It is often quite frustrating for me to go shopping for clothes and footwear here in Aizuwakamatsu. There are some very nice, fashionable items in the shops at reasonable prices but almost always the sizes are too small for me. When I go back to England I am just a fairly average sized person, standing at just under 180cms tall and I take a standard size 9.5 or 10 shoe in the UK which is a size 28 in Japan. The other day I really wanted to buy some stylish dock shoes for summer that I saw in some local shoe shops. They were not expensive either, just under 3,000 (GBP20). The same shoes in the UK would probably cost double that price. However, in all three shops I tried their biggest size was 27. It was so annoying. I felt it was unfair. I felt it was discrimination against all those people who take a size 28,29,30 etc shoe. Surely these days as younger Japanese men are getting taller and more Japanese men are getting broader, many of them need shoes larger than size 27? What do they do? Where and how do they buy fashionable shoes at reasonable prices? Do they have to settle for the very limited range of mostly unfashionable size 28,29,30 shoes that are available here? Buying shoes online is not a good idea as you really need to try shoes on for size and comfort. For me, I can order some clothes like shirts my size online. Otherwise going abroad is still a necessity to stock up on clothing and footwear which fits!
Surely most of us, if offered the choice, would prefer to fly business class on a long flight of 11 or 12 hours; business class seats are much larger and more comfortable, there is much more legroom, the service is more personal and attentive, the food and beverages are of a much superior quality. Who would not prefer business class?
I now know one person who would prefer to fly economy class, even he were offered a business class ticket. He is my father, John. After he flew business class from London Heathrow to Tokyo Narita on April 16th, he confessed to me that he would actually prefer an economy seat next time!
Last year when I contacted ANA about booking a flight for my father with my air miles, they told me that a business class ticket would only be 33% more expensive in terms of miles needed than an economy seat. In addition to that, they did not have an economy seat available on the return flight I requested. As a result of this information, I reserved a business class ticket for him. I had to use up almost all the air miles I had saved for the last 4-5 years to do so but, as he is quite old now, I wanted to treat him to a more comfortable flight.
However, when he arrived at Narita he told me that he could not sleep on the flight and he felt a little lonely as there were partitions between the passengers in business class which hindered conversation between passengers and besides, the other passengers did not appear to want to chat much, either. During the flight he only talked to the flight attendants. Once, when he got out of his seat to stretch his legs and drew back the dividing curtain between the business and economy classes, he saw the passengers in economy sitting side by side and some were chatting to each other merrily.
On arrival he said that, if he flew to Japan again he would prefer to fly in economy class!
It never fails to surprise me how quickly the weather changes in Aizu. Just a month ago we had snow on April 21st around the time the cherry trees were blossoming. Admittedly this is rather a rare occurrence but it happened and I have a nice photo of Aizu’s famous ancient cherry tree, the Ishibezakura on that day to prove it.
In recent months I have been helping some students to prepare for the IELTS test. Institutions of higher education, such as universities, in English-speaking countries require non-native English speakers to reach a minimum standard of English in an IELTS test (or a TOEFL test) as proof of their ability to be able to study successfully in English. The minimum score required varies from institution to institution but as a general guide, most British universities require a minimum IELTS score of 6.5 (considered the start of advanced level) whereas many US colleges require an IELTS score of 5.5 (upper-intermediate level).
Here is a summary of his progress during the 7 months (56 hours of tutorials) he studied with us:
We were all very pleased that he made steady progress improving his IELTS scores. When he achieved a score of 5.5 in October 30th, he was able to apply to study at US colleges. It is interesting to see that his lowest scores were for writing. In the writing test, candidates have to write a brief report of 150 words and a short essay of 250 words. However, Y-san had never written a report or an essay in English before coming to my school. It seems that actually producing English, whether in written or spoken form, is not widely practised by students in junior high and high schools in Japan. According to Y-san, his ability to speak reasonable English resulted mainly from the speaking practice he had during his home stay experiences in the US and Sweden and his interest in making friends with foreigners while a student in Tokyo.
For more information about IELTS examinations and preparation for them, please feel free to contact us at the Windmill English Centre.
