Understanding Through Experience

Kanae Akiyama
Kiyo Middle School

Maybe some of you hate natto. It is one very healthy, but bad-looking, smelly Japanese food. If you only smell natto, you'll never like it. Only those who are brave enough to try natto find out its real value. You can't know this without trying it first. There are many things in life like natto. I'll tell you about my "natto" story.

When I entered Junior High School, I was very interested in English. My English teacher was a young, big, female teacher. One day our teacher said to us, "Let's learn classroom English today! Repeat after me." She had each student repeat her words. Eventually my turn came. She said to me, "Raise your right hand." I tried to imitate her pronunciation. "Leizu your light hand," I said. Her eyes gleamed and she said, "No, no. Try again, right hand." I said, "Light hand." She shook her head, "See? Right, not light." I nodded and said, "Light." She never gave me an OK. I was in a panic and I was almost crying. I didn't care if my hand was right or light.

After that my English lessons were painful for me. I began to hate both English and the English teacher. She always had each student pronounce every new word correctly. We had to raise our hands and express our opinions. She didn't excuse any of our small mistakes. For me, she seemed a cold-hearted demon.

At the end of the first term, an English recitation contest was held at school. I thought to myself, "This will be a good chance to change my English-complex." With great hesitation, I decided to join the contest.

Training started after school. Our coach was the cold-hearted demon. "Open your mouth as big as your fist!" "I can't hear your voice. Speak out!" "Look at my mouth. The shape of the tongue is like this." Every day her strict words, like arrows, hit my heart. I kept reciting the sentences like a sutra when I was walking, in the bath, even when I was eating.

One day in practice, the "demon" came to me. She said, "Ms. Akiyama, you've worked very hard every day. Your English is much better." I was surprised by her kind words. I thought that maybe my English teacher was not such a demon after all. I remembered my friend's words, "Our English teacher is very strict, but she takes good care of us. I like her." At that time I thought that my friend was crazy. But eventually I came to agree with her.

I didn't win any prizes in that contest. However, I was satisfied that I had done my best. I went to my teacher and said, "Thank you very much for pushing me so hard." She replied, "It's my pleasure. You trained hard every day. That's much more important than winning. I'm proud of you." Her words inspired me. I could feel her tenderness and kindness. I was ashamed that I had criticized her before. Now I respect her very much and love English again.

Through this experience, I've learned that we can't judge something without first understanding it. I was happy to join the contest. It made me realize the importance of making an effort. Also I got to see my teacher's true nature.

So, I'd like to say to some of you here, "Please try natto. As like me with English, you'll never know until you try!"

(3-34 Speech in 53rd Contest, 2001)

(C)JNSA FUND/the Yomiuri Shimbun

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