If you teach English at an eikaiwa, the higher ups will probably prefer that you arrive in Japan with little to no Japanese ability. This, they believe, improves the chance that you’ll comply with their “English Immersion” policy – i.e., the idea that one hour of exposure to English without translation per week can teach a child the language. It’s no secret what I think of this approach, but many tuition packages are sold by the very idea that teachers will speak only English to their students, no matter how confused or disrespectful they are. If you’re one of those brand new monoglot eikaiwa teachers who’s currently drowning in a world of Japanese, here’s a handy Top Ten List of most common words your young students are almost certainly saying behind your back, right to your face.
- Dekita. You know, the thing they say so often you might even have picked it up if you speak as much Japanese as they speak English. All together now: dekita means “I was able to do it,” in the spirit of “Done!”
- Unchi. Number two on this list – literally. A word they just can’t get enough of. What is it about poo that dazzles kids so? It’s brown. It comes in a variety of sizes. Once it’s out, it serves no real function. Yet – breathtaking, just like any other “dirty” part of the body. Also included in the typical Japanese child’s litany of scatological swears is oshikko (urine), kuso (crap again; but in the swearword sense), oshiri (backside), chin chin, ketsu, and kintama – three words which I am too ladylike to translate.
- Mendoukusai, often shortened to mendou. “Annoying.” This term will usually be directed at something you’ve done or tried to get them to do. How encouraging.
- Baka. A classic schoolyard taunt roughly translating to “idiot.” If you’re in Kansai, you might also hear “aho.” Hopefully, they’re not talking about you.
- Muzukashii. “Difficult.” This is a good one to learn so you know when to slow down or try pantomiming “can” another way.
- Mienai. “I can’t see!” In Kansai: “Miehen.” Try moving your flashcards higher.
- Tsumaranai! “Booooooooring.” English is so boring, nee?!?! To be able to bellow this in the middle of my dullest classes would have been a dream come true when I was a kid. Somehow, it was less cool when I was the one being complained about.
- Machigaeta. Finally, a bit of humility – “I made a mistake.” That, or you made a mistake.
- Wakaranai. “I don’t understand!” In Kansai: “Wakarahen.”
- Dou iu mi? “What do you mean?” Notice how many of these Top Ten items have to do with the kid not knowing what’s going on.
Kids are kids. They think you can’t understand them and they sure as heck can’t understand anything you say beyond “dog,” “cat,” “orange,” and “lion.” Naturally they’ll complain, but try to see the upside in being surrounded by yapping kids. For a beginning Japanese speaker, it can be hard to pick out any words when adults speak, but children speak more slowly than and, as you’ll see, they repeat themselves constantly. I owe my entire grasp of plain form verbs and sentence level fluency to my disinterested kids. Of course, the downside is that I speak Japanese like a bratty 8 year-old fecophiliac.