What conversations have you overheard in a language they assumed you don't know?

Mar 28, 2020

I taught Japanese high school kids to ask me who’s the cutest girl in English class.

This is an audio version of an answer I gave on Quora! Hope you enjoy.

Original Answer

I taught Japanese high school kids to ask me who’s the cutest girl in English class.

This was back in 2015, when I went to Gunma Prefecture (it’s the countryside, also where Initial D got most of their inspiration from!) to do a presentation in English. I was there to facilitate the first year high school students for their English lessons.

They told me to do a presentation about my origin (Malaysia, and my tribe in Sarawak). It’s a fun topic to tell people about, and I did it 3 times (A lesson in the morning, one in the afternoon and one later in the day).

The one rule that we had to follow though was that we were not allowed to speak Japanese whatsoever. Japanese students tend to be less willing to practice English if they know that the foreigner speaks Japanese. That sense of comfort affects their learning.

Side note, I will try to be as literal as possible when it comes to their English. It’s funnier that way. If I was telling this story in person I could do their broken English accent pretty well haha!


There I was, giving my presentation. This was in the second lesson.

This class was a bit larger than the others, around 30 students if I remember. At the end of the presentation, I give them time to ask me questions about it, or anything really.

In the first lesson, I didn’t know that they could ask me personal questions (You have girlfriend? What is your woman type? Who is favorite Japanese actress?).

At least I’m prepared for it this time.

In the middle of the class were all the girls bunched up together. On the right side, the boys.

These boys were the troublemakers: You can already tell, they like to do pranks and love joking around.

I ended my presentation with,

“Do you guys have any questions?”

“はい (hai, yes)!Yes, yes, I have question!” One of the guys stood up, the ringleader of the group. The other guys look up to him, they depend on him to ask the questions. He was the bold one.

“Sure, what d’you want to know?”

“えっとね (etto ne, ‘Uhm’)、What is uh, your favorite Japanese food?”

Ah yes, a normal question. Finally.

“Oh right, I love 油そば (aburasoba)! It’s hot oil soba with lots of meat in it!”

“えーー (Eh~~~)” The entire class reacts.

“何それ?聞いたことねえよ” – What is that? Never heard of it.

(nani sore? kiita koto nee yo)

He starts asking his friends (in Japanese) what it is. “What is it?” “Never heard of it.” “Is it Japanese?”

It makes sense. Aburasoba is a Tokyo delicacy, and it’s a recent invention (last few decades I believe). It’s not normally known in the countryside.

I overheard him asking his friends and told him:

“Oh, it’s only in Tokyo. I don’t think you can find it in Gunma.”

“ああああ、オッケーオッケー!”

(aaaaa, okay okay!)

They write down the Kanji for Aburasoba in their English notebook, so they can search for it online on their phones. So adorable.

“何か日本語分かってるねこの人” – This guy sure understands my Japanese…

(nanka nihongo wakatteru ne kono hito)

Woops. I accidentally replied to his Japanese, in English. Ignoring him, I went with:

“Does anyone else have a question?”, quickly moving the lesson. Looking around the room, no one else had a question.

A hand went up. It was the same guy. I braced myself again.

“はいはい!I have question!” He said, with his English notes in his hands.

“Hahaha. You again? Okay, what’s your question?”

“オッケーオッケー。Do you know 壁ドン (kabedon)?”

For those of you who don’t know, kabedon is when a man bangs his hand against the wall in front of a woman (who has her back to said wall), and is in close proximity between each other. This picture illustrates it very well:

(Taken from Google Images)

It’s normally done in Manga, Anime and Dramas. It’s supposedly romantic and a manly thing to do. For the girls, it makes your heart beat faster and all that romantic stuff.

“Ah…Yes, I know what kabedon is.” I said kabedon with an exaggerated accent, so they wouldn’t realize that I could pronounce it properly.

“えええ、すげええ” – Wow that’s amazinggg

(eeee, sugehhhh) –

“オッケーオッケー (He loves saying this). Please, show us kabedon!”

“….what?”

“Show, show! Go to kabe (he points at a wall), and then-” he then proceeds to do a hand slamming motion towards the wall, and mouthing the don part.

The girls in the classroom proceed to cover their faces in excitement. One girl goes red. They’re all looking at me. One was ready to take out her phone to record.

