Do no harm? Part Two

“In my second-year French class, I had to keep a journal. I could only say stupid things: ‘I got up at six. I ate breakfast. It’s cold. I’m tired.’ I was reduced to making these idiotic statements because I didn’t have the language to explain, ‘It’s cold for September and I  feel sad that summer is over. But I will try to cheer myself up by thinking of how beautiful the trees will be in a month.’ In my French, it was either cold or not cold. Nothing in between, no discussion of what the weather meant. After finishing my entry every day, I felt depressed: my life sounded bleak when it was reduced to bad weather and meal schedules, but I wasn’t fluent enough in French to talk about anything else. Now, my Japanese feels thin in the same way.”

Polite Lies by Kyoko Mori page 17

The author is someone who is a bit oversensitive (or perhaps trying to appear to be?), but I do think there is a real danger there. For one, I would not recommend trying that “Think to yourself in the foreign language during the day” self-study tip if you want to retain your sanity. There is also a danger that students will learn to hate the language, or possibly even themselves, if they are forced to revert to slapstick humour, give views they don’t really believe in, oversimplify their life stories and feelings etc, all so that they can complete what we have asked them to do.

Do no harm? Part One is here. And if you want to know why she should feel that way about her first language, my theory about Japanese women and English is here.

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