By Patrick Tyler
Special to the Gazette
It’s an approach to learning Japanese that makes sense.
“If you're going to learn the language, you can't
ignore the culture,” said Ted Bonnah, an instructor
with Lifelong Learning.
is one of five conversational languages offered by the
Division of Lifelong Learning this fall. (The others
being American Sign Language, French, German and Spanish.)
The courses are focussed on conversational skills and
are available in the fall and winter semester. No testing
takes place and formal admission to the university is
not required. For more information, please call the
Division of Lifelong Learning, 737-7979 or visit the
division's Web site at .
It’s why he and the students attending
his introductory conversational Japanese course share “honourable”
rice cakes and tea during class time, have Japanese music
playing in the background and share the odd weekend get-together
cooking Japanese cuisine.
“Japanese is a high-context language,”
said Mr. Bonnah. “What words you use are very much
determined by the setting, the people you are dealing with,
the subject matter … so it’s important to be
familiar with the Japanese culture.”
Mr. Bonnah knows. He spent seven years in Japan, originally
travelling there to teach English as a second language (ESL).
During that time, he came to love the culture and eventually
passed the highest level of the country's Japanese language
proficiency exam – which may seem something of a departure
for a Newfoundland boy born in Labrador, raised in St. John's,
who earned his bachelor of arts in English.
His admiration for things Japanese is obvious in his teaching
and he invests great enthusiasm and humour in getting his
students to embrace the language. An example of this is
his disjointed version of the chicken dance used to teach
the numbers one through 10: scratching your body (itchy
— one), stroking your knee (nee — two), blowing
sand from the palm of your hand (san — three) and
Mr. Bonnah’s students get great pleasure from this
and laugh openly at his antics. They also laugh at their
errors and applaud each other spontaneously when one of
them is particularly adept at picking up a word or spelling.
They’re having fun learning.
Their reasons for being in the class range from personal
interest to laying the foundation for future work.
Cory, a quiet young man, began his association with Japanese
by watching Japanese television shows and movies in their
original soundtrack. He’s joined the class so he can
learn to follow the film and TV dialogue more accurately.
Karen, a forthright 20-something, is paving the way for
an ESL teaching stint in Japan “sometime within the
next nine months.” It won't be her first ESL contract,
having taught before in Thailand, but it was the Thailand
contract that introduced her to Japanese people and the
Japanese language and set her on her current path.
“My best friend in Thailand was Japanese,” she
said. “And I just loved the people and the language
and that's why I'm here.”
Whatever their reasons, they're progressing well, picking
up the nuances and subtleties of the language in just their
fifth week of instruction. And if they sometimes falter,
Mr. Bonnah is quick to jump in with an example of his own
learning errors to lighten the moment. Just ask him about
his carrot faux pas.
“I was doing a speech in front of 200 people in Japan.
I wanted to say, even though we are all different people,
we’re all human beings. What I said was that we're
all carrots,” He laughs unabashedly at the recollection.
Then, in a telling afterthought: “No one said a thing