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Sunday, March 11, 2001

JAPAN LITE

Pint-size English students learning up a storm


Every Thursday at 4 p.m., a big storm comes and whips around my house with enough force to rattle the walls, loosen fixtures and send things crashing onto the floor. The name of the storm is Nami-chan and she's 4 years old.

Big Storm, as I call Nami-chan, is the island's exhibitionist. "I just can't keep clothes on her!" wails her mother, chasing Nami-chan around my living room in circles while waving a pair of bloomers in the air.

My task, every Thursday, is to teach English to Big Storm. Since naked English is not my forte, I sit down and wait until Nami-chan loses some wind, collapses in a heap of giggles, and her mother wrestles the bloomers back on.

I am waiting next to Little Storm, Nami's 2-year-old sister, Miho, who has just given up pursuing her mother. The walls have stopped rattling and there is a momentary calm in which neither storm is spiraling nor gaining centrifugal force.

Nami and I start singing the A-B-C song, while Miho patters around the room eating solid objects, mostly CDs, table corners and game pieces. Miho's interest in the English language is limited to the word "duckk," always pronounced with a highly aspirated "k."

Nami's favorite game is an alphabet puzzle. We sing while putting the letter pieces into the puzzle. "A, B, C, D," we sing together. " E, F. . ., F. . ." Where's G?

I look at Miho. G has already entered the vortex of Little Storm and has to be extracted by hand. Her mother apologetically returns a shiny, saliva-covered G.

"Duckk!" blurts Miho, shoving the letter M into her mouth.

"A, B, C, D, E, F, G," we sing. The G glistens among the other letters. "H, I, J, K, L, M . . ., M . . ., M . . ." Little Storm coughs up the M, then swirls around the room creating side winds.

We place the shiny M into the puzzle and continue until all the letters are in place. The alphabet puzzle is now complete, with G and M glistening as if they had cosmic powers.

"Duckkk!" Little storm spits out a T.

"Wait a minute, I don't recognize this T," I tell her mother. "This must be someone else's T!"

Her mother smiles and nods, ignoring me the way Japanese people do when they don't understand my Japanese.

Meanwhile, I have upgraded Little Storm's diagnosis: She has developed from victim of a mild eating disorder to eating felon.

Big Storm and I are now doing flash cards, and she is repeating after me. "Cat," I say, holding up a flash card with a cat on it. She repeats, "Cat." "Car." I hold up a card with a car on it. "Kuruma," she says. "Dog," I say. "Inu," says Nami.

In my peripheral vision is a flurry of activity and, as if forecast, CRASH! Little Storm is pulling books out of the shelves and throwing them on the floor.

Big Storm and I move on to songs. "Head and shoulders, knees and toes," I sing while Nami touches her head, shoulders, knees and elbows.

"Duckk!" Little Storm is finished destroying and joins the game. "Eyes, ears, mouth and nose," I conclude while Nami touches her chin and Miho touches her head.

"Very good!" I tell them. "You're going to be native speakers in no time."

The hour is up and Big and Little Storm are ready to change course. Their mother and I clean up the debris while my house heaves a sigh of relief. We tighten the fixtures, rehang the pictures and put the books back on the shelves.

I put the stolen T into the box with the other letters of the alphabet. Around here, you can always use an extra.

In the evening when I go for a stroll along the beach at sunset, Nami and Miho are dancing naked on the sand. Their mother is running toward them waving bloomers in the air.

Visit the Japan Lite home page at www.amychavez.com or e-mail comments to: amychavez@mailexcite.com


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