Words of the Week part 1


At first, I blamed my none-too-frequent blog posts on a lack of internet in my own apartment. Now, about a month after the happy home internetting event, I find myself still posting intermittently so, in an attempt to post at least once a week, I shall begin to chart my growing grasp of Japanese in a weekly post sharing the words I have scribbled down on my word cards each week. This week – aside from such valuable words as “important” (daiji) and “example” (rei) – saw my first itty bitty baby steps in the world of Japanese swears.

Fun – a kind word for a pile of excrement. As an “ice breaker” I enjoy asking my students what were the best and worst things that happened to them that day. A shy older woman frowned and told me that when she left the house that morning, she found a “fun” on her lawn. I didn’t know what a “fun” was and she didn’t know the word in English. The other student in the class, a middle aged man, told her to draw a picture. “Ah, so!!” she cried and on a piece of scrap paper, drew a pile of dung complete with a little curl at the top. This is a word – and an image – that I will never forget. Thanks, Nobuko!

Damare – “Shut up.” On Wednesdays, I teach a class of 12 year olds who, after 2 classes, I have yet to “click” with. Thus, the past 2 classes have been 40 minutes of drudgery for them and myself. The class is even more difficult because of a little problem child named Seiya who insists on acting like a cretin for those entire 40 minutes. Last Wednesday, he took delight in torturing Akiko, the shy, mousy girl who sits across from him and when I tried to get to the bottom of the situation he groused at her to “shut up.”

“No, Seiya!” I said, careful to use language graded to their level. “No ‘shut up!'”

“Damare,” he said callously to me. I didn’t know the word – it only sounded like more illegal Japanese to me so I pointed firmly to the “English Only!” sign in the room. He sneered and went back to slumping against his chair.

“English only!” I said again, helplessly. The students looked at me lazily. The clique of girls in the front went back to chattering in Japanese, the stunned-looking red faced kid in the middle of the room continued to stare at the wall, Akiko continued to whimper and Seiya continued to smirk in his seat as he and Yuki chatted – again, in Japanese.

I sighed and began to pass out worksheets.

Later that evening, I discussed classroom Japanese with some fellow teachers. At this point, I can understand when my students say “Got it!,” “That’s wrong,” “Finished!” and “Difficult!” but the rest is often a mystery.

“What does ‘asoka’ mean?” I asked. “My students say it all the time.”

“It means ‘I see,” said Wendell.

“Oh, good!” I said. “And what about ‘damare’? That little jerk in my 12 year old class was saying it to me today.”

“That means ‘shut up,” said Sean.

… jerk!!!

No more Ms. Ineffectual Teacher. That class of 12 year olds is getting a drastic makeover once I get back from vacation.

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One Comment Add yours

  1. momo says:

    damare is the closest thing to a swear word that i know. a nice japanese priest taught it to our 6th grade class! heehee.

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