Elizabeth Murillo: Practicing English with High School Students in Japan

For my CIP I choose to be an English assistant at Kyoto Bunkyo, a high school/middle school combination school. Most of the students I interacted with were high school students but on the occasional tours around the school I was able to interact with the middle school students as well. I have only been able to attend my CIP four times this semester, and have only interacted with two students, but I learned a great deal about the nature of English learning in Japan. English can seem pretty daunting to nonnative students of English, alongside the complexities that exist within the English language, the cultural aspects of language don’t always translate. In order to surpass these cultural barriers, I believe that the student has to have some experience interacting with the culture that speaks the language. It wasn’t surprising when I realized that the only students that approached me were ones that already had prior experience living in a foreign country. Both students I had conversations with studied abroad in Australia and had achieved a certain level of linguistic and cultural proficiency. These students were inherently outgoing and inquisitive and were eager to talk to me.  We talked about very mundane topics, such as school, music and boys, and I felt very relaxed around both students. However my interaction with the rest of the students present in the classroom was very scarce. The first time I visited the school the teacher urged the students to try to talk to me but the effort was futile and at some point I solely focused on the students that I met. They were so excited to befriend me that we even went out together and interacted with each other in a setting outside of school to practice using practical English. The student’s commitment to speaking only English was very commendable but it was due partly because of their great interest in Western culture. One of my students loved hip hop dancing and showed me pictures of her in Australia dancing. My other student loved Disney and Western music. It was fairly easy to keep the English conversation flowing between us. Apart from observing how these students interest in English helped motivate them throughout my talks with them I was also able to observe how the primary education system in Japan looked like. I was given the impression that learning English was not really something the students were interested in but was something that only people with a keen interest were able to achieve. Perhaps the same could be said about Japanese. I haven’t gone enough to be able to observe more than this.

4 thoughts on “Elizabeth Murillo: Practicing English with High School Students in Japan

  1. I definitely feel I can connect to the things you discussed in your post about the connection of actual interest in foreign cultures to foreign language learning ability. You said that you went out with the two students you connected with and taught them more practical English. From what you observed, was the English taught inside the classroom not practical?

    • Thanks for your comment! For me there are two types of communication skills; practical and conversational. In conversational English topics such as the weather, politics and economy are common choices for daily small talk. In the classroom I would help them find vocabulary to talk about those things and communicate with me in a way native speakers would talk with each other. Practical language on the other hand is the language you use to go about your daily life like asking for directions, and shopping like “how much is this?” and “how do I get from point A to Z”. In a classroom you can’t really practice this type of English but by going out with the students I could teach them phrases that would be more practical to them if they were to visit an English speaking country and needed to get around.

  2. Ellie! I’m really glad to hear about all that you’ve learned through your CIP since your last blog post! It is certainly interesting to see how other countries take on Foreign Language learning, huh! Its sad that some students seemed shy, or uninterested in speaking English, but I’m grateful that you were able to be a form of support for the students who were passionate about other cultures and languages. Besides talking to the students who wanted to talk, what other sorts of activities were you invited to do during the time you were at the school?

    • Ife, thanks for your comment! Apart from our conversation practice I was also invited to go out to Shijo and hangout and take purikura and eat snacks. There is a great Melon Pan Ice Cream stand in Teramachi that we went to and you should definitely check it out. It made for some great English practice for the student and we had a good time.