Is it your dream to teach English in Japan?
After writing about a few of the common questions foreigners living in Japan get asked by Japanese people who encounter them, this idea popped up: What about the hilarious questions our students ask us?
While working as an English Language Teacher (with any age group), we get asked a great assortment of questions by our students. The best questions are probably asked by kids, but adults come up with some weird/deep/interesting questions occasionally.
Here are some examples of what you might expect to hear, but don’t forget you’ll also get random questions all the time. Questions will be asked in attempted English or in Japanese, it doesn’t matter, they’re just curious.
This is gonna be a three-parter, just because there are so many good questions to be asked. (And so many funny ways to respond if you can think quickly.)
There are lots of general questions the students want to know about you. Get used to answering them a lot, even if you already answered them in your awesome self introduction during your first lesson. Making up answers is usually more fun than giving normal answers, but you kind of have to choose which way to answer the personal questions ahead of time.
Here are the basics – but there are so many more. Mostly your students want to know what you like and what you have in common. You should ask your students these questions as well – preferably before they ask you. At least at the beginning, most students will be kinda shy about approaching you and trying out their English, so be friendly.
Actually, they might just say (Who are you?) だれですか。
Normal answer: Be prepared to pronounce your name in Japanese to help them remember; maybe use a nickname if your name is long.
Fun answer: If you’re feeling silly, answering Doraemon, Mario, Pikachu, etc. is always entertaining, but not for use with long term students. There’s something magical about ‘Totoro’ showing up to help a (haven’t started learning English yet) elementary second grade classroom at cleaning time, never to be seen again. (Creating a curiosity about English before students start mandatory lessons doesn’t hurt either.)
(Literally, what country are you from.)
Normal answer: They’ve probably never heard of the small town/city where you’re from. The country is appropriate here, but older students might know some big cities, especially if you can pronounce it in Japanese.
Fun answer: Make them try to guess. Say you’re Japanese (French, Korean, etc.) and see how they react.
Normal answer: They just want to know which city or neighborhood in Japan, not your address. (Don’t tell stalker-children your address – some kids will try to come to your house which is inappropriate.)
Fun answer: I commute from the US every day. On my private jet.
Normal answer: Students want to know, when did you get here and do you know anything about my hometown/country yet? It’s probably best to be honest here.
Fun answer: I was born here.
Normal answer: Just the truth: nope, a little, sure I can. But I’d avoid telling students you can speak Japanese, at least at the beginning. (The exception is when you have your own students for freelance lessons and you need to communicate with them in Japanese to take care of business, outside of lesson time.)
Fun answer: Always No. (But I can magically understand your questions asked in Japanese.) Even if you can speak Japanese, don’t encourage your students to use Japanese by admitting it. They will eventually figure it out, but you don’t want them in the habit of relying on Japanese with you/every other foreigner they might meet. A reoccurring problem is students chatting in Japanese during their English lesson.
(Especially natto, but even sushi.)
Can you eat our food or do you starve in Japan? They mean do you like it, and they want to hear yes, but be honest.
Normal answer: It’s okay to admit you can’t eat natto, because a lot of Japanese people don’t like it either. Just ask them, they’ll make the horrible face. Be clear about any food allergies/things you can’t stand honestly.
Fun answer: I haven’t tried being funny about this because I don’t want to be offered something I hate due to a misunderstanding.
I might exaggerate by saying my favorite food is the local specialty, but only if I do like it. I like to put things I don’t want to eat on a student’s lunch tray when they aren’t looking.
Normal answer: Your actual age, duh. Fine, but sorta boring. I use this when I work with adults.
Fun answer: If you know around how old a class is, you can say you’re the same age as them. I was already in my mid-thirties when I moved to Japan, but I look (and act?) young for my age. I always say I’m eight when I work with kids, so sometimes it takes them a second, then they start smiling or say, ‘I’m older than you!’ They often ask for clarification, ’28?’ or even joke ’88!?’
The best response to this was, “I thought you were ten.” Love that kid.
Sometimes this means pointing at their ring finger and asking, “Bride?” in an attempt to ask in English.
Normal answer: “I have a boyfriend in America,” will get you a response of, “ooooooh!” from junior high school girls. My previous school’s principal said, “Marry.” to let me know he thought I should settle down with said boyfriend. Now my students love hearing that my husband is Japanese.
Fun answer: I have answered this, “Not yet, I’m only eight.” If you have the right atmosphere for it, the best way ever to answer this is, “Yes, I’m sorry.” as if the student wanted to ask you out.
The rest is mostly of the What’s your favorite ~? 一番好きな～は何ですか。 variety, which you will probably be asking them a lot as well.
Be sure to have fun with these common questions because they’re asked all the time, especially while your students are getting to know you.
Next week, don’t miss Part Two – Naughty Questions, with the male perspective given by James of ALT Insider!