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With a little help from
ALTs.- March 2001
Whilst travelling around the country, we've seen some interesting and varied ways of teaching Kokusairikai. One of the most surprising things is that even if there is an ALT in the school, the lessons still tend to be planned from a Japanese point of view.
One example is in deciding what English to teach. I think that the best way is to ask the ALT what useful English they most often use. But what happens all too often is that the Japanese teachers think of something in Japanese and directly translate it into English. This often leads to very strange English that doesn't seem very natural. Some examples would be "What time is it now?" (in reality we wouldn't usually use the word "now"), "See you again" ("See you" or "See you later" is much more natural and better sounding), and probably the worst example is "Fine thank you, and you?" as a reply to "How are you?" (there are many different answers to the question in English, everyone answering in exactly the same way, every single time just sounds strange and cold! Try things like "I'm OK", "Not too bad" or ask your ALT what they use).
One other example is in trying to translate expressions that have no equivalent in English. One example is "Itadakimasu". I often get asked in schools "How do you say itadakimasu in English", and the honest answer is "We don't". People of certain religions say grace before a meal, but for most people we don't say anything special. You could say "Let's eat", but if it is said by everyone in unison, every time you have some food it then it just doesn't sound right!!
One useful idea is to teach phrases that have no equivalent in Japanese. Do you know the simple phrase "Bless you"? We say this to someone after they sneeze. If your kids use it correctly I'm sure any English speaker would be most impressed!!!
Deciding what culture to teach is another area where the ALT can help. All too often Japanese teachers say to UK or Australian ALTs "Today you will teach about Thanksgiving". But these ALTs probably know just as much (or less!) about it as you do (it's a north American holiday)!! Asking ALTs about festivals, events etc. in their country is a good idea when trying to choose culture topics to teach. For example, in Japan fireworks are thought of as a summer thing, but in the UK the biggest firework festival is on November 5th!!!
If you are lucky enough to have foreign visitors to your school and want to ask them questions, then please let the kids decide themselves what questions they want to ask. Quite often the teachers tell the kids what to ask and this often has the bad effect of perpetuating incorrect stereotypes. For example the other day I heard from a kid "We've heard that foreigners can't use chopsticks, can you use chopsticks?". The answer is YES!!! Lots of people can use chopsticks in the West, especially for eating Chinese or Japanese food! It was obvious that the kid hadn't thought of the question themselves as this is one of the cliche Japanese misconceptions that adults still tend to hold (and one question I get asked far too often!!). Questions that the kids have themselves are more interesting. Kids like to ask about things they like (for example I often get asked about English "Janken", the answer is that we more often than not use a coin toss instead!!). They also seem very interested in food!! They are starting from a blank slate and really are curious and ask some really good questions!
This is a new education which requires an open mind. Ask and listen to your ALT and kids, I'm sure that you'll end up learning just as much, if not more, than they do!
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