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50+ Words You'll Hear in Japanese Elementary Schools

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Ria is an avid writer who is currently teaching English in southwest Japan. She loves helping new teachers and expats get settled in.

Takanawadai Elementary school in Tokyo, Japan.

Takanawadai Elementary school in Tokyo, Japan.

If you're moving to Japan to be an English teacher, hopefully you've already worked on some basic Japanese. In order to get the most of your experience at school, though, you'll need to learn quite a bit more. Your recruiter might have assured you that all you have to do is plan lessons and show up to class, but sometimes the school doesn't quite get the same memo. Other times, the school gets the memo at first, but eventually forgets that you can't read "Assembly in the gym at 9:00am!" on the staff room white board.

Either way, knowing your gakkou (school) from your benkyou (study) isn't going to be enough. While you don't need to memorize all of these words right off the bat, you'll want to at least glance it over before arrival and use it as a study guide. For best results, make sure to learn your months and days of the week as well.

Schedules and Times

gaikokugo

外国語

foreign language

jikanwari

時間割

schedule

gyoujiyotei

行事予定

event calendar

~kouji, ~jikanme

~校時、~時間目

period, hour

kyuushoku

給食

lunch

yasumi

休み

break, rest

houkago

放課後

after school, dismissal

~gakki

~学期

term, semester

Notes

These are some of the first words you'll hear on your first day. First and foremost, if you hear gaikokugo, remember that they're probably not just talking about any foreign language - they're talking about English! You may sometimes hear kids use the word eigo (英語, English), but the class schedule and teachers will typically refer to your class as gaikokugo.

While the loanword sukejuuru (スケジュール, schedule) can be used to refer to a schedule, you'll most commonly hear jikanwari used to refer to a school's daily schedule. Gyoujiyotei refers to a school's upcoming calendar of events, though you hopefully won't need to pay as much attention to that.

Kouji and jikanme can both be used as suffixes to indicate what period a class is taking place. Sankouji and sanjikanme both mean third period, for example. However, jikanme can also be used to indicate what hour or lesson of a unit your co-teacher is on. If your co-teacher uses both kouji and jikanme in the same sentence with different numbers, don't panic - he or she is likely indicating which period they're teaching with you, and which section of the unit they're on.

While hirugohan (昼ご飯) and the loanword ranchi (ランチ) can both be used to mean "lunch," you'll most commonly hear kyuushoku in schools. Kyuushoku can refer to both the lunch food and the mealtime itself.

Hiruyasumi (昼休み) refers to the post-lunch recess, while nakayasumi (中休み) refers to the mid-morning break that many schools have at around 10:30am. Natsuyasumi (夏休み) means summer break, and fuyuyasumi (冬休み) means winter break. If a teacher or student is absent, you might hear someone say "oyasumi desu."

Ichigakki, nigakki and sangakki are first, second and third term, respectively. First term runs from the start of the school year in April until summer vacation starts in late July. Second term is from September through late December. Third term is January until the end of the school year in March.

Meetings and Events

 

 

 

chourei

朝礼

before-school staff meeting

shuurei

終礼

after-school staff meeting

uchiawase

打ち合わせ

preparation meeting

kenshuu

研修

training

kunren

訓練

drill

shuukai

集会

assembly

shigyoushiki

始業式

start of term ceremony

shuugyoushiki

終業式

end of term ceremony

shucchou

出張

business trip or errand

kengaku

見学

study by observation, field trip

shuugaku ryoukou

修学旅行

overnight trip

katsudou

活動

activities

undoukai

運動会

sports festival

Notes

Chourei and shuurei are quick meetings usually reserved for announcements and other minor business. They happen once or twice a week, and while it's not standard for ALTs to participate, it's wise to at least stay out of the way when they're happening. New staff may also be introduced at these meetings, or a teacher may announce their marriage or maternity leave here.

Uchiawase can refer to anything from field trip planning to planning English lessons. Depending on your employer and contract type, you might not actually do uchiawase meetings with the school, and may instead receive instructions directly from your employer.

