Hello and welcome to the everyday language podcast from Akita Japan. In this episode, I’m being interviewed by my fellow online teacher Amy Lin (see Amy’s YouTube channel here). Amy asks me about my background, (where I’m from, where I’m living now) my teaching experience and also about my language learning.
Don’t sweat it – Don’t worry about it.
To think on your feet – an idiom meaning – to think quickly and adapt to new situations
Amy: Where are you from?
Mark: I’m from the UK, from the south, kinda near London.
Amy: Usually, what’s the weather like over there?
Mark: In the UK, it’s usually raining and miserable.
Amy: Ah, haha.
Mark: But summer is really nice, summer’s really nice in the UK.
Amy: Does it rain often in summer too?
Mark: Er, sometimes, yeah but last summer was quite nice.
Amy: I see, it rarely rains in Arizona.
Mark: Oh right.
Amy: We don’t get, yeah and, where do you live now?
Mark: Now, I live in Japan, in a, in a place called Akita, Akita city.
Amy: Akita? Akita?
Mark: Mmm, Akita.
Amy: And how long have you been living there?
Mark: About 3, for just over 3 years, it’s just over three years, but kind of on and off, like, I’ve been going back to the UK every, every year for three months for work.
Amy: Ah for work, and what about, did you go back to…? Wait what about your families? Where, where are they?
Mark: Oh yeah my mum and dad, well my dad is in the UK, and then my brother and sister are there as well, erm, yeah, but like I had a kid, me and my wife had a baby, a couple years ago, so we’re, we’re kind of based here now.
Amy: I see, and if you have to compare England and, er Akita? Right?
Mark: Yeah, Akita.
Amy: Where do you like more?
Mark: Oh that’s a hard question, they’re really different, um, let’s see, like, the environment is really nice, lovely fresh food, um, kind of slow pace of life.
Amy: Do you eat a lot of seafood over there, I mean in Japan?
Mark: Yeah, like it’s, there’s so many var-, so much variety, so you go to the supermarket and there’s, you know, so many types of fish, which you will never see in the UK.
Amy: Really, wow.
Mark: It’s really cheap as well, and tasty.
Amy: Aha, that’s awesome, the only fish I eat is the tilapia and that’s, that’s it.
Mark: Oh right, can you get many, many different types of fish, where you are?
Amy: We do I think like we had tilapia, we have tuna, tuna fish, those two are probably the most popular ones, in my area, at least…
Amy: …and then I think we also do have other fish, but I just I don’t know how to cook them, so those two, yeah, I would only get tilapia and tuna fish.
Mark: Who’s the cook in your house?
Mark: Oh right, wow, ok cool.
Amy: But I don’t cook well though so that’s why I’m like, if you eat my food be prepared that you might get sick later on.
Mark: Haha, that doesn’t sound good.
Amy: Haha, I’m working on it, I’m working on it, and what about the people there? In Japan?
Mark: Well, everyone is really friendly, um, kind of thing, but they’re also kind of… maybe it’s a language thing, you know, because if you don’t speak very good Japanese, I think it can be difficult, or…
Mark: …or, or you just have to be very brave and not care what people think.
Amy: Mmhmm, I see and we did an episode on that before, right? On some of the biggest cultural difference between Japan, no, yeah, between Japan and UK, right? I think that’s a very good episode to go back and listen to.
Mark: Yeah that’s a good one, there’s loads of that kind of stuff, as well in the future that should be coming [on this podcast].
Amy: And then what about you your free time? What do you like to do during your free time?
Mark: These days, er, it’s about spending time with my son, I guess and my wife, so take him to the park, so he can run around there, he quite likes football.
Amy: How old is he now?
Mark: He’s going to be, he’s going to be three in January, so, two, two and…
Amy: So he can walk around on his own?
Mark: Yeah, he can walk and run and go on the, yeah, sort of playground stuff. So yeah.
Amy: Uhhuh that’s nice, can he talk yet?
Mark: Yeah he can talk, he sings, and
Amy: He sings?
Mark: He’s got his favourite songs, he’s always singing them.
