New Job

At the beginning of this month, I started a new job. Actually, I started working on it some time before that, but I started getting paid, and going into the office, at the beginning of this month. Yes, I have an office and a salary. Yet another piece of irrefutable evidence that I have entered middle age.

The job is at The Japan Institute of Logic. The homepage is all in Japanese at the moment, because producing an English version is on my list of jobs to do. It’s not very high on that list, however.

The Institute’s main purpose is to set and administer tests in logical thinking. The Japanese like these kinds of examinations, so there is a possible market. It also provides training related to those tests, both directly and indirectly. That is, we have seminars that will train you to take the test, and we have seminars to train people to train people to take the test. I’ve been hired to run the English section. Actually, at the moment, I’ve been hired to be the English section; we use freelancers for some things, but I’m the only real employee. That’s because we’re only just getting started.

As a result, I’m very busy. I’m in the office two days a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays, but they’re ten to twelve hour days, leaving the flat at 6:30 (before Yuriko is awake, and usually before Mayuki is awake, too), and getting back around 9:00 at night, at which point Mayuki is not normally asleep, although Yuriko is saying “Come on Mayuki, time for bed”. I don’t get paid overtime; the days are so long because, as we’re just starting, I can’t actually fit everything I have to do into two eight hour days.

So, what am I doing right now? First, I’m setting the first round of English-based logic tests. These are multiple choice tests, because those are the easiest to scale up, so I’m having to be quite creative to find ways to test the ability to create arguments in such a setting. I also need to set two levels, one that high school students can cope with, and one for the general public. Getting the level right is, as you might imagine, one of the hardest parts.

Second, I’m writing and giving the lectures on English-based logic. These are three hour sessions, with a bit more than half of the time devoted to practice questions, and we’re holding one every other week. That means writing a ninety minute lecture every two weeks.

In Japanese.

You see, although the lectures are about logic in English, they aim to provide useful techniques for people whose English is not very good. If I were to explain that in English, the level of English required to understand the lectures would be far higher than the level needed to use the content, which would be a problem. So, I have to write them in Japanese, and that is rather harder than doing it in English. Fortunately, keeping a daily blog in Japanese for the last five and a half years means that I have had quite a lot of practice at writing in Japanese, so I’m not finding it impossible, but I still haven’t had as much practice in Japanese as I have in English.

My approach to the problem, and what I am trying to teach in the classes and test in the exams, is that you do not need to speak perfect, or even roughly correct, English in order to communicate your ideas. If your ideas are well organised, and you make the individual points clearly and separately, then the people you are speaking to will be able to extract your meaning despite mistakes. Similarly, with practice you can pick out the important points from what people are saying, and understand their argument even if you don’t understand all of the words.

This is important, because it just takes too long to get a high level of proficiency in a foreign language. Even though I can write lectures on logic in Japanese, I am informed that I use a number of, how shall I put it, highly idiosyncratic expressions. Or possibly highly idiotic expressions. And that’s after eighteen months of full time study and a total of eight years living in Japan. Most Japanese people are not going to be able to put that much time and effort into English, so I’m hoping to offer a framework that will give them something useful for international communication in a much shorter package. As an added bonus, thinking clearly about arguments is very useful in Japanese as well, so they’ll get some benefit in their native language too.

Mr Hayashi, the director of the Institute, is very enthusiastic, which is good, and also has a lot of good contacts in various companies, which means I’ve been going to business lunches with the presidents of the Japanese branches of multinationals. They’ve all been very positive about what we’re offering, as they can see the need for more effective communication, and know from experience that studying the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs doesn’t help a lot. So, it’s not certain that the Institute will succeed, but the early signs are very promising. I certainly believe that this is a good approach to English, and to communication in general, which is why I took the job and am working long days, when I’m in the office.

This may well prove to be a major turning point in my life, on a similar scale to choosing to move to Japan (but not quite on the level of getting married or having Mayuki). At the very least, I’m getting to do something that I think is important in a completely different environment to the ones I’m used to, so what I learn will be valuable even if this project fails for some unaccountable reason. I’ve already had the experience of being on Tokyo trains at the height of the rush hour.

That’s another reason why I leave home at 6:30…






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