I decided to title this post based on a phrase I hear my Japanese English Teachers say when they approve or excited about an activity for class. Last week was incredible. I am not sure where I should begin. I’ll just start with the day I can recall the best.
Thursday was a big day for me. It was the day I delivered my first speech as a keynote speaker. I woke up feeling great. After having to completely change my speech three days before the event, I wasn’ t too excited about talking at the Rotary Club meeting. I was upset because I worked really hard on the first speech–pulling out quotes and researching Japanese idioms– I was sad to see that hard work go to waste. They weren’t clear about what they wanted me to talk about. All I knew was that it had to be something about English and intercultural understanding. Because I didn’t want to praise English, the anthropologist side of me made a general speech about language and culture ( this was the first speech). Cheese like a chest cat because I finished my speech a week before the date, Katrina presented my speech to my boss. He didn’t approve. He said I needed to provide a more Kazuno specific speech about the English program and my experience. ( pretty much say how awesome it is) If you read my previous posts, you know how I feel about Japan’s English Education Program– so this was not going to be an easy task. How do I give an honest account about my experiences in Kazuno without offending anyone? The Rotarians seemed like they wanted a speech that praised the English Program, but I had very little praise for it. I didn’t want people leaving my speech feeling negative or upset about what I had to say, BUT I know that I just couldn’t flat out lie. So, how do I give an honest account of my experience and pretty much ‘stroke the egos’ ( not literally because I didn’t feel any of them had an ego) of these Rotarians. After knocking out the speech in 3-4 hours, I thought my speech was horrible ( only because I became attached to the first one). I didn’t look over my speech until Wednesday. I began reading over it and practicing for the next day. After looking over it a couple of times, I felt proud about what I had to say. The speech captured everything I wanted to say without hurting anyone’s feelings. It gave an honest description of my teaching experience in Japan while offering powerful insight. It captured my passion about Japan’s English Education program and it left hope for those that were listening. It was a subtle call for change. As I shook off the butterflies in my stomach that Thursday afternoon, I said a pray. I asked God to make sure my seed ( speech) fell on good soil… that my words wouldn’t just wither away but impact someone in the room. After taking part in the traditional Rotorary club opening ceremony and partaking in a delicious meal, it was my turn to go up. I took a deep breath, smiled, and kindly accepted my invitation to the podium. Here is what I said…. ( please excuse punctuation — 🙂 — still working on that part of my writing)— this speech was translated in Japanese by the other ALT– yay!
“As the spread of political ideas, religious beliefs, popular music and literature slowly begin the process of creating a world without borders—where cultural exchange becomes a part of people’s everyday lives—learning a new language becomes that much more important. By establishing an English Education Program in schools, Japan recognizes the impact a new language has on an individual’s growth and understanding of themselves and the world around them. Learning English serves as one method for Japanese students to reflect on their own culture while gaining new knowledge about cultures outside of their own.
Before arriving to Japan, I didn’t know how I’d use English for the purpose of intercultural exchange. I hadn’t studied English since High School and I had absolutely no idea how to teach English. I couldn’t possibly use English to promote intercultural understanding. Well, I was wrong. Every day, I’ve taught my students something about the United States, sometimes, without even knowing it. For example, a teacher at Towada Elementary School asked me to do an activity with the students. I automatically came up with a game called Hokey Pokey. When I was younger, my sisters and I always played this game. With the intent to teach the students a fun game about the body parts, at the end of the game, I noticed that I provided the students with that and more. I taught them a game that was extremely popular in the 90s among little children their age. Teaching English not only allowed me to share pieces of North American culture with my students, but it caused me to reflect on my own values and beliefs. After about, what felt like, 100 self introductions, I learned how much Latin American culture influenced the music I listen to and the food I like. I found myself giving a whole lesson on quesadillas and tacos, Mexican food, when describing popular restaurants in my neighborhood. So, while learning English serves as a tool for Japanese students to discover a new culture, teaching English, for me, serves as a way to reflect on my cultural beliefs and values that have shaped me into the person I am today.
Self evaluation of my cultural identity and intercultural understanding isn’t the only thing I’ve gained from teaching English. I’ve also learned a great deal about Japan’s English Education program. After attending my first class at Towada Junior High School, I was impressed with how much grammar the students knew. They were reciting phrases and forming complete sentences. Feeling positive about my first classroom experience and my student’s English, I looked forward to engaging in conversation with my students outside of the class. Since I planned on eating with my students for lunch, I thought lunch would be the perfect time. At 12:30 we ate lunch. There was music playing on the intercom—I think it was AKB48. Since I wasn’t sure, I asked my students, “ Who is singing? What music is this?” I received blank stares. I asked a few other simple questions and realized that my students—the same ones that were reciting perfect grammatical phrases in class, did not know how to communicate in English. I was surprised . In class, they appeared to know English, yet outside of class, it was a completely different story.
After experiencing the same situation in the six other schools, I asked myself why is this happening? The students have wonderful grammatical skills and know the text book perfectly, but they don’t know how to communicate in English. The Japanese English education program focuses heavily on passing exams. While test and exams are very important, developing communicative skills is also important. The ability to communicate in a language becomes the breeding ground for intercultural understanding. Through interactive activities, class presentations, and authentic dialog, students can hone in on their English communication skills. While the basic methods of preparing Japanese students for the test have been quite successful, we have to consider our students futures as well. We have to prepare them to be successful in our globalized society where ideas, languages, and music are spreading and a shared language is needed to interact. It appears that English is slowly becoming that shared language that connects people from all walks of life; thus, it’s essential to equip our students with English communication abilities. Finding a balance between exam preparation and English communication/speaking abilities allows students and teachers to confidentially engage in conversations outside of the written textbook and move closer towards an intercultural understanding. A famous American writer said, “Language is the road map of a culture. It tells you where its people come from and where they are going.” The quote simply means that the key to gaining an understanding of another person’s culture is through language. So, the lack of communication ability denies access into another person’s culture, which in turn, limits the process of intercultural exchange. In time, I truly believe that Japan’s English Education program is capable of finding that balance. I’ve already witnessed changes in a few of my classes. With the combination of exam preparation and English speaking skills, students will become masters of English – using this skill to navigate and become more successful in this global society.”