Excellent! The 6 year old student who I gave the trial to last week will begin studying with me as a private student this week! If you look back at the link to read about my trial with this young girl and her parents you can understand her situation. She had studied at Canadian schools for the past 2 years and her parents did not want her to lose the English ability that she had acquired during their time in Vancouver. They want her to also have some writing practice to go along with conversation and reading skills that she already has.
I am looking forward to the challenge of helping this student to maintain and improve her English ability as she acquires a strong ability to use Japanese. You see she is what is called KIKOKUSHIJO or a repatriated student here in Japan. There are hundreds if not thousands of such students who return with their families after living abroad each year. They have achieved a level of English that is far ahead of their peers in the schools that they return to and often find that English education in the junior and senior high schools in Japan does not meet their needs. In fact the purpose of English education in Japan is mainly geared toward acquiring skills needed to pass entrance exams for Japanese universities. They work a lot on translation and grammar. To be sure it what is learned is pretty good as it serves as a good base for our students when they start to seriously try to acquire conversational skills. It allows us to really be coaches of communicative confidence as opposed to having to really teach our students from the very first steps. Unfortunately, the way that English is taught in Japan, I believe, has some very negative effects on some students. Many seem to come out of high school with a permanent fear of speaking English. They are afraid to speak because they fear making mistakes or pronouncing words incorrectly. Their fears are very real and well founded as pronunciation is rarely taught correctly to the students and since they receive bad grades when they make mistakes with the grammar in their tests at junior and senior high school, they seem to expect to be chastised when they make a mistake while speaking. This fear, which for some Japanese students turns into a hatred of English, is one of the main obstacles they have to taking the first step toward learning English conversation. Generally, if they can get past this and take the step by joining a school, they will find out that they can speak English and if they make a mistake, they will not be scolded and in most cases will be understood just fine. They have to realize the true purpose of learning English is for communication and not for taking tests. If there is one sentence I would like to hear English teachers emphasize in the English classes at the junior and senior high school level in Japan, it is “Learn English for Communication with other People! Never forget that this is why you are learning English.” If they start with that premise and they actually get a chance to experience this true purpose of learning English when they are young students, most high school graduates will be able to speak and not feel ashamed to do so when they finish the required 6 years of English study.
Well that is enough lecturing. Back to my the main point of my post. What is most exciting about this chance to teach a young repatriated student it my chance to compare her skills and how she reads and pronounces new words to the efforts of my other young students. I am hoping that it will give me some good hints about how to better teach my other kids.
Of course I already use the Phonics books and start by trying to get my Japanese students to stop using a “ROMAJI” or Japanese phonetic alphabet type of pronunciation to pronounce English words. They learn to pronounce the letters one by one and then as combinations. It takes some time but I am sure that it works.
For my new student, I am looking forward to the challenge of helping her to expand all of her skills to read, write and speak. It is really exciting. Think of it, I will have a chance, hopefully to see her grow up using both English and Japanese and to watch her become a true bilingual. I will be able to help her develop her skills and confidence and to be able to express her opinions about many topics as she gets older. I cannot think of anything more fun!
Al Bartle (Smith’s School of English – Okamoto)