Many of the exchange students here at Nanzan University have taken up part-time jobs at English cafés or restaurants and have said that, although they speak in English, work is a fantastic way of meeting new people. Whether the customer is Japanese or a foreigner, everyone is coming together to socialize and practice communication skills.
Learning to share one’s own culture with others is important when living abroad. An exchange is taking place in which people can not only realize different perspectives but recognize the similarities and differences between cultures. Because I believe in sharing one’s own culture, I decided to join in on one such “teaching” experience—but in a completely different setting. For the past month I have been volunteering at a local primary school to teach first- and third-year elementary school students English; this task has been a learning process for not only the students, but for myself as well.
While at home in the States, I work at the YMCA in the after-school daycare program. Thus when I heard from my Fieldwork Research Methods professor about an after-school daycare session here in Nagoya, I quickly agreed to volunteer. This “Twilight School” daycare program is unique to Nagoya and encourages interaction with ryuugakusei (foreign students).
My objective was to introduce the students to some basic English phrases or vocabulary. I believed this would be a unique experience to compare methods of instruction and children’s behavior at the YMCA with those of Japan. I also figured that since I had practice disciplining young children, I would have no problem keeping the students in line. In reality, however, specific methods of instructing children are non-existent at this elementary school, and I have had to overcome my presumptions to succeed.
Each Tuesday I walk to the school with a plan of action already in mind. For the first session I thought it practical to bring an alphabet and teach them the phrase “Hello, my name is…” After a rather unsuccessful introduction demonstration, I moved onto the English alphabet. While singing the song and reviewing words starting with each letter, the children grew restless, squirming and running around.
Regardless of my polite directions to “sit down, listen, and repeat after me” (using masu/desu form and the suffix “kudasai”), the students continued misbehaving. I switched tactics and moved to a game—luckily, I had prepared posters depicting a duck, goose, and cauldron (in Japanese and English) to teach “Duck, Duck, Goose.” To my surprise they readily participated and actually spoke using English, though they often forgot the word “goose,” standing with a hand hovering over the target.
It wasn’t until the following lesson, however, that I truly understood just how much they liked the game. While reviewing body parts in English, one student exclaimed “Duck, duck!” Surprisingly, they had remembered the English words! From then on I decided to teach only vocab pertaining to American children games. Since then, games such as “Red Light, Green Light” and “Rock, Paper, Scissors” have both proven successful. These games are useful in that the children can compare the English words with actual objects in Japan.
I quickly learned that for these students, who anticipate day-care as time spent with friends, the method of teaching must be presented as entertainment. In addition, I have dropped some of the polite sentence endings and suffixes—Japanese children respond to casual instruction, which suggests that they like to speak with others on their own level. If I present myself as a friend rather than an authority figure, they listen and behave readily. Some have even started greeting me with “hi” or leaving with the words “see you!”
Compared with how I felt after the first session, I now feel that my visits are effective as English lessons. It is especially rewarding when the students want to continue playing even after the “lesson” is over.
If you’d like to become involved in activities around Nagoya, the best way to seek out opportunities would be to check the bulletin boards (the Japanese student boards are great places to start!), pick up a few pamphlets at the CJS office, or ask your professors. Volunteering in Japan has certainly been a unique learning experience and has allowed me to appreciate the many different ways of communicating. With these students, I’ve definitely had to be creative in finding teaching methods that allow for both education and play.