Amy: Oh my god in English? Or in Japanese?
Mark: Er, both, when we were in the UK he was singing British nursery rhymes now, like, he’s been, we’ve been back for a few months and he’s already like very good at Japanese.
Mark: He just picks it up naturally because of everyone around him.
Amy: Uh huh, if I remember correctly you also like music right?
Mark: Yeah I love music, but, er, you know the great thing about kids is they’ve got no, er, like how do you say it? Like he’s not shy, like he’s just singing as loud as he can in the car or running around the house.
Amy: Uh huh, that’s awesome, do you sing with him? When he does that?
Mark: Yeah, sometimes, we all have to sing. We’ve heard some of the songs millions of times, and actually, you’d think you’d hate them, but I, kind of, some I really like, ah, that’s good music,
Amy: Even after a million times?
Mark: Yeah definitely, they’ve grown on me, like wow, that’s a really good piece of music, I like that.
Amy: Uhhuh, that’s awesome, now let’s talk a little bit about your teaching experience, how long have you been working as a teacher?
Mark: Er, about 3, about the same time as I’ve been in Japan, so 3, about 3 years.
Amy: Ah right, and what do you like the most about being a teacher?
Mark: Oh yeah, so it’s meeting lots of different people, um,
Mark: That’s really nice, and you know trying to, you know find out about different people. On the internet through online teaching, it’s really cool you can meet people from all different countries,
Mark: Yeah, so it’s really good, it makes it keeps your mind active and makes you have to think on your, think on your feet.
Amy: Definitely, yes, yes that’s like one of the most important skills as a teacher besides, of your native, sorry, besides your native language what other languages do you speak?
Mark: Yeah, I can speak some Chinese, a little bit, my Japanese is getting better,
Amy: I think it’s more than some, your Chinese is more than some Chinese.
Mark: I can’t, I can’t I feel, like I can’t really speak much.
Amy: No, no way, we’ve had like conversations in Mandarin for like an entire hour before, and I remember you also told me that you are working on your Japanese exam right?
Mark: Oh, yes I am, in December is the next, well the next exam is, that I’m gonna take is the N2 exam.
Amy: And N2 is what? What, what level is that?
Mark: In the Japanese exams JLPT, er, Japanese Language Proficiency Test, JLPT, yeah, there’s five exams, and number five is the easiest and number one is the hardest, so yeah like in Japan I think if you want to get a job with um, Japanese companies you should try to pass the N2 exam.
Amy: Wow, so N2 is the second most difficult one right?
Mark: Yeah, um second most difficult, I heard like N1 is mostly really old grammar, or things that you don’t necessarily use in everyday life.
Amy: So if you get to N2 level does that mean you are conversationally fluent? or more than that?
Mark: Yeah, I think so, er, conversationally fluent, you can basically read the newspaper, books you can understand what’s going on in, you know conversations around you, on TV, I think.
Amy: I see, so you have experience learning Chinese and Japanese right?
Mark: Yeah, yeah I’ve done both, well I’m still doing both, I haven’t finished you never finish.
Amy: I see, what do you struggle the most with when it comes to learning a foreign language? You can talk about either Japanese or Chinese.
Mark: Er, let me see, with Chinese to begin with it was tones, er, and then I found there’s a good method, er, so doing shadowing really helped, for me, I think.
Amy: O,h I think you have to do an episode on shadowing, that’s the one thing that, the first time I heard it I feel like that’s not something I could do, but I have heard people recommending that method so often that I feel like maybe I should give it a try.
Mark: Yeah, definitely because, well I think it’s really important for Chinese because you can say the…the sounds, but no-one knows what your speaking about you, it can be frustrating in everyday life,
Mark: Taiwanese people or mainland Chinese people won’t know what you’re talking about if you’re making the right sounds but you’re not using tones.
Amy: Yeah, yeah, definitely.
Mark: Um, and then,
Amy: What about Japanese? What’s the big?
Mark: Yeah, conjugation of…
Amy: Conjugation, what do you mean by that?
Mark: Changing the verb endings and
Mark: …noun ending for all the different functions of speech.
