Friday, April 04, 2008

The great shrimp

Today I got a haircut. I did not ask The Man to do it for me. I went to my usual hairdresser, and she charged a lot more than The Man does. On the plus side, she did not end up bleeding all over the place, and I did not have to take off my clothes.

On the way back I found myself sitting on the train next to a high school student who was studying an English vocabulary list. Naturally, I peeked. I am always interested in what high school students study in their English classes. It fascinates me. It always looks as though they study very, very hard, and learn all sorts of difficult things. I always wonder how they manage to study so hard to so little effect.

His word list was in a textbook, and seemed to be in no discernible order. It was not alphabetical. Nor was it arranged by subject. In fact the only category I could think of that these words all belonged to was the category of 'English words that will probably turn up in a vocabulary test.'

Phase, I read, and when his thumb moved out of the way, frustration. Then propaganda and hypothesis. Herald came next, then paradox, friction and thrift.

I suppose my students can't remember many of the words they learned in high school because they studied vocabulary the way the student sitting beside me was studying it– as random lists of unconnected words, memorized for an exam.

And that reminds me of a private student I had years ago, whose English was pretty good and who had a seemingly endless supply of funny stories about herself. She told me she learned the hard way that it was not a good idea to learn new words out of context and in alphabetical lists. She used to study on her own, and in an effort to improve her vocabulary she studied the way she had learned to study at school. She made lists of words. But she put them in alphabetical order.

One day she was in Kyoto when a very nice American tourist asked her for directions to somewhere. She ended up showing him around Kyoto and enjoying herself very much, practicing her hard-won English. The highlight of the day was when she took him to a famous shrine. As they approached the shrine she mentally rehearsed the words she would need, and rounding the corner flung her arms out dramatically and proclaimed:

"And this is the great Yasaka Shrimp!"

Her guest was, she told me, 'very surprised.'


shyam said...

You always manage to make me laugh - usually inelegantly. Snorting isnt elegant! :)

Keera Ann Fox said...

Oh, good! Another snorter! Can't let you laugh inelegantly by yourself, you know.

Ookami Snow said...

I have a horrible time with foreign languages. One of the ways I made it through Japanese at K-State was to make a play on words so that I could remember the correct word for it. One time when we were studying words in class sakana (fish) came up. Quickly sakana in my mind became "suck on a", and so it was very easy for me to remember "suck on a fish". Even to this day when I see the word "fish" my mind reads it as "suck on a fish".

I actually don't remember too much other japanese...

Don said...

I suppose I should study some cuz it looks like I'm going there again in a couple weeks. Mixed feelings this time, but only because of the work aspects.

kenju said...

I'm really glad to know you didn't have to get naked at the hair salon!!