For my Community Involvement Project I participated in Klexon – an English conversation club. Every Tuesday I would meet for two hours in the Wings Gender Equality Center with other KCJS members and other native English Speakers living in the city, to talk with Japanese college students and workers in order to help them practice their English speaking abilities. For the first hour of the meetings, I would talk in one-on-one sessions with the Japanese club members – discussing anything from their jobs to their opinions on recent political developments. Then in the second hour, I would talk in groups of five to six people in order to practice group speaking abilities with them. The club would offer prompts and possible topics of conversation, but I found that most of the Japanese participants were happy to elect their own topics of conversation, and usually wanted to discuss broad cultural differences between Japan and the US, or grammatical novelties between Japanese and English. As I became closer friends with different members of the club, I began to join them for food and drinks after the meetings or at Karaoke parties on the weekend.
Through my continuing interactions with the Klexon group, in and out of the weekly meetings, I feel that I was truly able to integrate into, and participate in, Japanese social activities and functions. Furthermore, in helping to teach English to Japanese people I was better able to understand my progress with my own language studies: for example, it seems a lot of the Klexon members use the word “maybe” more often than what would be considered natural in English (eg. “Maybe, my job is working in finance”). My assumption is that this over-usage stems from learners attempting to directly translate certain phrases from their native tongue into their target language – which is probably a mistake that I make as well in my own language studies (ie. trying to convert head-first English phrasing/idioms into Japanese, instead of solely relying on the set head-last grammatical formations of the language). I also found that simply speaking to a large number of Japanese students and workers allowed for many fascinating insights into people’s opinions about food, and clothing, and history, and politics. A particularly interesting example would be my conversations with a member of Japan’s Self-Defense Force: I was able to learn about his daily work, and about how most Japanese citizens look down upon those who join the SDF.
As for my advice to future students, I can’t stress enough how important it is to get a Line! Everyone here uses Line, and it’s just such an easy way to make friends quickly. After a meeting, if you have even the slightest interest in being friends with someone, I’d highly recommend trading Line account information. And then afterwards, even if you don’t text them, the likelihood that they text you and ask to hangout is very high. There’s practically no work involved at all! And getting to meet Japanese people and hang out outside of the CIP activities is such a wonderful opportunity to make friends, to speak more Japanese, and to learn more about Japanese culture and life.