This week on Monday night I noticed that no one had reserved the 9:00 p.m. lesson time, so I decided to hold a “Night Out” free talking session with as many students as would like to attend. I emailed many students and was happy to have 6 students attend. As you can guess, students are a little shy and reluctant to talk but gradually they warmed up to the idea and participated.
This time we had one student who had spent 6 months in Vancouver attending a special ESL class and homestaying with a family. He had a lot of very valuable advice for the other students, all of whom, are looking for ways to work to improve their English quickly. He told eveyone about his experience with his homestay family. They were an immigrant family from the Philippines. The parents spoke English but not correctly. However the children were his best teachers. They taught him the importance of correct pronuciation as they simply could not understand his pronunciation sometimes and often corrected it. He offered some advice to my students that I would not have thought of. He told them to practice saying the phrase “Everything is alright” over and over again before they go to bed each night. This phrase is very good for Japanese students because it makes students practice the sounds that they struggle with most. It includes the “er”, “v”, “voiced th”, “l” and “r” sounds. This was great advice from a student who learned the importance of good pronuciation from Canadian children! Wow!
In the same session another student who spent two weeks in the U.K. in an exchange program between his university and Cambridge University, also added some valuable information about his experiences there. He said he was often scolded for using “American” expressions like “soccer”. The word is “football”. He did notice that the “r” pronunciation at the end of words in British english is much softer and less stressed than the American equivalent. As such it may be a little easier for Japanese students to pronounce, but the “r” at the beginning or in the middle of words cannot be avoided. All students must work to master this.
Earlier in the day in the lesson of one of the students who attended, I was teaching the lesson on predicting the future and decided that it would be a good time to help the student to practice the use of “I think (that)….” to give her opinion on some things. She did well at that and I was proud of her that evening as she often gave her opinion by starting out with that phrase. Great!
Another student who attended told everyone about her experience doing volunteer work in the Philippines. She said that what impressed her most was that Filipinos speak English sometimes incorrectly but it does not bother them to make mistakes. They just keep trying until they are understood. This impressed her a lot. So she decided to work harder to speak without worrying too much about being perfect.
I asked the students what they thought were some good ways to get better at English. The student who had spent 6 months in Canada said that watching English TV shows and movies was excellent. He said that it is good to watch once in Japanese and then to switch to English with no subtitles. He said that at the end of 6 months, he was understanding about 70% of the English in TV shows and that it is a gradually process of getting used to English. At some point you just start understanding English as it is. This reminded me that one of my students, who likes to read English novels, told me that reading without looking up every word she did not know was an effective way to gradually get better at English also. As long as she could get the overall meaning from the context of the words she understood, she was OK and could continue reading. Then little by little she got faster and faster and started to understand the previously unknown words as they appeared in various situations.
So this kind of event outside your school can be very very beneficial for your students. They can share their experiences and give each other advice which, in many cases, is more easily taken to heart by fellow students that if it comes from the teacher. I am going to continue to hold this “Okamoto Night Out” event from time to time for all students who want to join. So if you are a student or teacher who wants to be invited, let your teacher know and him/her to contact me to put you on my list. Ciao!
Oh, I just got a comment from a student. Here it is:
Al, Thank you,too. I am busy Monday to Wednesday because of I have some hard classes…I must study, BUT！！ I love NIGHT OUT〓. So I’ll go even if I am tired(笑) Thank you for holding NIGHT OUT !!
Great way to use that free 9pm time slot! It sounds like you were able to create a very comfortable environment for your students to be able to casually and freely practice speaking English.
I completely agree with your student who feels more confident now in not worrying about making mistakes, but just being able to communicate her ideas and thoughts successfully.
I have spent all of my life around non-native English speakers and I strongly believe that not worrying about making mistakes is definitely one of the keys to becoming a successful communicator in English.
These “Nights Out in Okamoto” sound fun; keep us posted!