Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Two Lessons I Learned from the Japanese (Part 1)

I lived in Japan for two years teaching English at a Japanese High School. No, I wasn't in the JET program. I was a teacher, just like foreign language teachers here in the US. I kept a blog during my time there and reflected on experiences big and small, Japanese and non-Japanese, positive and negative. It was a wonderful adventure.

But that was five years ago. Now that time has passed and the wheel of change has rolled on to include moving across the country, getting married, having a baby, and taking a new job, I've realized despite the many memories I cherish from my time in Japan, there are two big lessons I learned from the Japanese.

"Let's all be quiet"

First, I learned to shut up and listen. This is a lesson that my parents and teachers had been trying to teach me my entire life. I'm a talker. I used to talk incessantly, always jumping in first, always processing as words fell from my mouth rather than thinking. Sometimes this practice was fine; sometimes it definitely was not. I spent most of second grade out in the hallway for talking too much. My desk in ninth grade English class was pulled up next to the filing cabinet, separated from the other students. Poor Mrs. Brown, my senior Psychology teacher, moved my assigned seat all over the room trying to get me to stop talking so much. Finally, I explained to her that every time she moved me, I met someone new, which caused me to want to talk with them even more. Needless to say, she did not appreciate my explanation.

When you move to a foreign country without knowing the language, however, you learn to listen. (Side note: I recommend learning the language prior to moving. I guess that's another lesson learned!) I lived in a rural part of Japan where English speakers were scarce, so no matter how much I wanted to say, it didn't matter because no one could understand me anyway. It was kind of a trial by fire; never had I been so frustrated by the inability to get my point across. So I stopped. Until I could speak Japanese, I didn't bother. Then, as I learned the language, I had to choose my words carefully. I didn't know many words yet and it was an arduous task to string together a sentence, so I had to narrow my input to only the most important ideas. I suppose it's not that I learned to be quiet, but rather that I learned to listen more carefully than ever before and to be economical in my speech. This has served me in the classroom in a couple of ways. I don't fear the silence it takes for people to think. I am amazing at wait time now. And, my directions are clear and precise. I use few words to explain procedures and expectations, which I think goes a long way, especially with the adult learners I work with now who sometimes seem to have even more trouble listening than I did in Mrs. Brown's class.


  1. What an interesting way to learn that lesson! It sounds like you had an adventure, but also learned a ton. I will have to stop by later for the second part. You have me curious about the other lesson learned.

  2. My thought was identical to Crystal's. Besides Part II, may we have the link to the other blog?!

    1. Haha! That blog was disabled... Not even sure I could find it again. This is why while I enjoy blogging, I still like my paper journal too. 😉