Alana Hodson: English Assistant at Hiyoshigaoka High School

For my CIP, I was fortunate to be able to participle in two CIP activities. The first of the two was volunteering as an English language assistant at Hiyoshigaoka high school. I had no idea what to expect going into this CIP, but as soon as I arrived (along with my classmate, Mika, who was also doing the same CIP) we were instantly welcomed by the head teacher of the program, Oe-sensei, and the other JET ALTs. They explained to us how the high school’s English club was run and what our role was, which was to simply converse with the students in English. However, we quickly found out that it wasn’t as easy as it seemed. Although the students were able to use English during times of structured activities, they were often quite reluctant to do so outside of those times. That being said, I have seen the students use English well, so I am sure that had the club been more strict about the use of Japanese, their English would have improved greatly.

The Hiyoshigaoka students were phenomenal at organizing events. While I was there, I was able to participate in two of the events; a Valentine’s Day party and an Aikido lesson. The Valentine’s day party was a lot of fun and the students used a lot of English. For example, two of the activities were “speed dating” and acting out skits, both of which were done completely in English. I was very impressed!

My second CIP was also about teaching English, but with a much younger age group. My host mom is an English teacher, so I was able to help teach her classes, which were from about ages 5 to 10. One of the most interesting things I was able to do for that part of my CIP was to read a children’s book in English while my host mom read the same book in Japanese, taking turns reading each page consecutively. One of the most surprising things I noticed while helping out my host-mom is the accuracy the children’s pronunciation.  I was often asked to read a category of words and then the children would repeat the words after me. They always were able to repeat the words perfectly!

By participating in these CIPs, I got to observe how English is taught and studied at both the high school and elementary age. It was very interesting to see how each age group interacted with the language. The younger children where more eager to share their English skills with me, though it was most the at the basic vocabulary level. However, the older student, although they knew much more in terms of grammatical structure as well as vocabulary, seemed more reluctant to converse with me or other native speakers, but did very well when their English skills had to be applied for activities. My favorite English teaching method I got to see was when and ALT at Hiyoshigaoka helped one of the students with the difficult to distinguish syllables such as R vs L, SH vs S, and V vs B. He was able to coach her through the proper mouth and throat movements use to produce each sound, and in just one session, the student improved tremendously!

4 thoughts on “Alana Hodson: English Assistant at Hiyoshigaoka High School

  1. Out of curiosity, did you prefer teaching English to the younger students or the high school students? Would you say that starting English at a younger age affects the mastery of their native language?

    • I personally enjoyed teaching the younger kids because they were more willing to use their English (whatever level of English they had), and seemed to have more interest in the language, but I did enjoy talking with the high school students as well during activities. As for the second question, it’s difficult to say from my own observation because I don’t have any information about the two groups at the same age, that is to say, I don’t know when the high school students started learning English, nor can I predict the skill level of the children when they become high school student. More importantly however, you asked about the effect of learning English on the mastery of their native language, Japanese, and I don’t think I’m able to assess anybody’s mastery of Japanese, especially that of a native speaker…However, that’s a good and important question, especially for those raising children in a bilingual, or multilingual, environment. I can find some articles for you if you’d like, but my guess would be that in some cases, learning more than one language at the same time as their native tongue might cause speech delays in all the languages. However, there are many children, perhaps most children, who can manage learning several languages at a young age without it affecting their native language. Furthermore, even for the children who might experience speech delays, I think they are eventually able to reach full-fluency of their native language by adolescence, and probably in the other language as well. The brain of a child has an enormous capacity for language learning, especially before the age of 8 (approx.)—it’s really amazing!
      Also, on a related note, I once read a very interesting paper about a study on the effect of age-of-acquisition on native language fluency. The study was done on deaf people who learned their native language, sign language, at various ages, and the study found that for those who learned their native language later in life had less fluidity in their ability to manipulate the finer nuances of their native language. I can send you the paper if you are interested:) (Gomen for the super long reply; I just really liked your question and this topic is so interesting lol)

  2. It’s interesting to hear how the younger students were more eager to share than the high school students. My mother taught English to Japanese elementary school students a long time ago, and one of the hardest challenges for her was to make them share responses/participate. Also, I’m fascinated by the method of reading the same children’s book in Japanese and English at the same time. Are you interested in teaching English in the future?

    • Oh! That’s very interesting! Maybe I just happened to be working with some unusually outgoing kids, or it might be because the classes for the younger kids was very small, like 5 students per class, so they perhaps felt more comfortable? I actually can decide if I’d like to teach English in the future…I definitely want to be a professor someday, for science, but maybe I’ll also do JET at some point:)