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This article is taken from "kids com" Magazine - for more articles, see the "advice" page! 

Small "bitesize" chunks of culture are perfect for children.- April 2001

 Lots of ALTs, and Japanese teachers, around the country are now teaching their pupils "English". However, there seems to be some debate as to what we are actually supposed to be teaching. Up until now what has actually been written in the teaching guidelines (or "shidou youryou") is that we teach "kokusairikai" or "international understanding", not simply English!

 For me International Understanding is where the true value of this education lies, teaching the kids about the world, its people and its customs, getting the kids to realise just what a wonderful, amazing place we live in. Of course, one of the best ways for kids to learn this is communicating directly with someone from a different culture. This communication can take the form of emails to schools in a different country, writing letters or making videos to send to other schools, or playing a game of football with their ALT! But in order to be able to do this, the kids need some basic communication skills. The first step is to teach things like body language, reading people's faces and the most important one of all, the power of smiling!!

 But humans, and especially kids, communicate verbally. This is where the English comes in! English is simply one skill in the communication part of "International Understanding".
 Therefore I believe that simply teaching English on its own is not enough. For one thing teaching a language without the underlying culture is very difficult, and secondly the children will probably fail to understand the reason why they are learning the language in the first place!

 One interesting point is that in Japan, English is almost universally accepted as the "International Language". Over in Europe it is certainly not seen this way! If you mentioned this in France you would lose a lot of friends very quickly! But unfortunately we don't have time to teach all the languages in the world, and although a very good argument can be made for teaching Chinese in schools, it is English that is the dominant language for business, communications and international conferences. It is the ability to speak English that will change the futures of our pupils.

 So that then begs some questions, how do we connect the "English" element with the "International understanding" element? And how do you integrate these ideals into a lesson?
 One answer is to keep them separate! Some people have asked why they have to teach events such as Hallowe'en in English? Well, you don't have to!! Teaching Hallowe'en in Japanese is just as valid! The aim is to get the kids to understand the culture. If we had lessons everyday then I would say do it in English, but we don't, so Japanese is the most effective way to get across new ideas! The games and activities that we play in these lessons are to introduce the kids to some of the fun and atmosphere of these events! Mind you, I'm sure you'll be surprised at just how much English the kids can understand!
 But there aren't that many festivals and large scale events to base a whole class around! Also, kids don't particularly enjoy doing just one activity for 40 minutes. So how do you introduce smaller "chunks" of culture?

 Well, using picture cards is a great idea! When teaching English, my picture of "sky" is a picture of me paragliding, my picture of "sea" is a picture of me diving in Thailand. The kids love these pictures, they like to see what fish are in the sea, or seeing pictures of the different kinds of buildings. I pass each one round the class and for a few minutes they can glimpse an image of a different country. But more importantly they can ask questions about what they see! For example, my picture of "elephant" is me riding an elephant (no surprises there!), but there is also a school kid stood next to the elephant. The kids think "Wow!" when I say heユs not at school. Then change their minds when I say he has to work for a living looking after the elephant! Then I move onto the next word to teach.

 These types of small "bitesize" chunks of culture are perfect for Playstation generation kids. And next month I'll teach you a few more interesting techniques that anybody can use to bring life to your lessons!

Be genki,

Richard



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