By Kazuya Muto
Our second semester began in August. Unlike the first semester, where I had to do certain units, I could now choose units that I was interested in. I chose accounting, business and politics.
These units consisted each week of a two-hour lecture and a one-hour tutorial. A tutorial (or "tute") is a class of about 20 students, and it's supposed to be an opportunity to deepen our knowledge of the subject. Lecture audiences are usually large (there are about 300 people in my accounting lecture), too large for the lecturer to answer everyone's questions. On the other hand, in tutorials, we can ask the tutor any questions we have about things we didn't understand in the lecture. It's also a time to discuss some of the issues that came up in the lecture.
I have to admit I was fairly intimidated at the thought of tutorials. It was a completely new world to me, as I hadn't had any tutorials in my first semester. Different tutorials work in different ways, but the one that made the heaviest impression on me was my politics tutorial.
I went into my first politics tute, thinking I would discuss political issues with the other students there. We started off by introducing ourselves. Most of the students were Australians, but there were a few Japanese students as well.
At this stage, I had some confidence in my ability to communicate in English, although I spoke very slowly, but very soon I found I had completely overestimated my English ability.
We started on a discussion on "Globalization and American Hegemony." At first I managed to catch what the other students were saying, and I would sometimes join in, with my own view on some point. But gradually the other students started getting more and more into the discussion, they started speaking faster, they changed the topic more often, the words they used became more difficult. Eventually I couldn't understand a thing they were saying.
Of course, I tried my best to keep up, but in the end I just threw in the towel. Unfortunately, as the discussion became more heated, I felt the tutor occasionally look in my direction with a look that said: "Say something. What's the Japanese point of view?" I didn't return his look. I just burrowed myself into my chair.
Last week, I said English in TOEFL and TOEIC textbooks is very different to English in daily conversation. Well, English in daily conversation, I've found out, is as different to English in tutorial discussions as chalk and cheese. I was also surprised by Australians' interest and concern in current international affairs. They weren't afraid to express their opinions too, however long it took, and some of them looked like they could go on forever.
As I listened I thought: Even if I could somehow join in the discussion in Japanese, I don't think I could talk for as long as some of the other students. I don't think I have enough general knowledge, or even opinions. I swore that I would work harder at joining in discussions because I don't want the Australian students to think that Japanese are indifferent to global issues.
As I said, there were a few Japanese students there too. By the end, all of them looked completely worn out.
Shukan ST: Sept. 1, 2006
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