Amy: That sounds complicated just hearing it.
Mark: It is complicated, much more so than Chinese I think, so it takes a, you know, long time to get used to it and for it to become natural, I’m still doing that now,
Mark: You can know the rules, but without having to think about it, like you want to get past that stage when you just think, not thinking you’re just speaking, um, yeah so I’m doing that now I guess.
Amy: I see, then, what about… let’s compare Japanese and English, what is the biggest difference between Japanese and English?
Mark: Okay, so probably the formality levels when you’re speaking.
Amy: What do you mean by formality?
Mark: Er, so polite speech and casual speech, it’s really important in Japanese to adjust your, you know, how you change verbs or even words that you use.
Amy: We don’t do that in English right? Do we?
Mark: A little bit, like imagine if you’re writing a…or if you’re meeting someone for the first time you’re a bit more polite.
Amy: Uh huh, yeah.
Mark: Yeah, and you’re not speaking like you speak with your friends.
Amy: That’s, that’s true, so are you saying that? Then what about in Japanese? Is it just a lot more? Or just like a few words or few phrases you had to change?
Mark: Er, well they’ve got respect language there is like teineigo「丁寧語」 which is everyday, er, everyday politeness, long endings for the verbs and then there’s respectful language – sonkeigo 「尊敬語」, which is when you’re talking to older people, or your boss, or customers and then there’s special verbs for them, from the other normal verbs, and then there’s humble language which is when you [are] expressing your own actions and there’s different verbs for them, when you’re expressing your own actions to senior people, or customers or, and then there’s super, er, respectful language ,
Amy: Oh my.
Mark: Yeah, so there’s lots of stuff to, to think about I guess.
Amy: And those, those endings are you saying that you have to apply that to all the verbs, if you are talking to that one specific person?
Mark: Yeah, there’s ways of doing it like, you can say, like to write is kaku 「書く」 that’s the short way to say it Kaku, the polite teineigo 「丁寧語」way is kakimasu「書きます」, the [respectful way] sonkeigo 「尊敬語」is okakininarimasu 「お書きになります」,
Amy: Oh my! That’s like a different word to me, it sounds very different!
Mark: There’s another way to say it for humble, so yeah, imagine doing this with all the different verbs, and then you’ve got to say past tense, present tense and then there’s, lots of other ways, to say things where you have to change the verb.
Amy: That is not very encouraging, not really, sounds like, I mean I’m interested in learning Japanese, but now I’m like do I really want to learn that?
Mark: Yeah I think it’s like Korean, like you’re learning Korean aren’t you?
Amy: Yeah that’s true, yeah I think Korean does that too, that’s true yeah, so here we have a last question, if you could give a beginner tip what would it be? When it comes to learning, learning a foreign language.
Mark: Well don’t sweat it if you can’t, if you find something difficult don’t worry about it don’t get hung up on it, just go to the next thing and work on that, um, I think in, in language it’s not, like quality, getting everything a hundred percent right, is, you know, it’s good in the long run, but in, in the beginning there’s so much to learn, you know there’s huge amounts to learn,
even after three, four or five years there’s still…you can spend your lifetime learning, so don’t worry about one thing, um,
Amy: That’s true,
Mark: You know, there’s lots of other things to get, to work on, to study, to you know, and to enjoy it as well, because it’s really cool learning new words, or you know speaking a little bit or, you know, reading a book or something like that. You know it’s…
Amy: That yes, yeah definitely just don’t, learn a little bit in like every language and then you end up with nothing, that’s like what I’m doing, but yeah very, very good advice.
Mark: Yeah, it happens doesn’t it? And maybe, you know everyone goes at different speeds, so…
Amy: That’s true yeah, awesome, thank you so much.
Mark: You’re welcome. Thank you.
For more from Amy please check out her letslanguage blog where she writes about her own language learning, gives super useful language tips and reviews the latest language learning tools.
Intro music Happy by Setuniman, see his work on Pond5.com
Outro music: Accordion Improvisation song by Tristan Lohengrin
Both works under a CC licence.
Episode 9: Teaching in Japan