They actually want me to do it for them. High school kids sure like kabedon eh.

So I did. I went up to the wall and then said, “Like this?” and DON!

With the full force of my hand, I kabedon’d the heck out of the wall, using my inner anime high school handsome heartthrob persona.

“うわー!かっこいいー!” – Woww, so coollll

(Uwa! Kakkoiiiiii)

The girls really liked it. I was an idol for half a second. I felt awkward for the other half. They were still in high school.

“Alright, any other questions? Last one!” The class was nearly ending, and I had to wrap it up.

“はいはい!Me me!”

Damnit, it was him again. “I have question!”

“Yes, my boy, what will you ask me to do now?” I said, with a smile on my face.

“I want answer!” He pointed with his right hand to the girls in the middle of the class. Then he did a circling motion with his fingers. I guess he wants to ask me something about them.

“Who…who you…best girl..good?” he nods at me as if I know what he’s trying to say.

I know what he’s trying to ask. But I had to pretend.

“Sorry, I don’t understand your question. Can you try again?”

The guys around him were confused too. They started asking him what he was trying to say.

“何と言いたいの?” – What are you trying to say?

(nanto iitai no?)

They started talking among themselves. The ringleader started to believe that I could speak Japanese. Then he straight up asked in Japanese:

“分かるでしょ?このクラスの中にだれが一番可愛い子と思うのだと言ったよ!” – You understand me don’t you? I’m asking you, who’s the cutest girl in this class?

(wakaru desho? kono kurasu no naka ni dare ga ichiban kawaii ko to omou no da to itta yo!)

The girls gasped at what he said. Eyes widened. They looked at him, then back at me.

I smiled at him, then at them. He thought I understood him.

“If you can ask me that question in perfect English, I will tell you the answer.”

“え。。。sorry?”

I repeated myself, slower. One of the other quieter guys understood what I said, and translated it into Japanese for him.

Without hesitation, the ringleader said:

”やろうぜ!” – Let’s do it!

(yarou ze)

I swear they did this: The guys pushed the tables together and formed a circle with each other. They each took out their notes, and started to craft the perfect English question.

The boys started to delegate different parts of the question to each other: One of them was in charge of which “W” word to use (What? Who? When? Where? Why?). Another was in charge of the subjects and possessives. The ringleader was in charge of asking the question. The girls started doing it too: They formed groups and tried to turn that question into English.

It was a race against time, to find out who was the cutest girl in class.

They started piecing their words together. The girls collaborated with the boys on this. Every time they believed they had the correct question, the ringleader would announce it:

“In all of class, who is best cute girl?”

“Class middle, you like cute woman who?”

“Cute girls, who is number 1 this class?”

“Who here, you want kabedon number 1?”

I started laughing. “Try again boys and girls!” They would go back and swap the words around with others (cute? pretty? beautiful? woman? kawaii? kabedon?)


Sadly, the bell rung.

They couldn’t ask me the question in time. They hung their heads in shame. They have lost the battle.

I felt bad because these kids tried their hardest in English just to find out my answer. It was a beautiful sight to see them working so hard.

I wrote the question on the board for them in English. They all took notes and thanked me. There was an applause!

It was a wonderful lesson for them. I learned a lot as well.


When it was time for me to go, I ended the class with one final sentence:

“皆よく頑張ったね。応援してます!” – Everyone, you’ve sure worked hard. I’ll always be supporting you!

(minna, yoku ganbatta ne. Ou en shiteimasu!)

“えええ!!!”

Class dismissed!

N.T.C.


EDIT: Some of you were wondering what would happen if they did get it right. They did! Here’s Part 2:

After the second lesson it was lunch break, so I came back to the briefing room with the other foreign volunteer teachers and had lunch.

The nice part was that the students could come join us for lunch, so those troublemaker boys came to eat lunch with me!

It took a few tries for them to pronounce it, but they asked me perfectly so I answered them :). I just told them my ‘preferred type of girl’ (short hair, funny, nice, etc.) and they started describing the girls in the class haha.

It was nice to take a look at what students like to talk about normally in the Japanese classroom.

It ended up being a good way to continue the conversation with them, and they did it all in English.

Class is still going for them 🙂

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