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 showing how they lived. I was inspired and encouraged by them to start to live my own way. Before I know it, I am now older than they were. I wonder if I am as good a teacher as they were. I want to study and teach with an 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.
At work, a new project was about to start. 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. 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. I liked her lesson very much. It gave me hints about my 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 studied Speech & Writing there about 25 years ago. When I was walking along this building, I came up with an idea of asking 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 many things there. They were what I had really wanted to know.
In this way, 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 the conversation, especially about education. It helped broaden my mind.
I am curious about education in Europe, particularly in German-speaking countries and Northern Europe. I think that is partly because I attended a unique elementary school, which practiced a kind of Steiner education. The students were encouraged to think and express themselves rather than to memorize things. We hardly ever used textbooks. We did not have 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. 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 hope to bring a new perspective to language education in Japan. I need to set up a place where English learners can come to speak freely and learn from each other. My English salon is part of this.
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. You can express your feelings or describe something around you. You will realize that there are many things you can express using your current vocabulary. You will also encounter something difficult to say. If you find it, you are lucky. 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!
There are many theories about learning languages. Some say that there are effortless methods. Others say that grammar is necessary. In my opinion, grammar provides you with a shortcut to language learning. It also helps you make sentences with confidence.
You can learn grammar when you feel it is necessary. It does not take so much time to master basic grammar. You can leave advanced grammar until later, but do not try to avoid learning grammar. Grammar is helpful. It is like your supportive friend.
On the other hand, when you speak, please forget about difficult rules. Don’t be afraid of making grammatical mistakes. The most important thing is that you can express what you want to say. You can use easy words and easy grammar. You can divide a long sentence into two or three short sentences. If your idea is difficult to say, you can use examples. Importantly, you can make a lot of mistakes. Mistakes create a relaxed atmosphere! Just enjoy speaking!
There are many methods to learn languages. Try methods that interest you!
I really enjoy being around my students. Some of them are really hardworking. I hope they take good care of themselves after my lessons, which are sometimes highly demanding.
I want to teach my students as many things as possible in a limited period of time. That is why I speak very fast during the lessons and try to read as many pages as possible. Besides, I assign them a large amount of homework to review the lessons and build up their vocabulary. I hope they will eventually achieve their goals after overcoming the difficulties they are now experiencing. At the same time, I hope they will realize what fun it is to study a language. I want to share the delight of learning a language with them some day.
As a teacher, I show my way of studying languages as an example, but I do not want to impose it too much on my students. Instead, I want my students to be proactive. I always welcome whatever questions they have to ask. Since I trust my students, I want to create a good atmosphere in the classroom to make them relax and less afraid of speaking so that they can be themselves. I believe every student has a great talent. If they cannot speak well, it is me who need to make more efforts.
I really appreciate my students’ great efforts. Thank you, everyone!
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.