Monday, March 16, 2009

Helping Kids to Speak English

Almost everyone in Japan studies English in school for 6 or more years. But I think most will agree that few Japanese people are able to have even a short conversation in English.
Since junior high school, I have learned Spanish, Indonesian and Japanese: the first by studying for years, and later living in Mexico; the 2nd and 3rd by living and working among native speakers, studying only a little. And I have taught English in Japanese schools for 14 years.
Based on these personal experiences, and deeper study, it has long been my contention that one of the primary reasons for this inability for Japanese people to speak English as a foreign language is generally poor communication skills: When I ask a Japanese person to repeat themselves, and this is confirmed by my foreign friends in Japan, 95%+ Japanese people will stutter or go silent; When I ask someone to speak more slowly, the first sentence may be slower, but after that normal speed returns. And in the Japanese language, recognizing social status is often more important than truly communicating. These are simple examples, but neither the 'problem', nor the 'solution', is far from simple.
The goal of the content on this website is to help young learners gain language skills early, primarily in their own language. The emphasis is on Communication and Conversation Skills, both important to anyone in their native tongue. By teaching these skills in the native language, students are able to begin at an early age, and to make their use habitual. And these skills are transferable: the same skills are required for successful communication in any language. And, I believe, they will be an important foundation for building success in later foreign language study.
My own ability to learn 3 foreign languages has, I believe, been largely based on simple, but true, communication (thanks, Mom). It has helped me to not only learn languages, do business and live abroad; but also, for me and others that I have met, to build a bridge across our worlds, and to learn respect, and compassion.
There are critics of English as a Second Language in Japan who believe that students ought first to gain competence in their own language. The activities on this site help students to gain that competence, and in their native language. And that competence will also, I believe, help students to achieve greater levels of success later as students of English.
The activities presented here teach real communication skills. Real communication is engaging and challenging: there is a 'problem', but the 'answer' is something we find, or perhaps negotiate, together. And because many of these activities are games, students learn that language is fun!, not something we 'study' for a 'test', and too often soon forget. And that it's almost certainly something we never use in any real or practical way.
I hope you'll browse through the topics, and think about how these skills can not only improve your students' language skills, but also promote greater student involvement in learning in your classrooms.

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