A few years back, I had a student who was Japanese. He was a very sweet boy, but we were hampered by the fact that he spoke no English when he came to us, and Lord knows I'm not exactly fluent in Japanese.
His father was an American serviceman who had been posted to Japan, where he'd fallen in love with a young Japanese lady. They married, and had three children. A mixture of Japanese and English was spoken in their home. Then, came the recent "war on terror" and Dad was deployed to Iraq. Mother was left at home with the three small children, and since she was not conversant in English at all, Japanese was the only language being spoken at home.
So, for two years, Ichi (the first child, hence Ichi, the Japanese word for one) only heard Japanese in his home. His father was not around to provide the English portion of his language skills, so they went rusty over his deployment. After his father returned from Iraq, the family was uprooted almost immediately and posted to the base here in Humidity Like A Brick Wall. Ichi was enrolled in my class, and was confused from the start. His father did not want him sent to the English as a Second Language school (which was only in the next neighborhood over) and wanted him immersed in as much English as possible, as quickly as possible. So, Ichi muddled along, aping the actions of all the other children. When they got up, he got up. When they sat, he sat. When they ate lunch, he ate lunch.
As for lunch; Ichi was used to more traditional Japanese foods, so he tended to bring a bento-like lunch box to school every day instead of purchasing the school lunch. One day during lunch, Ichi looks around the table wide-eyed, and promptly vomits on the floor. With very little in the way of verbal abilities, he mimes that he doesn't feel well, and off we troop to the nurses' office. I try to explain to the nurse, and later his mother, that he seemed fine all morning, but that he vomited suddenly at lunch. Ichi goes home sick that day, but returns in a fine mood the next day.
A few weeks pass, and the situation repeats itself again. I'm wondering why Ichi only gets sick at lunch -- he's not eating the same thing; he doesn't seem ill, and isn't warm; he's not even sitting in the same place as the last time. I wonder what triggered the reaction. When mother arrives to pick Ichi up from the nurse's office, mother manages to convey that Ichi seems very distressed by something that happened in the cafeteria. After a little halting Japanese from me, and some equally unsure English from mother, we determine that Ichi is reacting to something he's seeing that's being eaten. Mother says, "They eat little yellow teeth, and he no like."
Little yellow teeth? I go back to the table and discover that the children are eating corn. Ichi has never seen corn before, and to him, it resembles a cup full of yellowed teeth! No wonder the poor child freaked out! So, we go get our science dictionary, and point out the corn in all its stages of growth. We show Ichi how the corn grows on the stalk, and what it looks like whole. We then cut the corn from the cob, so he can see how it looks both before and after. After that, there's no more vomiting incidents, but Ichi looks extremely ill-at-ease any time corn is served. Poor guy. I hope we didn't scar him for life!
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