Christof Ketchmark: Assistant English Teacher

For my CIP, I volunteered at 末光先生’s home as an assistant English teacher working with elementary school and middle school students. Every week, I would arrive to 末光先生’s house before the lesson to speak with her about what we would be doing that day, as well as just talking and getting to know each other better.

During the lessons, there would often be opportunities for me to answer questions that the students had for Americans. At first, I feel like it was difficult to know what the right speaking pace would be for the students, as well as what kind of vocabulary might be a bit difficult for them to understand, but I gradually got more confident. It was definitely easier with the older students as they had been studying English for longer. In general, I think it was really beneficial to be able to see how children speak to each other in Japanese as generally speaking, there aren’t many opportunities as a student to do that.

Something I really got an appreciation for was how despite Japanese having a reputation for being an ambiguous, context-based language, the same can often be true of English, making it a similarly difficult language. One of the lessons involved going over the song Beauty and the Beast from the movie of the same name and it wasn’t as straightforward as I thought, as at points I really had to wonder what actually was meant by this line or that line.

I also think it was interesting to see how foreign language education differs in Japan. The materials were somewhat similar in the sense that children use very child-oriented textbooks that, in the case of a couple of the middle school students I worked with, they might feel they’ve outgrown, but the materials felt very similar to what I used in middle school when learning Chinese. That being said, there was greater emphasis on using Japanese to explain what something means whereas in my American foreign language classes, Chinese and Japanese at all levels, there was greater emphasis on using the language in order to answer content based questions to show understanding.

Overall, it was a very valuable experience and I regret that I wasn’t able to participate more before the program was ended.

8 thoughts on “Christof Ketchmark: Assistant English Teacher

  1. Hi Christof, it seems like you learned a lot from your CIP! You made an interesting point in that English can also be an ambiguous language. I feel like we think Japanese is especially ambiguous only because we are still learning it, but that’s probably not the case for native speakers. It’s also interesting that you noticed such a difference between foreign language education in Japan and America. Do you think that one way is more beneficial than the other?

    • Hi Mina!
      I think you’re probably right that it’s far less ambiguous for natives.
      I think for education, both are good for different purposes and that ideally there would be time to use both methods.

  2. Hey Christof! Although I’ve never really wanted to be a teacher, you made it sound like a really fun and rewarding experience that I should (maybe) give a chance, one day. It sounds like watching someone learn a language can have a lot of benefits towards learning one yourself and offer a lot of retrospective opportunities, especially if you’ve already learned a foreign language. Do you think it’s useful to sometimes take a step back from your own studies, and look at the whole matter as an outsider?

    • Hi Nate!
      I definitely think it’s nice to just see things from a different perspective, especially just to see how universal the struggle to learn another language is with similar pitfalls no matter the language.

  3. It seems like you’re CIP was a very beneficial experience. I’ve always been interested in how different countries handle education and I appreciate your insights into the differences with regards to language teaching. Do you think it prepared you for the possibility of teaching English in Japan? Did you ever have to explain English grammar or vocabulary in Japanese?

    • I think it was definitely helpful for if I do JET in the future since I’ll know a little bit about what is expected of me.
      I did occasionally have to explain grammar and vocabulary. With the example of the Beauty and the Beast song, although a translation was given, it took some liberties and I had to explain a little bit about what specific words meant, which was somewhat challenging when the lyrics were sometimes ambiguous even in English, implying multiple meanings etc.,

  4. Hi Christof! While reading through your post, it was interesting for me to compare my own experiences volunteering in an educational context to your own. I’m glad you had a good time and even some experience as an assistant English language teacher.

    Given that in America, in many schools taking foreign language classes isn’t necessary, do you think that English as a second language education differs in Japan because it is compulsory?

    • Hi Nnamdi!
      I think it being compulsory definitely impacts it, but I think it’s more about the language being taught so that students can perform well on tests like TOEFL that influences how English is taught.