In the Aizu area winter tends to drag on longer than in other areas of Japan at the same latitude but nearer the Pacific Ocean. During the month of March, although we have had some fine spring weather and a lot of snow has melted, there have also been several days and nights with biting cold winter winds and flurries of snow. As winter comes to an end, there is no more back-breaking snow clearing to do and I seem to have more time for such activities as writing this blog. So watch out for more blog entries from me from now on.
Recently I have been helping three students to prepare for IELTS tests.*
As the academic reading and listening tasks of an IELTS test are challenging at times for my students, I spend some lesson time helping them to understand and answer those more difficult comprehension questions correctly.
I enjoy helping my students to prepare for IELTS exams and in addition to that I can often learn new facts for my own self-development as I find the information in IELTS practice exercises to be intrinsically interesting.
The IELTS speaking and writing tasks are also challenging for most students in Japan. One reason for this is because students do not seem to do many practical speaking and writing exercises in state school English lessons. Another reason is that it is sometimes difficult for students to think of what to say or write about certain topics which occur in the tests. In other words they seem to have had little training in thinking of ideas, thinking critically of ideas that have been presented, thinking of possible reasons, consequences, deductions, inferences etc. However, these skills are essential for success in examinations such as the IELTS or TOEFL test.
We have just started to practise writing tasks for IELTS and my students’ first attempts at completing a writing task have not been of a particularly high standard but after some discussion, advice, corrections and rewriting they are able to produce much better pieces of writing. It is a process; brainstorming ideas, planning what and how to write, producing a first draft, discussing that draft, rewriting it to produce a second draft, analysing that, editing it and producing a third draft etc. until a well-written final draft can be produced. This writing process is relevant not only for learners of English but for native English speakers, too.
Observing how my students’ writing can improve dramatically during this process also gives me a lot of pleasure.
*British universities require foreign students to take an IELTS test as official proof that they are capable of studying in English in higher education. All four skills (speaking, listening, reading and writing) are tested and candidates are given a grade from 1.0 to 9.0. Most British universities undergraduate courses require foreign students to have an IELTS score of 6.5 or 7.0.
More details about IELTS can be found on www.ielts.org . or just contact us at the Windmill English Centre..
Last Sunday I went with 18 other people on our annual school trip to British Hills. Our group left Aizu in four cars and I thought the drive through the Fukushima countryside south of Aizu was very pleasant. It only took just over an hour to reach our destination.
There were three main activities on our schedule that day which were a lecture/introduction to British Hills, a cooking lesson and a tour of the Manor House. The guides and instructors for these activities were all native speakers of English and they spoke only in English so it was good language practise for our students outside the classroom. Apart from these activities we enjoyed a buffet-style lunch upstairs in the British Hills pub while listening to a piper playing the bagpipes and explaining some aspects of Scottish culture.
One of the most interesting moments for me was during the lecture/introduction to British Hills. Towards the end of the presentation, the speaker asked three junior high school second year girls standing near him some very simple questions in English. Questions such as “What’s your name?” “How old are you?”
One of the girls, N san, has been studying at our school, mostly on a one hour a week basis, for about 4 years. I was pleased to note that she quickly gave appropriate answers to his simple questions. On the other hand, the other two girls, R san and R san, could not answer any of the simple questions and did not speak any English. They just giggled nervously and looked away.
Needless to say, R san and R san do not study English at our school. They came along with N san because all three girls are good friends at the same junior high school.
At that moment I felt very proud of our teachers and especially Maeko Kato who has spent the most time teaching N san. It was such a clear demonstration of the effectiveness of the English education our students receive. WEC students practise all four skills in meaningful ways on a regular basis and as a result, our better and brighter young students can produce English in both spoken and written forms and have the confidence to do so. Well done N san! Well done WEC teachers!
The other day as I was taking my daughter Sophie to a local supermarket, she smelled “yakitori” being grilled in a small van parked in front of the store. She turned round to me and said, “Daddy, yakitori, please” so I approached the man running the stall and asked for 3-4 different types of “yakitori” including one skewer of grilled liver.
Unfortunately my Japanese pronunciation was not very good when I placed my order because he didn not understand my request for one skewer of grilled liver. After a minute or so he began to realize what I wanted and gave me a little impromptu pronunciation lesson. He said “riber?…riber?… Oh, you mean rebar!
