしてるからと言ってもカップルになるとは限らない

In English, however, we tend to make the first verb negative:

1. They didn’t acknowledge how hard I worked.

2. Just because they go out a lot that doesn’t mean they’re going to become a couple.

So let’s correct the previous examples:

“I think he’s not coming.” X

“I don’t think he’s coming.” O

“I think I didn’t do well on the test.” X

“I don’t think I did well on the test.” O

It’s pretty hard to get used to, but with a little practice, you’ll sound a little more like a native speaker!

In both cases, what you say is probably still comprehensible to native English speakers, but it’s more difficult to comprehend than the natural sentence structure and it may be confusing. In English, we expect the main verb to come at the beginning of the sentence. We also expect a negative sentence to start with a negative verb, not end with one.

So why does this happen?

Both are examples of a common problem among all language learners called negative language transfer. Negative language transfer is when a person uses the rules of his or her native language to speak a second language and this results in a mistake.

Many language rules transfer correctly to other languages. For example, all languages have verbs, nouns and adjectives. All languages have subjects, verbs and objects (but not all languages always use all of them!). However, as your English gets better, you’ll see more and more that you can’t always transfer every rule from Japanese to English. Most of the time, you’ll just make weird or confusing expressions, but sometimes you’ll say something completely wrong or even offensive! It’s always important to think “how would a native speaker say this?” instead of “how do I translate this Japanese into English?”

Hope that helps!  See you again next time!

 

 

 

Group Discussion: Gestures

Hello and thank you for checking out the Start Gate English blog!

Every week on Monday at 3pm and Tuesday at 8pm we have a one-hour group discussion on a different topic.  We will also have a Sunday class in the near future, so please keep an eye out for that!  These classes are open to any and all students, but the Sunday and Monday classes are recommended for intermediate and advanced students.  The Tuesday class is for high beginner to intermediate.  We have 2-4 students in each class. The teacher asks questions and discusses the answers with the students, and students can ask questions to each other (and the teacher, too!). You are welcome to bring a dictionary or ask the teacher if you need help. One lesson is 1500-2500 yen, depending on how many tickets you buy. If you are interested, please check out the website or contact me directly. If you are not available on Monday at 3pm or Tuesday at 8pm, but would like to join, please tell me your available days and times and I will be happy to set up another class for you!

First, here is the lexical set (a group of words and expressions necessary for the discussion):

Gesture Lexical Set

Nouns

  • Gesture: 身ぶり

– Body movement used to express an idea

Ex: The Indian gesture for “I’m listening” is very different than the Japanese gesture for it.

  • Insult: 侮辱

– Something that gives offense, offend

Ex: In America, raising your middle finger to someone is an insult.

  • Sign Language: 手話

– A language used by making signs with one’s hands

Ex: How do you say your name in sign language?

Verbs

  • Bow: お辞儀する

– Incline the body or head in greeting

Ex: In Japan, people often bow to each other

  • Count: 数える

– List one by one to determine a total number

Ex: I can’t even count how many CDs he has, he has so many.

  • Gesture: 身ぶりする

– Make a gesture, show by gesture

Ex: Is that woman gesturing at us?

  • Identify: 把握する

– Figure out the nature or character of something or someone.

Ex: Can you identify the person who stole your purse?

  • Point: 指を指す

– Aim or direct one’s finger at someone or something

Ex: You shouldn’t point directly at people, it’s rude.

  • Signal: 合図する

– Make a sound or gesture to someone to communicate

Ex: How do I signal a waiter in the US?

Adjectives

  • Appropriate: ふさわしい

– Suitable, something that fits or makes sense

Ex: Ripped jeans are not very appropriate at a wedding.

  • Confusing: 複雑な

– Causing confusion

Ex: Many people say that English prepositions are very confusing.

  • Distracting: 気を散らす

– Causing to lose focus or attention

Ex: Please turn off the TV while I study, it’s very distracting.

  • Foreign: 外国の

– Away from one’s home country

Ex: Have you ever been to a foreign country?

  • Insulting: 侮辱的な

– Expressing disrespect or rudeness

Ex: “Go to hell” is an insulting expression in English.

  • Unique: 唯一の

– The only one of its kind

Ex: Every country has its own unique culture.

  • Universal: 世間一般の

– Related to or the same everywhere in the world

Ex: Some gestures are universal, like waving at someone to greet them.

Expressions

  • Make a gesture: 手まね・身ぶりする

– Gesture

Ex: I don’t understand this gesture that you are making.

  • Not… any more: もう。。「では」ない

– Something that was true before but is not true now and will not be true in the future.

Ex: When I was a kid, I collected baseball cards, but I don’t any more.

Okay, now on to the questions and answers!

1. What are some gestures you use in Japan? Are there any good ones or insulting ones?

The students showed me a gesture for drinking and stopping. They showed me the peace sign as well, a very popular gesture in Japan. One student showed me gestures for “I don’t know” (he shrugged his shoulders) and for money (he made a circle with his thumb and forefinger).

2. How do you signal someone in Japan? How do you gesture that someone is crazy? Angry? Bored? How do you signal that you want someone to go away?

The students said they wave their hand facing downwards to signal to someone in Japan. To gesture that someone is crazy, they spin their finger either over their head or ear. To gesture that someone is angry, they put their fingers on their head as though they were horns. To gesture that they themselves are angry they cross their arms. To gesture that they are bored, they pretend to fall asleep! To signal that they want someone to go away, they also wave their hands facing downward, but they wave their fingers in the opposite direction.

3. Is it appropriate to point in Japan?

In most cases, it is. For example, when you’re giving someone directions, it’s appropriate. However, it’s generally rude to point directly at people, but it’s appropriate to point to yourself. However, one student said he sometimes does it when the other person says something he agrees with.

4. Are there any gestures that you used as a child but you don’t use any more? Are there any gestures you learned as an adult that you didn’t know when you were a child?

One student said Japanese children start learning how to bow as children but learn how to do it better as they get older. One student said that when he was a teenager he often used the middle finger because at the time, he and his friends thought it was cool.

5. Do you know any gestures that you can make with your feet?

One student said people sometimes tap their feet rapidly. Another student mentioned that he crosses his legs (which is not exactly the same, but quite close!).

6. Do you know any gestures that people make in other countries?

One of the students displayed the well-known “air quotations”; using two fingers on each hand to make quotation marks in the air. Another student gave me the middle finger! Do you know what these gestures mean?

7. Are there any gestures that are unique to Japan?

The students couldn’t think of any.  Can you?

8. Have you ever made a social mistake by making the wrong gesture in a foreign country?

The students haven’t had much experience abroad, so they haven’t made any social mistakes (that they are aware of!). One of them said they were surprised that a lot of foreigners shake hands very strongly, and he was worried that his weak handshake was insulting!

9. Have you ever seen a gesture that you didn’t understand?

The student brought up the air quotations again. As a gesture, it means “allegedly” or “apparently” or “according to someone else”. We often use it when we hear or read something that we find doubtful. We use it when we don’t want the listener to assume that we think the statement is true.

10. What are some universal gestures?

The students said handshakes are a universal gestures. Waving to someone to greet them is also universal.

 

That’s it!  So what gestures do you know?  Are there any gestures that you have seen but didn’t understand?  What gestures are unique to Japan?  Let me know on twitter or in the comments section!

There were a couple other interesting challenges that came up during the discussion, so look for those next week!  Take care!