My old teacher
By Kazuya Muto
The day I came back to Japan, I decided to visit my old teacher. This was the man who, just before I left for Australia, had warned me about the risk of going abroad without a clear purpose.
I hadn't seen him for around 10 months and I confess I was a little nervous. Had my English improved enough since I last saw him? Had I matured enough as a person?
I got to his house around 10 at night. I had rehearsed a scenario beforehand: I would ring the bell, he would open the door, and we would start talking. Unfortunately, it didn't quite go to plan. He caught me by surprise, standing outside his house, arranging bicycles. I didn't know what to say.
"Hi, I'm back," I blurted out.
"Wow," he said, opening his eyes wide. "You can still speak Japanese?"
"When I came back from the States, I couldn't speak Japanese properly for at least a few days."
We started chatting, and I don't really remember what we said, because I was too happy and excited to be back. Then I was suddenly brought back to earth when he said: "There are some high school students here you know. (He was a cram school teacher but he taught from home.) Could you tell them about your experiences? I'm interested to hear about them myself, too. In English."
I felt a little stunned. I'm reasonably confident about my English, but speaking English in front of my teacher was a seriously intimidating prospect. He would judge me on how well I could speak in English. If I wasn't as fluent as he expected me to be, then he would write off my trip to Sydney as a complete waste of time. I had to speak well.
I was filled with dread. The classroom was in chaos when we appeared. But the students fell quiet as I went to the front. My knees were shaking. I tried to say something, but my throat was dry. I croaked out, "I missed you guys." I couldn't continue.
"OK," said my teacher. "He's looking a little overwhelmed here. You guys should probably ask him some questions. Prompt him."
No one said anything.
"OK," said my teacher again. "Mr. Muto, you've just come back from experiencing a lot of things, so tell us, please, what you think is the most important thing to keep in mind when studying English abroad."
The man didn't pull his punches. That was a tough question.
"I don't think studying abroad is the best way to study English," I started. "There are loads of people who have studied English abroad and they still can't string together a basic sentence. The most important thing is that you have the determination to master English, wherever you are. If you want to master English you should go to a place that inspires that determination in you."
Everyone was quiet.
"Right," said my teacher. "Thank you for those fine words, Mr. Muto."
He led me out.
"Wait a bit, will you? Until we're finished," he said. "We're going to have a party for you."
Shukan ST: Feb. 16, 2007
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