ESL as an ALT, Part 2

Written by Donna Frances Angel G. Imperial

Part One of Donna’s piece can be found here.


Now, let’s talk about the challenges I’ve been through and my pieces of advice on how to surmount each one of them.

Negativity to positivity. Since not all of my co-teachers knew that I am a professional licensed English teacher and the thing they only knew is I am an ESL speaker, there are days in which they become skeptical with my teaching and language capacities. Expressing and using English words which they never encountered before raised a little problem. This is actually not only true to ESL speakers, but also to native speakers and EFL speakers. Even though I know what the correct word is, there’s a possibility they might refute or question my idea. As a professional teacher in my native land, dealing with licensed English teachers here in Japan, truly built a gap. Dealing with this awkward situation was quite hard at first, but I learned my lesson. Working as a professional teacher is really challenging, but you need to constantly remind yourself why you are here. These are some of the few things I have been doing to become productive. One is to learn more English words and share what you’ve learned. There’s no harm in sharing knowledge as long as it is a fact. Another is to share teaching ideas and improve oneself by accepting criticisms. Remember to make these negativities into strengths and be mature or open enough in getting feedbacks. If they raise their eyebrows of what you’ve said, consult the electronic dictionary – this is the thing they really trust the best. Show them what you got, but remember, BE HUMBLE.

Language mission. While living here for two years now, I have to admit that language has a big impact of my daily living situation. Japan is known to be a country where English is not widely used. The word that is easy for you might be difficult to others and can possibly be troublesome, especially at work. I know that learning the language can be difficult at first, but when you live in a place where the native tongue is used every time, it can be a stress-free work for you. Listen intently, speak slowly, repeat as necessary – we all learned from the basic.

Embracing culture. Their country and your country are totally different despite the fact that there might be existing similarities between two nations. In my country, being open, honest and friendly are very natural, but here – it’s not. If treating your friends over to eat is normal in my country, but here – it’s not. They would really pay for their share. It is truly peculiar for me, but eventually, I understood their culture and practice myself their customs. For instance, if they’ve been so kind to you, don’t forget to return the favour. A small gift or a bag of sweets is truly appreciated. Living in other countries, especially here in Japan, it is a must to learn to understand their attitude and express oneself with modesty.  

Getting out from the routine. The routine goes on and on – get up, eat, take a bath, go to school and vice versa. Every day from Monday to Friday is most likely the same. Nothing is different, to the point that you’ll feel you are having a stationary life. Since this is my first time to live independently away from home, homesickness drains out most of my energy on top of the cultural surprises. What you can do is go out from the four corners of your apartment. Find new hobbies you can do outside or at your crib. Reach out first to people if necessary, but do it courteously, not irksomely. Last but not the least, communicate people from home. Send a message or do a minute call. With this, you won’t feel totally alone. What happened to me is I was invited to be one of the ALTs who was assigned to do a weekly English Conversation night class in which I was able to meet locals from my area and gained more friends. English summer camp is also a yearly activity in different prefectures, and I was so grateful to organized it and be one of its staff members. I met a lot of kids who are so eager to learn English and gave me an idea that learning a language should be from the heart. I also attend Japanese fireworks festival or an ordinary local festival, which gives me beautiful memories. Moreover, I also got the chance to be a part of the team who orients the new batch of ALTs which is one of the experiences I will never forget. It was an immense task and it was an honor to be given by the Board of Education to do such task. Through this, I was able to meet different races and was able to do some tasks that I usually do in the Philippines – being a staff, giving a lecture and being one of the leaders.

Speaking at the Shizuoka Development Conference.

As we live in a certain place for a long time, we will meet different people from different walks of life. With them, we can gain insights and experience various surprises. I am an ESL speaker, but remember that no matter who you are, or where you are from, all of us are citizens of the world. No culture, language, nationality, color or gender should divide us and be a barrier to our individual and group success. If you’ve been pull down by people around you, stand on your feet once again. Be strong and act as an adult. In a certain way, not all people will be pleased because you’re different. Mixing in with a homogenous society can be tedious, but never frown or give up. It takes time, but eventually, most of them will accept you. Deciding to live in a new place is like a life gamble. Every day is a new discovery. Positive or negative would it be, you should be open to changes and challenges.  Living in a certain place also means opening up yourself to a new culture. This calls you to embrace the country’s qualities holistically. Blending in is one of the ways. As the saying goes, “Do what the Romans do.” Be cautious what you do, say, and decide, but don’t forget to interact – keep away the idea of isolation. Ask questions, be curious and try to learn the language. Be always aware with the dos and don’ts.

I know that every situation is different and we should never compare our experiences. Other ESL speakers might have greater experiences than I do, but I hope this opened the window of some realities happening to other ESL speakers like me. Everything right now is so overwhelming and a once in a lifetime experience. I will seize every bit of it and have a little sunshine every after the rain. Be proud of who you are and where you are from. We all have different strengths, which we should feel blessed to have and use them wisely for the benefit of the common good. Make the best out of every moment because you will surely miss the days you have while living in this beautiful country.