Words, Words, Words!

What does it take to learn a new word? 

I just worked with one of my Junior High School private students. She has been learning English at school now for 1 and a half years, 3-4  hours a week. She still cannot converse in simple sentences like, “I like pizza with tuna fish.” but she seems to catch on  how sentences work. It’s hard to tell what she does and does not know. Most of the words I ask her the meaning of she does not know. Wow. simple words like “brush” or “work” or “grandfather.” Where do you start at this level without resorting to ramming random words according to categories like “family” and “verbs” and “school activities?” without boring them?  

In my years (since the 1990’s) of teaching English to people of all ages  here in Japan, i have found that students remember words that they have strong connections to. 

Of course, right? 

My son loves camping. He now knows all kinds of camping equipment words! Many of which are beyond my native English vocabulary! Uhh. I haven’t been camping in over about 20 years, so…. no. I’m not going to take up brain space until I need to.

When babies learn new words, notice how they become obsessed with that “one” or “two words” they are “working on.” Recently learn what dogs look like? All of a sudden they are noticing dogs all around them! The more they connect with the word, the more they “see” it, and voice it. 

Totally irrelevant, but when I’m thinking about getting new shoes, all of a sudden, I notice how cool everyone’s shoes are (and how dumpy-looking mine are…sigh.) 

For my super beginners. I start with objects. I don’t go to sentences. Not even the “I am happy” sentences.
The verb changes and transitions depending on who or what you are talking about will scare most insecure students away. 
No. I start with “dog” “cat” … and only things they see around them. 

How you slice and dice that new word? (because it’s pretty boring…. yikes!)

The black dog,
the thin dog,
the thin, hungry dog,
the barking dog,
the two-tailed dog at the park, 
the two-tailed dog chomping a steak at the park with a four-eared pig

Adjectives, verbs, prepositions are introduced, one by one, without scaring students away with conjugations.

All nouns need an article (a, an, the) or something to replace it with (like my, his, their, etc).
These rules rarely change with the number of objects or time frame.

The subject is not yet “doing anything” but the description of that subject is certainly cool and not boring (depending how colorful you can make that particular subject.) 

Another reason why I start with learning how to elaborate on nouns. 

In Japanese, the subject is rarely part of a spoken sentence. So Japanese speakers tend to leave out the instigator of sentences. 
Whether the subject is spoken or implied, the characteristics of the subject– whether it singular, plural, animate, inanimate makes a difference in how the rest of the sentence is formed. This makes for many easy mistakes in English.

車を洗った。Kuruma wo aratta. This sentence is perfect in Japanese; the subject is implied and need not be mentioned to make sense. 
In English, it translates as, “Washed the car.” This is the opposite of TMI. Not enough information. Japanese implies that the subject is I. or inferenced by the rest of the context. Of course, you may do the same with English, as an informal declaration for yourself when you are asked (for example), “What did you do?”
“Me? Washed the car!”
or when ordering someone to “Wash the car!” in present tense.

This linguistic difference is one of the first things that seem to “trip up” my students when they are trying to converse freely. (as opposed to answering test questions or doing drills–which they are often quite good at doing.) 

Since they are digging through their own emotions and unrehearsed answers (that are very attached to their Japanese way of perceiving the world), the “subject” of a sentence simply does not occur to them as easily. 

I often stick to the “nouns” and ways to describes them for a good 3-6 months of lessons (depending on how often I see them) ! 

They learn new words that are “relevant to them”  and learn how to describe them in interesting ways, with interesting verbs, adjective and adverbs, without worrying about switching things about constantly.



More later!  

Why English?

Thank you for this chance to connect with you  through English learning.  We might not have met if you were into golf, or oil painting or jazz dance, since I’m not interested in those activities! You were drawn to this skill we call “language,” (and more specifically,) the English language, and now I can  get to know you. And I am grateful.


Let me tell you a secret. (This is not good advertisement for me, since I TEACH English ….) Ready? I don’t care if you can speak English or not.
No, really. I don’t!
I don’t even care if my own kids (who are raised in Japan) can speak English or not. I know it would be “nice” for them to be able to speak to their cousins who live in Hawaii, or maybe expand their future opportunities by speaking the international language.

But what I really look for : Are they enjoying the “self” that picks up the new skill? Does the learning process delight them? If the answer is “yes” or “maybe, with a little help,” then I want to be there for them!

I would never force a child to learn the violin, if they did not like the process of learning how to play.

