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I Was an English Boot Camp Instructor
On Mt. Fuji, no one can hear you scream (while learning a second language)
David Michael Weber (crossfire)     Print Article 
Published 2005-06-27 16:10 (KST)   
©2005 D. Weber
When it comes to the teaching of languages there are many, many different theories on the best way in which to convey the basic essentials of a language's grammar, syntax, and nuances.

Some theories suggest casual conversation, others rigid repetition and drilling. At Kanrisha Yousei Gakko (KYG) an intensive English course school, they apply a unique style to the teaching of English. It involves a teacher shouting rapidly mundane and trivial questions at the top of their lungs like a madman at their students to which the students have to respond to in a similar manner.

This practice of audio torture is called "Question Training" and it has left many a student a quivering wreck of dangling modifiers, misplaced adjectives, and inappropriate "to's." Question Training is the type of English lesson a verbal sadomasochist with suicidal tendencies would love. The course is aptly named "HighSpeed English," though it leaves out the loud part.

I was an English instructor for the course but the title English Boot Camp Instructor perhaps would be more appropriate. KYG offered me the chance to finally be able to live out my dream of screaming at Japanese people and getting paid to do so for once. KYG holds five- and seven-day intensive courses throughout the year employing teachers with flexible enough schedules to teach and scream for their courses.

I taught nine of these courses over a period of nearly two years. The five-day courses were held in hotels where I rarely saw the sun, but the seven-day courses were held atop a secluded hill in the woods near Mt. Fuji. From there I had an amazing view of -- trees! Having lived in Tokyo so long I had begun to wonder if trees were only rumors in Japan. Oh, I could also see Mt. Fuji, too.

The secluded camp deep in the woods where no one can hear you shout.
©2005 D. Weber
The accommodations with their large rooms filled with bunk beds or futons were reminiscent of military barracks. Whether by accident or design, the whole compound resembled a military installation from its chow hall, its hidden location, its strict rules, and of course the incessant shouting.

The English course was in the same camp next to a managerial training course. Managerial training courses in Japan also involve a lot of shouting along with grueling bowing classes and badges of shame for those who cannot execute a proper 45-degree bow. It was here that companies would send their prospective managers-to-be to learn the fine art of being a managerial jerk. The camp trains them to become the type of managers who back home in the States generally attract more than their fair share of unmentionables in their coffee and projected pieces of lead in their bodies from disgruntled employees.

Due to our close proximity to the manager camp we too had to assume a military-like air. It started giving me basic-training flashbacks except now I was the drill sergeant.

The teachers had to wear uniformed white smocks with the company's imperial Nazi-looking eagle symbol emblazoned upon them. When it came to moving about, neither the teachers nor students could just casually stroll to class or the chow hall. We had to move quickly and with purpose even if we were lacking one. Half-remembered dirty cadences from my army training days began popping out of my mouth as I marched about the camp with a look of stern concentration to mask my utter confusion.

For two hours everyday we had Question Training, which consisted of the instructors screaming questions like drill sergeants at their frightened students. We used stopwatches to give each student an exact one-minute barrage of rapid-fire questions. I'm sure we were using a mix of techniques left over from the Cold War for flushing out North Korean spies and World War II POW interrogation procedures.

Some of the teachers taking a break from shouting.
©2005 D. Weber
The idea behind Question Training is to get students to overcome their shyness and slow response times. The questions are Yes/No questions which don't require much reflection, so a student should respond very quickly to any question shouted at them. At the same time, Question Training is designed to hammer in (with emphasis on "hammer") certain grammar points.

First we give each student a minute salvo of questions that they must answer "Yes" to. Then, after we have completed one round with the students we shout the same series of questions at them again, but this time they must answer with a "No." Next we do Yes/No questions where they must give a truthful answer and in our last session we shout the answer and the students have to give us the question.

An example of a typical Question Training session:

Student: ...Yes, I am...
Instructor: LOUDER!
Student: ...YES, I ... AM A COLLEGE STUDENT!
Instructor: FASTER!

For six days, we'd lay into our timid students with a series of such grammatical questions and statements lightly peppered with company propaganda:


During my first course at KYG, I started losing my voice (along with my mind) from all the shouting and developed a cold. So whenever I shouted a question like: "ARE YOU A COLLEGE STUDENT?" it came out like: "AH JEW UH COWEGE STEWTENT?"

Regardless of my impairment, I was confident that when the course was over I had instilled a new sense of confidence in my students to utilize their English skills to their fullest extent, as well as emboldening them to stage right-wing revolutions in their hometowns in order to drive all of us foreign devils into the sea.

The course was difficult for both students and teachers with its discipline, long hours and lights out but several years ago it was worse when they used to have do a 20-kilometer hike.

The manager trainees still do a 40-kilometer hike during their course. It took several years of convincing the camp administrators on behalf of the English students (not to mention the out-of-shape inebriated English teachers who also had to do the stupid hike) that a 20-kilometer hike has very little if absolutely nothing to do with the learning of another language. Unbelievably, logic triumphed for once and the activity was suspended until further notice.

At the end of the seven-day course, we were all tired: the teachers from shouting and the students from being shouted at. Not that shouting was only our activity. We also had role-play, listening classes, conversation classes and outdoor sports. Watching salary men and office ladies fight over Frisbees during intensive Frisbee football matches was a memorable experience.

As to the effectiveness of Question Training, I have to admit that every course I taught the students grew to love it and by the end often shouting louder than the teachers, many of whom were raspy by Day 5 anyhow. One of the beneficial aspects of Question Training was the encouragement and strength it gave to students particularly those who were normally very shy even in their personal lives. Many of them shed tears of both joy and sorrow on the last day.

After our graduation ceremony, the students left to resume their roles as salary men, engineers, managers, etc... And we teachers un-smocked our smocks, surrendered our power and stopwatches, and returned to Tokyo to resume our teaching responsibilities elsewhere or to once more take up the Ronin Path in search of gainful employment.

Mt. Fuji, boot camp HQ
©2005 D.Weber
©2005 OhmyNews
A native Tennesseean, David M. Weber is currently at the grammatical grindstone cranking out gerunds, dangling modifiers and perfecting tenses as an English teacher in Japan. In his travels, he has hiked the Inca Trail, been mugged in Mexico City, broke his leg in Switzerland, attempted to bike through Mexico and failed, climbed Pyramids in Egypt and Mexico, drank great quantities of beer at Oktoberfest and gambled at Monte Carlo.
Other articles by reporter David Michael Weber

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