Top 10 words needed when talking to a Japanese elementary school student!

A not so serious look at essential Japanese vocabulary words for working at a Japanese elementary school.

I taught English at 10 Japanese elementary schools & loved it!  Not only was it
a rewarding time spent with children, it was also very educational.  I am
convinced one of the best ways to learn interesting Japanese is to teach
English to children!  Some of the words here are not too useful outside Elementary
school, but I’m sure if you are creative you won’t have too many problems
finding a way.

Eiji and Shintaro are posed and ready for a series of Janken
matches which may lead to the World Series!  [ see #5 below ]


Not really a Japanese word, but if you don’t know about these guys, there isn’t much hope for you to understand the student’s conversation (on any subject!)  It does illustrate ‘katakana English.’ Combine ‘pocket’ with ‘monster’ and naturally we get ‘pokemon.’

Other examples include カラオケ karaoke (KARA (which is Japanese meaning ’empty’ – 空 ) OKE (from orchestra), and パ・#92;コン pasokon (PERSOnal COMputer)

 We will leave it at that and move on:

#9… ミミズ MIMIZU (worm) & いのしし INOSHISHI (wild boar)

These are fun words to interject when teaching the ‘I like…’ form. Get the kids to repeat after you, “I like a CAT” (KIDS: I like a cat), “I like a DOG” (KIDS: I like a dog), “I like MIMIZU” (KIDS: I like MIM… YADA SENSEI!)  It’s fun

#8… 鼻水 HANAMIZU (runny nose) & 花水木 HANAMIZU KI (Dogwood Tree)

I must apologize for this one:  Sorry.  If you ever get asked, “What tree do you like?” A very handy answer is, “HANAMIZU (a short pause) KI DESU”  It’s great fun

#7… 鼻毛 HANA GE (nose hair) & 耳毛 MIMI GE (ear hair)

When teaching body parts, Simon Says is a great game.  “Simon says, ‘Touch your HEAD.’  Simon Says, ‘Touch your HANAGE!'”  

Other GE words include: 髭 hige (beard), 眉毛 mayuge (eyebrows) and 胸毛 munage (chest hairs)

#6… 宇宙人 UCHUU JIN (alien)

or if you really want your money’s worth — 未確認飛行物体 mikakunin hikou buttai (Unidentified Flying Object)

#5 … the じゃんけん JANKEN game

If you have lived in Japan you know this.  It is the old Paper, Rock, Scissors game you used to play as a child (maybe).  In Japanese here is how it goes:

最初はグー saisho wa gu (‘First is stone’)
じゃんけんポン janken pon (JAKEN! – the players show paper, rock, or scissors at the PON)
If there is a tie, this line is repeated: あいこでしょ aiko deshou

#4… おんぶ ONBU (piggy back ride)

Very often one gets asked, ” おんぶして。 onbu shite ” (let me ride piggy back)  Look to the next word if you want to say no

#3… ダメ DAME! (NO! That’s not nice!)

    This was one of the first words I learned.  I hear this word everyday; most often directed at me.

#2… サインして SAIN SHITE (Give me your autograph!)

There is an interesting phenomenon which occurs when a foreigner comes to a Japanese elementary school.  He or she becomes a STAR!  Children come running out of nowhere wanting something very strange… your autograph.  Honest!  It’s true.  SAIN comes from the English ‘sign.’


#1… 浣腸 KANCHO (a medical term (enema) for giving medicine up one’s backend)

This ranks at #1 for YOUR protection!  I don’t really want to explain this, but it is very popular among the boys in elementary school.  They make their fingers in a pointy fashion and then ram it up your backend.  This is not a pleasant experience.

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