I recently started playing the violin again after 25 years. I am not a good violin player. And even after 10 years of playing, I never got good. But even as a child,  I LOVED the process of learning how to play– I would keep at it for hours for the one or two beautiful notes that would occasionally sing out from my tiny violin.

It may be the same way with learning languages.
Look beyond WHAT we are learning and ask,  “Am I enjoying the process?”
Your “beautiful note”might the time you shared a smile with the English-speaking Canadian woman who thanked you for showing her how to get to Tokyo . Our powerful yet invisible connection to one another comes in and out of view because of your processing of all manners of learning, including new languages.

I’m here to help you love this magical process of language learning.
I want to help students see beyond the “benefits,” beyond the “what’s-in-it-for-me” reasons for language learning?

In my lessons, I try to move past the practical reasons and methods of learning. — I enjoy peeking under the “reasons for learning”lid, and celebrating the “person who IS learning.” 

So, how are you doing in your learning?

Are you feeling the thrill of new understanding?
Are you feeling the lovely tingle of connection to your fellow humans when you catch the deeper meanings of their words?

Language is but one gateway to deeper communication
But funnily enough, sometimes it blocks us/ shields us/ blinds us from seeing our common humanness.

As a teacher, I would like to see language for what it is:
Not a goal, but a cool by-product of something deeper, the lovely results from experiencing the “joy of learning and connecting.”

These are the thoughts that I have been exploring today.

How do you connect?

What does it mean to connect? When do you know that there is one? And why do people (when they claim to have connection) feel it BOTH WAYS — when there is absolutely nothing physical connecting one being to another? And aren’t there times when the connections feel stronger… and then less so? What’s going on there, I wonder?

In a coaching session  with fellow “coursemate,” Peter, (he was coaching me) we talked about connection. It was our first time talking one on one, outside of the course we had both been taking for a couple of months. I knew he was a nice guy but I was a teeny bit afraid that there was a chance we would not “connect.”

So he got me thinking after the call. (It turned out to be way longer than we both had planned– so much to share, it turns out!)

It made me think, “Isn’t it interesting that we notice the “un” connectedness of connection — as if we were standing with pockets of void around us until we decide to acknowledge and/or embrace one another’s existence?

So does this connection come and go? Is it “there” one minute, then “not there” the next?

“Ummm, we never really connected.”

“The connection wasn’t there, you know.”

“Let’s connect sometime!”

Maybe we’ve talked about people we weren’t comfortable with or talked to people we planned to get together with later on. Is connection really just the act of two ends meeting (as is implied in the lines above)?

Peter slipped in this observation ever so casually when I whined a bit about not being able to catch up with how more experienced a friend was. He suggested that it was not trying to get on the same level with people; people who have more “knowledge” or more “experience” or more “understanding” that is “making” the connection stronger. The moment that we realize that “we are the same person,” not higher or lower, older or younger, or more or less “qualified” — that we feel and reveal the connection that is and has always been there. Strong. Steady. Unwavering. Not more “present” today or less “present” yesterday.

So if we are neither plugging into or unplugging from one another. That’s a pretty cool thing to know. If it’s just a matter of not being able to see it all the time. That’s also a good thing to know. It’s easy to know (well, relatively easy) that we are not our “money” or our “car” or our “family,” even.

But how are we when comes to fundamental values like “love” or “trust” (or the virtue of “connecting” with people, even?) Can we say the same? Am I not my values? That’s what makes me, ME, right? or maybe not. 

Values. Are they not also “outer coats” that we were told (with the best of intentions) protected us from the cruel elements? Are they not just that — “coats” to protect us. They are not the ME — the “being” that remains intact no matter what coat we are wearing.

Does it make more sense to think that we are unconnected beings trying to connect, or that we are connected beings that are tricked into feeling that we are not?

This is the concept that I am turning over in my mind today.


A Rainbow of Colors
An original song by Auntie Mitz

A Rainbow of Colors

Red, I like the color red,
Blue, I know you like it, too!
Purple and Green
And all the colors in between,
A rainbow of colors for you!

Pink, I like the color pink,
Yellow, I nice color, you know!
Orange and white
See all the colors outside,
A rainbow of colors for you!

I like the light green of the grass!
I like the light blue of the sky!
I like the silver of the moon,
and the dark brown of the ground.

Red, I like the color red,
Blue, I know you like it too!
Purple and green and all the colors in between,
A rainbow of colors for you.

Purple and green and all the colors in between,
A rainbow of colors for you!

Hello Everyone!
It’s a warm winter in Chigasaki this year!
And the holiday season of warm wishes is upon us!
I hope everyone is enjoying their last days of 2015!

Happy Holidays!!!