Teaching English

Posted on March 11, 2012 by


by Leong Sheng Hoay

Konichiwa, watashiwa Chugoku jin des.

(Hello, I am Chinese)

That was a proud moment for me – actually constructing a proper Japanese sentence. I’ve just landed a teaching job (to teach Japanese expatriates English) at A to Z Language Center (in Damansara Uptown) and in anticipation for my first mock class and real students, I was acting more Japanese than usual. Little did I know that my first mock class would be a disaster – my pretend audience were Japanese language teachers and my boss (gasp!) I taught kids and peers before but never a full grown ADULT. In the back of my mind I thought I was going to get fired. But somehow I managed stay on….


O-hayo! Call me…. Sheng san (right).

My first official class was a tormenting 2 hours. There I was, facing Naho san(at that point, I couldn’t tell the difference between their first and surnames, Naho is her first name by the way), a student who is only a few classes older than me, and a mother of a nine-year-old girl. I had to deal with these problems:

1. How do I entertain an adult whose English standard is as good as an 8 year old for two whole hours?

2. With Japanese vocabulary only limited to foodstuff (think sashimi and teppanyaki) and famous Japanese brands (Canon, Suzuki….) , how do I make sure my student understands me?

3. How do I motivate and praise them? Surely I can’t go like, ‘Good job, boy! Here’s a candy bar’

My first name in Japanese is Megumi, my family name is Ryu.

Asking my students to introduce themselves was very challenging for me. You and I know how to greet people in different ways and ask them about their backgrounds.

‘Hi there! You are…?’

‘Hey, how are you? Mind introducing yourself?’


But to a person who is trying to converse in full English for the first time, it is very likely that he or she will give textbook responses:

‘Hello. How are you?’

‘I’m fine. Thank you.’

‘Can you introduce yourself?’

‘Yes. My name is…..’

Suddenly I was very aware of how I carried myself, how fast I spoke, how I phrased my questions, my handwriting, explanations, accent and pronunciation. I had to ditch the Manglish and the slangs for proper, crisp English. I found out that their absorption rate is inversely proportional to their age. I had to be patient, waiting for responses and repeating sentences. As my student struggled to understand me, I struggled to understand them.

Sometimes when I walk into a class for the first time, my students make fail attempts to mask their astonishment at my ‘tender’ age. After all, most of us picture a typical (good) teacher to be much more mature- looking, wise and experienced.

Things picked up eventually. I observed a few classes and got tips from my fellow teachers. I always thought that I needed to know Japanese to teach a Japanese student English. But apparently this wasn’t the case. For me, the trick is to use simple sentences and write the questions down (and occasionally draw) on the board (since majority of us are visual learners), and make sure they own a good Japanese – English electronic dictionary. It’s funny how all of them tend to pronounce ‘Onion’ : ‘OR – neee – on’, and can understand the word ‘area’ better than ‘place’.

I like to drink Umeshu and eat soba with gyu.

I find my classes very enjoyable and interesting. Through our interactions, I got to know bits and pieces of my students’ daily lives, work environment, hometown, culture and lives as expatriates living in Malaysia. To my surprise they LOVE Malaysia (!) and they didn’t say it to please me. Our working hours and cost of living are definitely lesser, but most importantly it’s how friendly and accommodating we Malaysians are. (awwwwww)

Proud to be a sensei.

Come March, I will have spent nine months at the language center. Teaching has taught me many things, especially how similar and yet how different we all are. Just two months ago I found out that the Japanese have their version of Qing Bing too. I also admire their courteous behaviour, they are very respectful and I get many sumimasen-s (sorry) and arigato-s (thank you) all the time. If anything, this lovely experience has taught me how not to judge and how to appreciate an individual for who he or she is.

I recommend teaching to anybody who enjoys interacting with people and loves sharing knowledge. There are many teaching opportunities, you can start by tutoring your family members, neighbours, juniors, peers (you can earn quite a bit of pocket money to fund your gap year) or volunteering somewhere to teach the less privileged (read up on Kareem’s awesome voluntary teaching article). It’s a great platform to practice your people skills on, as most of us will take up a teaching responsibility at some point in our lives. And hopefully, armed with dedication and commitment, we can make an impact on someone else’s life. As the (cliché but true) Chinese proverb goes, ‘Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime’.

Lastly, to those who wish to embark on a journey to teach, ganbatte kudasai!

Posted in: Education