Typically, you won't be expected to participate in kenshuu, especially if it's all in Japanese. However, you may be expected to participate in fire or earthquake drills! Keep an ear open for the word kunren if you notice everyone leaving the building or hiding under their desks.

Shucchou can be used to refer to any kind of school-related business, like having to run to another school to consult with their staff. This will usually only involve one or two staff, and likely won't affect your work.

However, kengaku and shuugaku ryoukou will almost definitely disrupt your schedule at some point during the year. Kengaku usually refers to a daytime field trip, and can happen at almost any grade level. Shuugaku ryoukou is an overnight school trip, and at the elementary level, this often refers specifically to the special trip sixth-graders take in the fall. Depending on the area of the country the school is in, students may visit sites of historical and cultural significance, including the sites where atomic bombs were dropped in Hiroshima or Nagasaki.

Finally, keep an eye out for katsudou in reference to club activities (kurabu katsudou, クラブ活動) or student committee activities (iinkai katsudou, 委員会活動).

People

 

 

 

kouchou-sensei

校長先生

principal

kyoutou-sensei

教頭先生

vice principal

jimuin

事務員

clerk, office staff

jidou

児童

student

~nensei

~年生

~ grader

nicchoku

日直

daily leader

raikyaku

来客

visitor

Notes

While the literal word for principal is kouchou and the word for vice principal is kyoutou, you will likely always use these words with "sensei" after them. (There are occasions where you will hear others drop the "sensei," including when the principal and vice principal are introducing themselves.)

Depending on the size of the school, the jimuin may have a fairly large range of duties, including collecting school lunch money and ordering supplies. Be kind to this person, as they will be your best friend if you need to make flashcards or other materials.

Elementary school staff will often use kodomo (子供, child) to refer to students, but in more formal situations you will hear or see jidou.

Each class will typically rotate nicchoku duties among the students. Depending on the grade level, nicchoku duties may involve bringing the class to order, cleaning the blackboard between classes, or other light work. If you're ever in a pinch because your co-teacher disappeared and the students didn't hear the bell ring for class to start, just point to the part of the blackboard that says "日直" and someone will remind the nicchoku-san to do their job and shut everyone up.

Places

 

 

 

shokuinshitsu

職員室

staff room

jimushitsu

事務室

supply room

kyoushitsu

教室

classroom

waarudoruumu, eikaiwa ruumu

ワールドルーム、英会話ルーム

World Room, English Conversation Room

~shitsu

~室

room

taiikukan

体育館

gymnasium (building)

undoujo

運動場

playground

rouka

廊下

hallway

ikkai, nikai

一階、二階

first floor, second floor

When you're not in class, you'll generally be expected to be in the shokuinshitsu, where all teachers do the bulk of their grading and other work. Next to this room you'll usually find the principal's office (校長室 , kouchoushitsu) and the broadcast room (放送室, housoushitsu) but you won't be in these rooms unless specifically invited.

The jimushitsu is where you'll find most supplies, and where the jimuin is often working. Sometimes this room is locked when the jimuin is absent, so if you need something urgently, ask the vice principal or another staff member for help. Always check with the jimuin or another staff member before taking supplies.

On rare occasions, you might be invited to the library (図書室, toshoshitsu) or some other room for a club activity, but you generally won't have to worry about these. You'll have a hard enough time keeping track of what time to go to which classroom, unless you're lucky enough to have a "World Room" or other dedicated English classroom!

Other Words

 

 

 

shidou

指導

leadership, guidance

meate

目当て

goal, aim

junbi, yooi

準備、用意

preparation

kokuban

黒板

blackboard

isu

いす

chair

tsukue

desk

enpitsu

鉛筆

pencil

kyoukasho

教科書

textbook

Notes

Shidou can refer to discipline matters, as well as more benign and general leadership. If you hear that a teacher is shidouchuu (指導中), that may mean they're in the middle of lecturing a student! It's also used in the word shidouan (指導案) which refers to lesson plans.

While meate is commonly used when referring to the goal of a lesson, you may occasionally hear mokuhyou (目標) or nerai (狙い) used in similar contexts in schools.

Comments

Liz Westwood from UK on December 29, 2018:

This is a useful dictionary for anyone looking at Japanese schooling.

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