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 ...
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
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
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