Japanese Phrases Teachers Hate Hearing from their Students

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Photo by Jerich Abon

“One more class to go,” you think to yourself. “I hope the students are cooperative today.” Many of us who have experience working in the Japanese school system have probably had similar thoughts towards the end of the school day.

You start class as usual and when the time comes for interaction, start to call on students. But then you hear it, maybe more than once. That word that lets you know that this is not going to be an easy class.

めんどうくさい。

This is an instant message to you that this student, and perhaps other students in the classroom as well, aren’t buying what you’re selling.

Getting “mendoukusai” from students is often times not a reflection on your teaching skill at all, but rather a poor reflection on the student’s attitude. This phrase tells you that the student wants you to leave them alone because you asking them a question is, in their opinion, bothersome.

Depending on how your school runs things, you can take the opportunity to let students know that in life there a lot of things we have to do even if we don’t necessarily want to. When they grow into adulthood, their superiors won’t put up with “mendoukusai”.

So of course it is a bit nerve racking when students vocalize their disinterest when you call on them, but what about just in the middle of class?

(つか)れた!

A student says, while you are in the middle of a sentence. This is the one that by far irritates me the most. Why? Because it is very frustrating hearing a student complain about how tired they are when you are incredibly tired yourself, but you have to keep going to ensure they get their English education in.

Not only that, the student is basically stating that they’re ignoring what you are saying so everyone can know that they are tired. No sympathy.

Next, you have a pair work activity lined up for everyone followed by a presentation. After the students have gotten their time to get acquainted and practice the material, it’s show time. You call a female student and her partner up.

いやだ!

As some may already know, this is one of the first words/phrases Japanese children learn, and it is quite comparable to its English “No, I don’t wanna” counterpart. Knowing this one would think that by this age students would know that such phrases aren’t welcome in school, but alas. They say it more often than you might wish.

This one gets on teacher’s nerves because it is the ultimate expression of selfish disinterest in whatever is going on, be it for schoolwork, not wanting to eat something, not wanting to go somewhere, etc. So it is particularly frustrating to hear when you are trying to ensure a functional, productive class.

Even if it’s just one off day, if you aren’t hearing these all the time then you are lucky. But what’s a teacher to do if it’s becoming a common occurrence and all the students are using it? It is at this point that it’s time to take disciplinary measures and create a ダメな言葉禁止(ことばきんし)リスト (banned bad words).

Some teachers I know have found great success with this method, and some even establish it from the beginning of the semester so students know not to cross those boundaries. Of course, these need to be enforced, so it is best to discuss with your school faculty what the most reasonable means of discipline is for your students.

Are there any other words or phrases that you can’t stand hearing in the classroom?

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Musician, Japanese language and food lover.
  • Jenn J says:

    Personally complaints like this make me laugh, because they’re so far fetched. Once I made the students create origami fortune tellers, which was the easiest task that a 5 year old could do, yet a few of my apathetic SHS students were whining that it was ‘too difficult’ to fold the paper. It makes me laugh when they respond so melodramatically to such a simple task or request. I haven’t taught them how to complain in English, but I’ve taught them some expressions like ‘cheer up’ or ‘you poor thing’ and use these jokingly whenever they whine. I also guilt-trip them and tell them they’re breaking my heart. If they complain a lot I sit down next to them and ask really simple questions to illicit the answers out of them, usually this stops the complaints, because they and I both know that it’s not really that hard, they’re just lazy. Sometimes it can be demoralising to hear but it’s unavoidable. When I was a teenager I complained a lot during subjects I didn’t like and often refused to engage in tasks that were difficult for me so I can’t really blame them for doing the same thing.

  • primalxconvoy says:

    Another option is to teach the kids the ENGLISH versions of those words, and more. After a few words and phrases have been given to help the children express themselves, the teacher can actually have a conversation about why the kids don’t live the lesson/school/etc.

    You could even get them to them have a presentation, or create written or illustrated work showing which things they don’t like, in English.

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