善は急げ // 石橋を叩いて渡る [96/365]

One of the reasons I have not posted meaty entries for a while is that I have taken on more English teaching during the week and not quite adjusted to this increase in daytime activity. I think things are gearing up for the busy summer programme and hence there have been more opportunities for me to teach English…but, conversely, fewer opportunities to sit down and write entries for annotranslate.

The extra classes have been a lot of fun though and I currently have some really great students.

When I began teaching English I would sometimes spend multiple lessons going through idioms and proverbs, believing that this was a good way to give my students useful vocabulary, impart a little cultural knowledge, as well as toss them some self-contained lines they could deploy to sound natural to native speakers. However, I think that there is a tendency for new English teachers to lean too heavily on this easy-to-teach-without-much-planning style of lesson, rather than to get down to the nitty gritty of grammar, fluency, and structured expression. Regular readers of this blog might identify similarity in the way that I taught English in those early days and how I – ahem – “learn” Japanese now.

As a more experienced English teacher I generally only tackle idioms and proverbs with higher level students and only then when I have worked with them for sufficiently long to be satisfied with their competence in more fundamental areas. I also try to put a twist on my idiom and proverb lessons so that it isn’t just me didactically throwing a bunch of my favourite English phrases at them.

A twist that I put on a recent such lesson with a Japanese student was to give him two lists of proverbs, to be sorted into pairs which to some extent undermined or contradicted each other.

For example:

Too many cooks spoil the broth
/tuː ˈmɛni kʊks spɔːɪl ðə brɒθ/
Multiple people working together on the same task can lead to negative consequences

Many hands make light work
/ˈmɛni hændz meɪk laɪt wɜːk/
Multiple people working together on the same task can make the task easier

Talking about proverbs was fun (it is easy to see why so many English teachers employ it as a lesson-planning crutch) and in my student’s homework he gave me something I can use now on the blog 😮

The homework was to find two Japanese proverbs which contradict or undermine each other and to bring them to class, ready to explain in English.

Here is what he brought:

善は急げ
(ぜんはいそげ)
“zen wa isoge”
act quickly without doubt; there is no time like the present, strike while the iron is hot, etc.

石橋を叩いて渡る
(いしばしをたたいてわたる)
“ishibashi o tataite wataru”
being excessively cautious; literally: knocking on a strong stone bridge before crossing it

Medieval packhorse bridge crossing the Almofrei at Cotobade, Galicia by Adrián Estévez


I hope to get on top of my new workload and squeeze myself back into daily blogging…so for me 善は急げ not 石橋を叩いて渡る!!!


Image credit: Medieval packhorse bridge crossing the Almofrei at Cotobade, Galicia by Adrián Estévez.

2 Comments

  1. I agree that idioms should only take up a small part of teaching time for early-middle students, and things like grammar are more important. After 20+ years of Japanese, I still don’t know that many 四字熟語

    By the way, I am not sure if you want/need the word “strong” in the translation of your last idiom. Or maybe you could instead say “apparently-strong” (:

    Liked by 1 person

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