Eico Tutor Interview
- Q. Hi Eico! Thank you for taking the time to do this interview. May we ask you to briefly introduce yourself?
A. Hello! I am Eico, a Chinese pronunciation teacher from Japan! I was born and raised in Japan, and have a degree in science. In graduate school, I studied about Japanese apricots and peaches. After entering the workforce, I continued to used English, but I decided that I needed to learn Chinese as well. Once I started learning Chinese, I was completely fascinated by the beauty of its pronunciation, which changed my perspective and led me to offer lessons as a pronunciation tutor.
- Q. Please tell us more about your hometown and the area where you currently reside.
A. I was born and raised in Akashi City, Hyogo Prefecture, famous for its standard time, 135 degrees east longitude. It is a peaceful town with the light scent from the seashore, so when I smell it, I feel that “I've come back to my hometown.” However, I currently live in Saitama Prefecture, a “sea-less” prefecture. Life is strange, isn't it? Saitama Prefecture has it’s own charm, so I like it as well.
When I moved to Tokyo for work, I changed my Kansai dialect to standard Japanese, but even now I occasionally speak with a slight Kansai dialect. lol
- Q. What motivated you to become a tutor? Alternatively, what do you think is the attraction of this profession?
A. If I were to explain it in one sentence, it is from my own experience of failure! I underestimated my Chinese pronunciation and had to correct it later on in my studies, which cost me a lot of money and time.
After overcoming the issues with my pronunciation, I realized that there are many people just like myself. In other words, they start learning Chinese by reading Chinese characters, and then they realize the importance of pronunciation. I also noticed that many people end up giving up on learning Chinese, because of pronunciation. I decided to become a teacher because I thought that if I could help others learn Chinese pronunciation from the very start with a structure and theory, more people would be able to enjoy the Chinese language.
After I became a teacher, I offered a trick to a student who was struggling to pronounce the Chinese vowel “ü (yu),” and they were able to pronounce it properly in just one session. My student was so happy that they repeatedly showed me how they can pronounce “去.” I was also delighted about it. I feel that the best part about being a tutor, is to be able to share the joy of “success” and “accomplishment” with my students.
- Q. What motivates you to pursue your career as a tutor?
A. I am most motivated when students smile and say, “I had no idea!” or “I finally understand!” Also, when students tell me, “Teacher, I can now read Chinese words in the city,” “I can now hear and understand Chinese in dramas,” or “I was able to read the sign.” At times like this, I feel glad that I have continued to teach, and I feel encouraged to continue to do my best.
I used to shy away from teaching Chinese because I am not a native speaker and have never lived in China or Taiwan.... However, I was surprised when students commented that they wanted to learn from a Japanese teacher who could explain it in Japanese, or from a teacher who did not use dialects.
Indeed, because I myself am a language learner, I truly understand the troubles, pains, and frustrations of my students. Besides, because I learned “standard” pronunciation in Japan, I am not influenced by any particular dialect.
I always want to help you feel comfortable and enjoy yourself while learning Chinese pronunciation, and I always give lessons with the hope that you will enjoy them.
- Q. A lot of students are probably curious about the atmosphere in your lessons. What can a student imagine a lesson with you to be like? What’s your teaching style?
A. Some students get nervous when they hear the words “pronunciation lesson” because they think they will be “scolded.” I try to create a more relaxing atmosphere, and to make the lesson material and choice of subjects enjoyable so that you can continue with your studies.
If you are new to Chinese, you will learn the basics of pronunciation in five lessons. The key points are tones, vowels, and consonants. In particular, we will focus on your tone, the meaning of which can change if you make a mistake, by introducing training methods that you can do on your own. For those who have learned Chinese to some extent, I will ask you to read aloud and identify the points of pronunciation that need improvement and those that you struggle with.
Both lessons use intraoral models and are characterized not by “sense” but by “structure” and “theory” that I can convey only because I have learned from the very basics myself.
In my lessons, I teach the pronunciation of “standard Chinese,” which is considered to be the most easily understandable dialect when spoken by non-native speakers.
- Q. You had a couple of Chinese pronunciation seminars with Cafetalk in the past. What do you think Japanese people struggle with in terms of pronunciation and how they can overcome it?
A. Yes, I would like to thank you for helping me hold these events! I am very happy to hear that some students look forward to my seminars and sign up for every one.
As I mentioned earlier, I think some students are nervous about a one-on-one pronunciation lesson. So, I hold seminars to give them a chance to learn pronunciation tips and get a feel of my lesson atmosphere. Of course, students who would like to start with a one-on-one lesson are also welcome to join me.Japanese speakers often struggle with pronouncing tones, vowels, and breath. Surprisingly, I feel that consonant sounds such as lingual sounds can often be pronounced without much issue, even if they are slightly off.
First of all, “vocal tones” need special practice because they rise and fall within a single tone, which is not the case in Japanese. Speaking of tone, there is a practice that goes”〈ma〉 has four different meanings, so let’s practice the tone.” It is common practice to repeat this exercise over and over again, using different tones of “ma.” However, when I first saw this training method, I honestly found it boring. lol
Of course, it is still an important practice, so I worked with it, and I also have my students work on it in my lessons, but I realized that there is no need to stick to “ma” when practicing vocal tones. So I try to make the lessons as fun as possible by using numbers, four-letter words, and gestures.
Vowel sounds are determined by the shape of the lips and the position of the tongue, so anyone can pronounce them as long as they understand the mechanism and theory. The important thing is to train to make the sound and to check if it correct regularly.
The last is “breath.” In Chinese, the meaning changes depending on the way the your breath out when speaking, either aerated or anaerobic. In addition, the breath is connected to the cohesion of a meaning.
This can be clearly seen in a sound waveform. Some people pronounce each note with their breath cut off, thinking that they must pronounce it clearly, but it sounds more like Chinese if the breath is connected as one.
I hope to continue to lower the hurdles for studying Chinese and learning Chinese pronunciation, through seminars, columns, and other approaches!
- Q. What are you usually up to when you're not teaching on Cafetalk? What are your hobbies and interests?
A. I enjoy yoga and have been practicing it for almost 15 years. 3 years ago, when I was depressed due to the pandemic, I discovered mindfulness. When I first started, it was difficult to concentrate on meditation, but as I continued, I came to accept my "here and now," just as I am. It has helped me in learning languages, parenting, and in my career.
Cooking is also one of my hobbies. I am a foodie, so when I make snacks for my children, I always make sure to make one for myself as well, even if I call it a "taste test!” It's also fun to think about how to say this dish in Chinese.
- Q. Finally, would you like to leave a message for your current and future students?
A. Thank you so much for always taking my lessons. Many thanks to the students who watch my seminars as well! Let’s continue to have fun and learn together.
To my future students: You don't have to think “Chinese is difficult to pronounce…“! I started learning Chinese as an adult, and I am now able to speak it. If you can speak Chinese, I am sure your world will suddenly become broader. I welcome students from overseas as well. I will do my best to give you lessons so that you can enjoy practicing Chinese pronunciation.