I attended the entrance ceremony of my continuing education institute. In Japan, school starts in April. Accordingly, cherry blossoms are often associated with entrance ceremonies. In Kobe, where the campus is located, cherry blossoms were just in full bloom. I felt it was the perfect day for starting my new academic life.
Luckily, I made friends with a nice woman. Although our majors were different, we had something in common. Both of us were involved in education.
At the ceremony, a professor delivered a speech from the perspective of a developmental psychologist, which was impressive and inspiring. According to him, many adolescent problems are caused by a lack of self-esteem. No one is born with self-esteem by nature. They can develop self-esteem only when they spend time with adults with high self-esteem. Therefore, we adults should have self-esteem so that we can inspire younger people in a good way.
His speech reminded me of my loving and tolerant teachers in my youth. They did not try to instruct me on what to do in detail by means of words. Instead, they just taught me what life was like by living by example. I was inspired and encouraged by them to start to live my own life. Before I knew it, I was older than they were. I wonder if I am as good of a teacher as they were. I want to study and teach with a modest attitude.
On January 15, I flew to Tokyo. This trip was for my work and studies. I was eager to learn about English education and engineering.
A new project was about to start at work. I had to solve the problems I was faced with before that. I had mainly two problems. One was about English education and the other was about engineering.
My first destination was my alma mater, Sophia University, where my friend was teaching a class. I liked her lesson very much. When I said I was going to Tokyo, she kindly invited me to her class. The lesson was conducted in English. It was exciting to join class with young students. It gave me many hints about teaching methods.
Although there were many new buildings “towering” over the campus, the old brick building called Building No.1 remained there as they used to be. I took a class, Speech & Writing, there about 25 years ago. When I was walking along this building, I came up with an idea. I decided to ask my students to write a journal, just as I had done when I was a student.
After getting inspired by my friend’s class and Building No.1, I headed for the second destination, Tokyo Big Sight. There was an exhibition on the electronics and automobile industries. I learned the things which I had really wanted to know.
I was able to find solutions to my problems through my trip to Tokyo.
I went to a British Pub in Osaka. I talked with a traveler from Denmark, who happened to be seated next to me. I learned many things from our conversation, especially about education in Northern Europe.
In general, there is a great difference between education in Japan and that in Europe. However, I can find many similarities between my upbringing and European educational methods.
I think that is partly because I attended a unique elementary school, which practiced Steiner education. The students were encouraged to think and express themselves rather than to memorize things. We hardly ever used textbooks, nor had fixed schedules; instead, we were free to choose what to study. The teachers were supportive when we were in trouble, but basically, they encouraged us to be proactive. We had many discussions and gave many presentations in class.
I hope to bring a new perspective to language education in Japan. I hope my English salon serves as a place where learners can speak freely and learn from each other.
These days, more and more students want to practice speaking English with me. They say they want to speak more fluently. During the lessons, I try to speak only English as long as they can understand what I say. Only when it seems difficult to them, I sometimes switch to Japanese. (When I teach international students, I speak only English.)
If you are an English learner, I suggest that you talk to yourself in English at home. Express your feelings or describe something around you. You will realize that there are many things you can express using your current vocabulary. You may encounter something difficult to say. Write it down and try to figure out how to express it by using a dictionary or asking me.
As you know, I like writing. My daily writing habit dates back to my childhood and to my college days.
In my elementary school, students kept a diary called Sensei Anone (Dear Teacher), and gave a presentation to the class every morning. This ritual lasted for four years, and it was long enough for me to develop a habit of writing on a daily basis.
In college, this habit revived when I took an English Speech & Writing class with Susan, who was an American lecturer. She was enthusiastic about language education. The first thing she told her students to do was to keep a journal in English. We had to fill at least one page a day, but we could write about anything. I wrote about many kinds of things, such as friendships, music, and my dream for the future. She collected our notebooks regularly and corrected our grammar. It must have taken much more time and energy than it took us to do our assignment. In addition, she gave us feedback on each page, some of which I still remember very well. She was always there when I was struggling as a college student. I deeply appreciate her devoted guidance.
Here is another episode about Susan. She forbade her class to speak other languages than English. If she heard a student speaking Japanese, he/she had to pay a 10-yen fine. I was talkative by nature, so I had a high risk of accidentally speaking some Japanese words. The Japanese word that slipped out of my mouth most frequently was “えっと(etto).” I should have said “Well…,” instead. As a result, I paid a 10-yen fine many times. In the last class, she threw a small party and brought us some cookies she had bought with the fines she had collected from students. Of course, we enjoyed the party!
I always enjoy studying with my students and appreciate their great efforts.
I want to teach as much as possible within a limited period of time. That is why I speak quickly and try to read as many pages as possible during the lessons. I assign them a large amount of homework which is sometimes highly demanding.
On the other hand, I try to create a good atmosphere in the classroom to make them relaxed and less afraid of speaking. Since I want my students to be proactive, I always welcome whatever questions they have to ask.
It is a great experience to share the delight of learning. I wish to see my students overcome the difficulties they are facing and eventually achieve their goals.
Today, I hosted an English salon at home and had a great time. It was fun to discuss and delve into some topics in English. One of my students was so adjusted to the English-speaking environment that when my husband turned up, she greeted him in English, saying “Hello!” We all laughed.
I am very happy to have my students (who are also my friends!) at home. The English Salon is where the participants can be honest with themselves and express themselves freely. This is what I always want to cherish.