Sorry, long time no post.
I've been spending a lot of my free time trying to learn Japanese. It's coming along, slowly but surely. Every day when I go to work I tell the Japanese staff something new (I can say some essentials like "I'm going to Kyoto next week", or "I want to go to bed", or "I want to drink beer"), and get them to correct my pronounciation.
Oh, some more about work, since we never fully explained how the business works:
Students pay for "points" up front, and can then use these points to book into lessons on their own time. So students don't have regular schedules, they just come to lessons when they feel like it. The schedule is constructed based on whoever books in to class, people are grouped by their ability. The average lessons costs about 3000 yen, which is about 30 bucks, which is probably too much for a 40 minute lesson. Some people come to class all the time, meaning they actually spend more on English lessons in one year than a year of university costs in Canada. Ouch! That's a LOT of YEN!!! The nice thing, is that you get to meet a wide range of people, and you mostly see a few different people every day.
The dreadfully boring part of the lesson is that all lessons are written out for you in a series of manuals. Particularly in the lower level lessons, the "teacher" might as well be a voice recording. In the higher level lessons there's more room to be creative, and have a discussion on interesting topics... correcting grammar, or helping with vocabulary where necessary. Still some of the lower lessons can be fun too. Yesterday I had a woman explain to me how to make mashed sweet potato cakes. They sound pretty tasty! People are always surprised when I tell them that I cook. But we got to exchange recipes for awhile, so that was fun.
Hardest word/phrase I've had to explain so far: " The moral implications of cybernetic implants". Yeah....this actually appeared in a listening exercise. Fortunately I took a course on Biomedical Ethics, so I'm used to explaining these things.... but even so...haha, that was a challenge.
Other more surprisingly difficult words: "deserve". This shows up in a lesson on congractulating people. By the 3rd time I taught the lesson, I had devised a scheme for explaining it: I drew 3 faces on a piece of paper. 1. he's always late for work. 2. He never works hard. 3. She's always on time, and works hard. She deserves the promotion. This is always received with a chorus of understanding "Ohhhhhhhh....". It's a great satisfaction when you make them realize a difficult concept.
I have been brushing up on my Canadian history too. They are so interested in other cultures, and most people here are Australian, Brittish, or American. So, getting to be the sole Canadian ambassador at my school, I feel I should at least KNOW what I'm talking about when I say that Canada was settled by both Brittish and French colonies.
It's also interesting what people know about Canada:
*Student: "Laurentian is a famous place for viewing the leaves changing colour."
Me: "Umm...really? I had pencil crayons called 'Laurentian,' when I was younger... I guess it's famous for colourful things."
*Student: "Many young girls want to get married in Green Gables."
Me: "...... like.......Ann of Green Gables?"
Student: "Yes, it's very popular with young girls, and some of them want to grow up and be married there."
Me: "I did not know that."
And the thing that's really unfortunate about the school is that we're "not allowed" to meet up with students outside of class. At least, we're not allowed to give out personal information, or invite them to do anything. This is most obviously done because the company is afraid that if students made friends with English speakers, they would stop coming to lessons.
So, we meet many interesting people, but we're really not allowed to get to know them personally, which is a shame since they are so curious about us and where we're from, and we really want to know about them and Japan.
The non-teaching staff at schools consists of Japanese people with fairly good English communication ability. We ARE allowed to hang out with them, however it's supposed to be part of their job to keep an eye on teachers...make sure we're not stealing students from the school. So there's a touch of Orwellian overwatching, and an air of nervous mistrust in the school, until you get to know people better. Fortunately, many of the Japanese staff really don't LIKE working for the company, and thus don't care much about the rules.
Anyway, all in all it's not too hard of a job, and it pays pretty well. Living is comfortable in our apartment, and we can easily travel to many great cities nearby. You see a lot of cool things just walking around here too. Yesterday while walking to work I passed a couple buskers playing possibly the best cover of Ticket to Ride, that I've ever heard. Next week, we're going to Kyoto, and will have many new pictures and stories to share!
Anyway, check back soon, and we'll try to post some more pictures and sights.