“Yes, yes, “rebar” please!” I said. So why did I make this pronunciation mistake? Because I was thinking in English and trying to say the English word “liver” in a way which sounded Japanese so I said something like “ribar” and not “rebar”. I need more Japanese practice!
How would you pronounce the following pairs of words? (n.b. some are fictitious words!)
1. river / ribber 2. liver / river 3. labour / rebar
A Dutch lesson was one of the most memorable parts of a teacher training course I took many years ago at the British Council, Bogota, Colombia when I was a young, inexperienced teacher.
The course is now known as the Cambridge ESOL CELTA course which leads to a basic but very practical and useful teaching qualification called “The Certificate of English Language Teaching to Adults” for those who pass it.
The lesson in Dutch was taught by Catherine, one of the teachers at that time at the British Council in Bogota. She only spoke Dutch throughout the 60-minute lesson. She did not speak a word of English. I thought it was a lot of fun and I enjoyed it greatly as did all the other trainee teachers except for one woman and by the end of the lesson, we could say simple greetings and make some simple sentences in Dutch. Catherine used a lot of gestures and picture cue cards to present the target language, and then to get us to repeat and practise the language. I think she did an excellent job teaching us.
Why did we have a lesson to learn Dutch, the language spoken in the Netherlands or Holland, when we were learning how to teach English?
The reason for doing this exercise was to make us realize how it feels to be a student being taught a foreign language only using that foreign language. Teachers of English as a foreign language working in language schools in the UK or other English-speaking countries have mixed nationality classes. In a classroom in England there may well be Russian students, Chinese students, Brazilian students, Spanish students, Turkish students, Thai students, Japanese students, Italian students, Saudi Arabian students etc. Clearly the teacher cannot use the students’ own languages in that class! Therefore these classes have to be taught only in English.
In Japan, however, 99.99% of my students are Japanese. Even so, teaching English in English is excellent preparation for the time when these students want to or need to communicate with non-Japanese speakers in English. Using a little Japanese may help in some cases to clarify meaning quickly but extensive use of Japanese in an English lesson will automatically reduce the students’ exposure to and practice of English. It also makes the students believe that they do not need to listen or read English carefully because a Japanese explanation will follow. I personally think it is also rather lazy and unimaginative for a teacher of English to constantly rely on translation to explain meaning.
Skilled, professional teachers like Catherine can teach a foreign language very well only using that language.
However, there was one student in our group who could not understand or produce the target language that Catherine was teaching. When I saw this student’s problems, it made me think that there are some students who cannot cope with the mental exercise and stimulation of learning in a foreign language.
Sometimes when teaching in Aizu, we come across students who cannot cope with being taught almost exclusively in English. Maybe these students would prefer to learn English with a teacher speaking Japanese to them frequently. I think this is unfortunate because that style of teaching obviously reduces the chances of a student becoming a fluent and confident speaker of English.
After all, surely the purpose of learning English should be to enable students to use the language confidently to communicate.
Recently I have been making arrangements for our school trip to Hawaii this summer. Junko and I will be taking a group of 7 young students from 11-14 to a summer camp organized by the YMCA of Hawaii. It will be a fantastic experience for our young students to enjoy playing sports and doing other outdoor activities with children from other countries. Several cheerful camp instructors from various countries (typically university students between 18-22) will be supervising, helping, encouraging and supporting the children. Of course the language used for these activities will be English.
On the front page of our website are the words “Prepare yourself for the real world”. This is what we do all the time in our classes at the school, we promote “Active Learning” which means our students have to think and produce English themselves by speaking English or writing it.
When the students arrive in Hawaii on July 29th they will have the chance to actually use English naturally outside the classroom as the way to communicate with the other children and adults at the summer camp. It should be a wonderful boost for their English language skills, a memorable experience different cultures and a great boost to their general confidence and happiness and all the while taking place in one of the most beautiful places in the world.
Along with the young students, we are also looking forward to the trip very much and to witnessing the changes that such an experience can make to the students.
WECのHPのトップページにある“Prepare yourself for the real world”.という言葉があります。これは、スクールのクラスの中でいつもやっていることです。私たちは“Active Learning（－英語を話したり書いたりすることで生徒さん自ら英語を考え、創造すること）” を一生懸命しているのです。