Japanese | Word of the Day
Today’s random word of the day is closely associated with my current occupation. As some of you may be aware, I work as an English teacher in the Japanese public school system. Usually, teacher is translated directly as 先生/せんせい/sensei. I normally wouldn’t think much about this word. It’s fairly simple and one of the first vocabulary words Japanese studiers learn. In addition, this word has already been adopted by American pop culture in some ways as one of the few Japanese words people know, without actually knowing. I would qualify さよなら/sayonara in the same category. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “sayonara suckers!” at one point in time. In any case, I’d like to talk about the word 教師/きょうし/kyōshi.
What is 教師/kyōshi?
Kyōshi simply means “teacher/instructor”.
Eh, what? How’s that different from 先生？
To be fair, not that much. The word 先生, functions much like a “title”. As such, there are many occupations were the title can be applied often denoting an amount of respect or acknowledgement of accomplishment above mere mortals(ok, maybe not that dramatic- but you get the gist). Let’s breakdown the meaning to clarify.
That definition may seem vague, but if you think of the individual being called 先生 as “the one who came before”, it kind of makes sense. The logic really starts to fall in-Line when you consider the word for student(生徒/せいと/seito) as well. So, alternatively you could consider the definition to be “one whom was previously a student”.
Who can be called 先生? 教師？
Doctors, lawyers, politicians, teachers, authors, even artists can be called 先生.
Where as 教師 is strictly regulated to school teachers. Let’s break that word down as well
As you can see, this definition seems much more direct and static. The word is simply more technical, so you’d likely see it in a more descriptive context than a colloquial one. For example, government documents like my visa, say “教師“ not ”先生“.
How would you use these words?
No one goes around saying Touré教師 at work, however Touré先生 is heard countless times. Personally, I think there is some nuanced grandeur behind the word 先生. I think it’s presumptuous to describe myself as such, so I often insist on using 教師 when introducing myself. I.e;
“I work as an English instructor at an elementary school.” It’s literally the difference in perception of “teacher” and “instructor” when it comes to the English counterparts.
That’s all for today,
Hope you learned something useful!
What do you consider to be the difference between a teacher and an instructor? What are some of your best teacher memories? Share your thoughts in the comments and share this post.
Until next time,