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Three out of Four Isn't Bad!


As part of my Japanese studies, I have recently been reading Japanese proverbs. Just like English, the Japanese language is rich in these interesting and usually very old, 'nuggets' of wisdom. One that made me laugh out loud when I read it was "Kon ya no shiro bakama", which literally translated into English might be "The un-dyed clothes of the dyer". The common English version of this proverb is "The shoemaker's children go barefoot."

Why did it make me laugh? Because it's talking about me and my children! No, I'm not a dyer, nor do I make shoes, but before becoming a woodblock printmaker, I spent a number of years as an English teacher. You might be surprised if I tell you that my daughters Himi and Fumi, who were both born in Canada, don't speak English! Do you think I must be a very bad teacher?

Well, of course I don't think so. There is a very good reason why they don't speak English - they live in Japan! They go to a Japanese school, all their friends are Japanese, and they are completely surrounded by 'nihongo' practically every minute of the day. The only English they hear is that which I speak, and we all know how much attention young teenage girls pay to their fathers ... not much!

Actually, as they do understand English very well, we have some very interesting conversations. I speak in English, and they reply in Japanese. Back and forth it goes ... English, Nihongo, Eigo, Japanese ... Visitors to our home watch wide-eyed. "Ii, desu ne!" they inevitably say. "It's wonderful that your kids are so good at English!" I just smile, and don't let on that the girls have only three of the four skills: Japanese listening and speaking, and English listening.

I'm not worried about this situation at all. I think that down inside my kids' heads, English speaking ability is 'hiding', just waiting to pop out when it becomes necessary. If they choose to go to Canada or England in the future, I am confident that they will start to talk very easily. At the moment, they simply don't want to speak English. Later on, they will feel different, I am sure.

And I no longer have to feel embarrassed about this situation. I'm not an English teacher anymore. But it would be kind of nice if they showed a bit more interest in wood-block printmaking ...